Thursday, January 24, 2013

ESPN Poll Voters: You're Doing It Wrong

Late yesterday afternoon, released this poll in an attempt to ascertain the public opinion as to why the Lakers are struggling so much.

The big takeaway from the poll? The public is stupid.

The response that received the most votes was a problem with the Lakers' chemistry. In a vacuum, this doesn't seem like an outrageous thing to say, and I would probably agree to an extent that the Lakers don't have ideal chemistry, but to say it's the Lakers' biggest problem is incredibly shortsighted. Especially when you consider the overwhelming majority of responders likely have no idea what "team chemistry" actually is or how it affects a team. Just as a reminder, this is the same public that six years ago said Kobe would never win a championship without Shaq because he "wasn't a good leader," then the Lakers rattled off three straight trips to the finals. It's also the same public that said the same exact thing about LeBron when he went to Miami, only to see Miami win two consecutive conference titles.

The second-highest response was a criticism of the Lakers coaching/system. This one is especially hilarious because I'm willing to bet that 99% of the people who chose that option would have no earthly idea how to diagram a single set that the Lakers run and then explain with any nuance why they supposedly shouldn't be running it. Everyone would rather regurgitate the same trope of "HURR DURR GASOL IS 25 FEET FROM THE BASKET HE WAS SO GOOD IN THE OLYMPICS PS THE DEFENSE SUCKS AND THAT'S CLEARLY D'ANTONI'S FAULT BECAUSE HE DOESN'T CARE ABOUT DEFENSE."

Let's start with Gasol. First of all, he's attempted 25 threes in 29 games so far this season. That accounts for 7.6% of his field goal attempts. This means that for the other 92.4% of his field goal attempts, he isn't standing 25 feet from the basket. This seems particularly relevant. As for the argument about Gasol's performance in the Olympics, it would be a great argument if not for the fact that Olympic basketball is a different game with different rules that cater to different strengths and weaknesses. Gasol excelled in the Olympics because the entire offense was built around him, and we have years of evidence that offenses built around Pau Gasol in the NBA don't magically turn teams around. Besides, which do we think is a better indicator of Gasol's NBA game - the 10 games he played in the Olympics where he was pretty good, or the last 18 months of NBA games where it looks like he's 32 years old and in obvious decline?

Another 15% of the voters choose "lack of effort." I'll assume this refers to Dwight Howard, who has appeared lackadaisical on the defensive end at times, but let's also not forget that Howard had major back surgery less than a year ago to repair an injury that's been described with quotes like "when I hurt my back, it affected my nerves to the point where my whole left leg went dead," and "There was a practice where I couldn't even bend over. I just felt it all the way down my leg."

So, to do a quick recap, we have 80% of the responses going to intangible answers that lack any semblance of context. This is a serious problem in the realm of public discourse. People are too lazy to do any actual research and diagnose the problem themselves, so instead they label the problem with an intangible diagnosis like "I think the Lakers have bad chemistry" or "The Lakers are running the wrong system," knowing that most people won't care enough to call them out to explain further, and even if they do, they can cop out behind "well, that's just my opinion," because they won't need any actual evidence to back themselves up.

Only one of the options truly identifies the root cause of the Lakers' struggles - a lack of depth. The Laker's lack of depth informs all of their other issues, including the ones that make up the other choices on the poll. Naturally, this received only 4% of the vote.

The Lakers have played 2021 minutes this season (42 games multiplied by 48 minutes, plus five for one overtime game), which translates to 10,105 "player" minutes (2021 multiplied by the five players on the court) so far this season. Their "Big 4," Bryant, Howard, Gasol, and Nash, have played 4,566 of those minutes. That's roughly half, about 45.2%. However, this means that 54.8% of the Lakers minutes have gone to, well, everyone else. 3,308 of those minutes, about 32.7%, have gone to Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Chris Duhon, Steve Blake, Darius Morris, Devin Ebanks, and Robert Sacre. The combined PER of those players: 10.06. The combined minutes of those players exceeds the combined minutes of Kobe and Dwight Howard. Just think about that for a second. When you think about the Lakers, you're obviously going to think about their four central stars. In reality though, the riff-raff of their bench has a greater cumulative effect on the team than Kobe and Howard do. Those numbers were even more skewed earlier in the season when Gasol and Nash were injured.

The Lakers "dream lineup," Nash, Kobe, Metta World Peace, Gasol, and Howard has played 134 minutes this season. That's 134 of a possible 2021. That's 6.7%. Compare that  to, say, Oklahoma City, who has seen their starting lineup play 661 of a possible 2089 minutes, or 31.6%. Swap out Thabo Sefolosha for Kevin Martin, and that lineup has another 254 minutes, or 12.1%. That's 43% of Oklahoma City's minutes going to two lineups featuring a total of six players. Yes, this is where the idea of "chemistry" comes in, but I'd argue that chemistry and consistency take a back seat to simply having your best players on the floor. The Lakers' injuries and comically inept bench have prevented them from giving big minutes to star players, and that's been their biggest problem.

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