Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Lakers Have Not Been Rebounding At All

I can't say the Lakers have been a disappointment this season; between all of the injuries to their best players and Mike D'Antoni's insistence on not placing Pau Gasol in a position where he can succeed, I think the Lakers are actually doing better than their preseason expectations. In fact, through 30 games, I expected something closer to 10 wins than 15 wins. The Lakers currently sit at 13-17 and are somehow only 4 games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the 8th seed in a brutal Western Conference, and it's not hard to see why: they aren't rebounding this year. Or scoring, or playing defense, but that's for another post entirely.

D'Antoni, has insisted on playing smaller ball lineups, often times having Wesley Johnson and Shawne Williams split time at power forward, which would be fine if Williams wasn't such a bad player. And if you think I'm being harsh on Williams, an 8.6 PER says otherwise. The Lakers are currently 14th in rebounding, averaging 42.7 rebounds per game, a far cry from last season, when they were ranked 4th with 45 rebounds per game. Of course, it doesn't help that last years' rebounding leader, Dwight Howard, went to Houston; for as much hate as Howard received for his free throw shooting and limited low post moves, he was still an elite rebounder and defensive player. These numbers aren't much of a problem; being ranked 14th isn't the worst thing in the world, however the Lakers have been giving up an astronomical amount of opponent rebounds, giving up 47.7 rebounds per game, good for 29th. This becomes an even bigger problem when you take into account the Lakers defensive rebound woes; they are giving up the 2nd most offensive rebounds in the league with a whopping 12.8 per game. It's no wonder the Lakers are giving up averages of 47.5 points in the paint (28th) and 14.7 second chance points (27th). And, in case you missed it, the Lakers lost to the Jazz on Friday by giving up an offensive rebound and put back to Derrick Favors.

More often than not, teams will need to rebound to be successful; it's no coincidence the league's top teams also tend to be in the Top 10 in rebounding. There are exceptions, of course, like the 8-21 Philadelphia 76ers being 7th in rebounds, or the defending champion (and 23-7) Miami Heat being dead last in rebounds with 36.5 (!) per game. You can get away with not rebounding when you have LeBron James on your team. The Lakers do not have a player who can bail them out and will have to wait for another while until the return of Kobe Bryant to see whether or not he can still be that player. In the meantime, the Lakers absolutely need to make use of their fundamentals; you can't commit mistake after mistake and expect to win with this roster, especially when you have Bryant and Steve Blake on the shelf for 6 more weeks, Steve Nash out indefinitely and Pau Gasol dealing with an upper respiratory infection.

What can the Lakers do? For starters, play Jordan Hill more than 20 minutes a game. Hill averages 13.6 rebounds per 36 minutes and is ranked 17th in PER with an astonishing 22.06 PER. Hill currently ranks ahead of Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Tim Duncan, and John Wall in PER, just to name a few. Hill is up to a .207 WS/48, which is crossing into elite territory; for reference, Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins are largely considered the NBA's two best centers and they don't measure up to Hill's WS/48; Howard has a .183 WS/48 and Cousins has a .163 WS/48. Obviously, these two players are completely different to Hill, who has a limited offensive skill set, but does convert 58.5% of his shots and rarely takes a bad shot. Cousins and Howard can be counted on to consistently score in the low post, while Hill is a bit of a wild card, sometimes looking very good and sometimes having some cringe worthy moments. Nonetheless, Hill is an elite rebounding presence and would help the team's rebounding woes almost immediately.

D'Antoni can also consider benching Shawne Williams and going with a bigger lineup with Chris Kaman and Ryan Kelly. Kaman is averaging over 11 rebounds per 36 minutes and gives the Lakers some size they have sorely lacked. Kelly isn't all that good of a rebounder, the stretch 4 out of Duke can shoot the lights out from beyond the arch, however and stands at 6'11''. Both of them provide more value than Williams, who is only making 31% of his three point attempts, which is kind of the only reason he's supposed to be out there. The Lakers can't be fixed in one day; this roster is a mess between the injuries and D'Antoni's coaching philosophy going against his best players' abilities, but they do have the personnel to help diminish those problems and make them more competitive. I only hope D'Antoni can tweak his coaching style around his players, otherwise, this is going to be the worst season in recent Lakers' history.