The Lakers have struggled through an injury-riddled season during which 212 games have been missed to players, led by Kobe Bryant’s 52 and 46 from Steve Nash, eliminating any real chance of competing in a loaded West in which the current No. 8 seed is nine games over .500.
With a 19-39 record, not many of the statistics look very good for L.A., but a look at the team’s 10 most commonly used line ups reveals a point that coach Mike D’Antoni’s been making all season: the Lakers have been considerably better when they go small.
“Going small” in the NBA essentially means using a “stretch four” instead of a power forward, the former of which for the Lakers has been either Shawne Williams, Ryan Kelly or (with the current line up) Wesley Johnson.
Here’s the plus/minus for those 10 most-used groups, adjusted per 100 possessions, with offensive and defensive ratings included:
Lineup: Marshall/Blake/Johnson/Williams/Kaman (SMALL)
*This group outscored opponents by 6.2 points per 100 possessions.
Lineup: Farmar/Meeks/Henry/Johnson/Hill (SMALL)
Lineup: Marshall/Meeks/Young/Kelly/Gasol (SMALL)
Lineup: Marshall/Meeks/Johnson/Kelly/Gasol (SMALL)
Lineup: Nash/Blake/Young/Gasol/Kaman (BIG)
Lineup: Blake/Meeks/Johnson/Hill/Gasol (BIG)
Lineup: Marshall/Meeks/Bazemore/Johnson/Gasol (SMALL)
Lineup: Marshall/Meeks/Johnson/Hill/Gasol (BIG)
Lineup: Bryant/Meeks/Johnson/Hill/Gasol (BIG)
Lineup: Marshall/Meeks/Johnson/Gasol/Sacre (BIG)
Before L.A.’s game at Memphis, D’Antoni explained why he thinks the smaller line ups have been more effective:
Q: On small vs. big line ups:
D’Antoni: We want a certain type of basketball, and we’re trying to establish that and we’re trying to put everything into it. It’s clear our that the numbers say when you spread the floor and move the ball and get up and down the floor, we have a lot better chance to win. That’s what we’re going to do. We can adjust during the game. For example, if David West was killing Wesley (Johnson) (on Tuesday night), then something’s going to happen. Wesley has to come out or we have to go big orwhatever. But Wesley played well and that did not hurt us last night. It gave us a chance to spread the floor, score at a good rate and stay in the game.When Wesley got in foul trouble and Ryan (Kelly) got in foul trouble and we went big, it all caved in cause they’re a better, bigger team than we are. You have to play a little different. If you’re over manned a little bit and you try to match up, it’s not going to work out.
Q: On what playing big does for the rest of the team if he were to start two bigs vs. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol instead of Pau Gasol with a stretch four (Johnson):
D’Antoni: Well, what will happen is our floor will be closed down and offensively we’re not going to be as good. You’re not going to stop Zach Randolph that much. He’s going to get his numbers. Marc Gasol is going to be good, and they’ll beat you. Plus we want to establish our identity. This is how we’re going to play and we’re going to get better at it and we’re going to push the ball and we’re going to evaluate talent and get better at it. It’s frustrating some players and I understand that obviously if you lose playing one way, let’s play the other way. So you can get killed the other way. We’re going by numbers, we’re going by feel, we want to establish an identity and we don’t want to be all over the board every night changing something up and matching up to other teams and then just grasping the straws.
Q: On how Johnson approaches defending (bigger guys):
D’Antoni: I thought Wesley played really well (at Indiana). He needs to keep doing that and being assertive and being quick and then we’ll see. If we can’t do that, we’ll have to get bigger and try to limit them as much as we can.