The Lakers Nation would like to thank Jon Nichols for sending us this original article. If you have any ideas for statistical discussion, let us know and we will see if we can have Jon Nichols from Basketball-Statistics.com crunch some numbers!
The Lakers will be good next year, and there’s very little doubt about it. The question is: how good? The easiest way to answer that question would be to determine how the Lakers’ two dominating big men, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, will work together. They’ve never had to play along side each other, and it’s easy to see why some people wonder how it will work out. Although their games aren’t exact replicas of each other, they don’t appear to be perfect compliments either. Both need to be near the basket to score, and a crowded interior would hurt both of them. The Lakers can try to stagger their minutes so that they each have time in the paint for themselves, but they will have to play with each other quite a bit.
The good folks at The Lakers Nation have assigned me the mission of predicting how Bynum and Gasol will play next to each other, and so I’m going to give it my best shot.
First, we should take a look at how the Lakers played with each of them last year. Based on my calculations, the Lakers had an offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 107.38 and a defensive rating of 100.34 with Bynum. With Gasol, they posted an offensive rating of 112.36 and a defensive rating of 103.58. As you can see, with Gasol the Lakers improved significantly on offense but also got worse on defense. Even though a lot of other factors could explain those differences, it does make sense. According to my Composite Score numbers (http://basketball-statistics.com/cs.html), Gasol played pretty good defense with the Lakers (he ranked as the 65th best defender in the league) but Bynum played tremendous defense (ranking 16th).
Next, it’s time to dissect the players to predict how they will interact with each other in the future. Overall, both players are excellent big men. Gasol ranked 9th in the league offensively, 65th defensively, and 13th overall. Bynum ranked 22nd offensively, 16th defensively, and 11th overall.
But what about their styles of play? According to 82Games.com, 35% of Gasol’s shot attempts were from the outside, and he had a .453 effective FG% on those. Just 20% of Bynum’s shots were from the outside, with an effective FG% of .362 on those attempts. Bynum had an assist rate (courtesy of John Hollinger) of 13.2 and Gasol had an assist rate of 15.2. Both of those numbers are very strong for big men. On the boards, Gasol was mediocre and rebounded just 7.4% of the team’s misses and 18.7% of the defensive rebounds. Bynum was much better, with an offensive rebound rate of 12% and a defensive rebound rate of 26.5%.
Looking at their defense, both players played nearly all of their minutes at the center position, guarding the other team’s biggest player. It remains to be seen how either of them could handle guarding smaller, quicker power forwards. The best indication we have is Gasol’s 2005-2006 season in Memphis, when 45% of his minutes were at the power forward position. During that season, his Defensive Composite Score numbers were excellent (he ranked 41st in the league), but he was helped out by a number of strong defenders around him. Gasol had a block rating of 6.1 last season, while Bynum’s was an impressive 9.6.
What do all these numbers mean? Surprisingly, the Bynum-Gasol combo might work out a lot better than some people think, provided they can make some adjustments. Gasol has a strong enough outside game to compliment Bynum’s more bruising style. In addition, both players are great passers, which should keep the offense running smoothly. Bynum is a great rebounder, which makes up for Gasol’s mediocrity in that area. On defense, Gasol has shown the potential to guard power forwards, but that aspect does remain the biggest question mark of this experiment. Bynum is a great shot blocker, so he should be able to help Gasol out.
To sum it all up, if the players are willing to make the necessary adjustments, the large frontcourt might be excellent. Gasol must focus on working on his outside game and guarding quicker opponents. Most importantly, both players must be willing to sacrifice some shots and play efficiently as possible, especially with Kobe also on the floor. If Bynum and Gasol can make the adjustments, expect big things from the Lakers this season.