The Los Angeles Lakers (56-26) finished first in the Pacific Dvision and first in the Western Conference. In the postseason, they made it to the NBA Finals where they beat their longtime rivals, the Boston Celtics, four games to three. It was a very good year for this team that is talented, skilled and well coached.
The frontcourt, which is about as impressive as it gets, features Andrew Bynum (.570 FG%, .000 3PT%, .739 FT%, 8.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 15.0 PPG) at center. The big-bodied Bynum is a dominant inside shooter and a solid offensive rebound man. He’s also a fine defender, averaging 1.45 blocks per game. For Bynum, as it is with many of the Lakers, it’s about health. In five years with the Lakers, only once has he played more than 80 games. In the other four seasons, he’s averaged 49 games per year.
Pau Gasol (.536 FG%, .000 3PT%, .790 FT%, 11.3 RPG, 3.4 APG, 18.3 PPG), at the power spot, is another top two-way player. Gasol is a double-double guy who is equally proficient rebounding on offense and defense. On defense, he averaged 1.74 blocks per game. He’s got an accurate mid-range shot and is a skilled passer.
Yet another important part of the Lakers’ defense is small forward Ron Artest (.414 FG%, .355 3PT%, .688 FT%, 4.3 RPG, 3.0 APG, 11.0 PPG). Artest is not a very good shooter, but he can be a dominant presence on defense. His off-court behavior can cause problems and distractions. He does know how to make things interesting, but that’s not really a positive thing.
It’s hard to call Derek Fisher (.380 FG%, .348 3PT%, .856 FT%, 2.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 7.5 PPG) a point guard. He passes so little. Last season, he was especially deficient as a shooter. However big numbers aren’t expected from him but solid percentages are. In terms of offense, he is used primarily as a spacer. On defense, Fisher is tenacious and tough. Last season he averaged 1.10 steals per game.
The backcourt of the Lakers is still defined by shooting guard Kobe Bryant (.456 FG%, .329 3PT%, .811 FT%, 5.4 RPG, 5.0 APG, 27.0 PPG). Bryant, who starts his 15th year in the league, is a tough player who offers quickness and smarts. He is the definitive go-to player who can create shots whenever and wherever he wants to. Bryant is also a top defender who can turn a game around with a defensive play or a pop shot from the field. His three-pointer has fallen off over the years, but he is still one of the best in the game.
One thing the Lakers prove is that you don’t need to be first in various statistical categories to be champs. But it is helpful to have a premium defense and this team does. In the area of Defensive Efficiency the Lakers earned a mark of 101.1, which was sixth in the league. Los Angeles had the best three-point defense in the NBA (32.8%) and they fouled less than any other team as opponents averaged just .260 free throws per field goal try.
That’s not to say that the offense wasn’t good. It was. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it was good enough as the Lakers posted an Offensive Efficiency that was ranked 11th (105.9) and had a Pace Factor that was 14th(95.2). Pau Gasol had the highest PER on the club at 22.97.
In 19 years of coaching in the NBA, Phil Jackson (1098-460) has never missed the postseason. In 11 of those years, he has coached his club, either the Bulls or Lakers, to the championship. Do you really need to say more? With premium ownership and a true desire to excel, Jackson’s main problem is often dealing with player egos more than anything else. He’s one of the best coaches in the history of the NBA.
One thing to realize is that the Lakers do not have to be lights out in order to be highly competitive in the postseason. They may have a fairly thin bench, which hurts them in the 82-game season, but starters win the playoffs and the Lakers certainly have those. It’s true that they could use a topnotch point guard, but the other starting four along with some adequate backup can do the job. The Lakers are the first place team in the Pacific Division and in the Western Conference. We expect them to likely meet the Heat in the finals and even without home court which they have benefited the last 2 seasons we see them 3-peating in the 2010-11 NBA season.
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