||02-26-2013 03:56 PM
Re: Article Request (ESPN) Are the Lakers most disappointing team all time?
Lakers an all-time disappointment?
Not really. They're living up to projections; expectations were way off
Updated: February 25, 2013, 10:24 PM ET
By Neil Paine | Basketball-Reference
As if the Lakers weren't already the league's biggest ongoing melodrama this season, Kobe Bryant upped the ante last week, telling Sports Illustrated, "It's not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will. And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone -- Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver -- whoever. I have zero nervousness about that."
Despite the fact the Lakers are on an 11-4 run, John Hollinger's playoff odds make Bryant's vow look like a pipe dream. Based on 5,000 simulations of the remainder of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers entered Sunday with a mere 31 percent probability of making good on their superstar's promise. And for what it's worth, Basketball-Reference's similar system is even less optimistic, pegging the Lakers' chances at just 22.9 percent.
If these forecasts prove prescient, the fallout in Los Angeles will be immense. Relative to preseason expectations, the 2012-13 Lakers could go down in the popular consciousness as the most disappointing team in NBA history -- again, based on preseason expectations. Billed as a collection of four surefire future Hall of Famers (Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol), the raw star power on this roster had Lakers fans prepping for a championship parade in June -- not watching the playoffs open in April without a hint of purple and gold.
As of the 2012 Hall of Fame induction, just twice before in the history of the NBA has a team with four future Hall of Famers failed to make the playoffs. That list of teams could potentially grow to five (not including the 2012-13 Lakers) if Mark Aguirre, Jo Jo White and Willie Naulls eventually make the Hall.
Four months ago, it seemed unthinkable that the Lakers would join that ignominious group. In retrospect, though, perhaps it shouldn't have -- in reality, they were probably never going to be as good as the "Four Hall of Famers" headline had people believing.
Just like the other teams that missed the postseason with four Hall of Famers, Los Angeles' presumed Hall contingent is an old one. In fact, with an average age of 32.8, the Bryant/Howard/Nash/Gasol quartet would be tied with the 1977-78 Celtics' cast of Dave Cowens/John Havlicek/Dave Bing/White as the most ancient of any foursome on that list. While the 27-year-old Howard is still squarely in the middle of his prime as a player, the best days in the careers of Bryant, Nash and Gasol are all well in the rearview mirror.
For another thing, there was the pesky matter of depth, as naysayers warned about the Lakers' thin supporting cast before the season even began. With Bryant at 34, Metta World Peace at 33, Gasol at 32, Nash at 38 (an age by which every point guard in history not named John Stockton had succumbed to decline), and Howard less than a year removed from major back surgery, it was clear that L.A. would eventually have to rely on the likes of Jodie Meeks, Chris Duhon, Earl Clark, Darius Morris, Jordan Hill, Steve Blake and Devin Ebanks -- none of whom projected to be very good this season (and they didn't disappoint).
In other words, if you look at the distribution of playing time the Lakers have actually received from their various players, it's not really all that shocking that they've struggled as much as they have.
The Lakers have given 40 percent of their minutes to players who aren't named Bryant, World Peace, Howard, Gasol or Nash. Using a projection system similar to the one that leads all statistical methods (and ranks a close second overall to Las Vegas) in APBRmetrics' 2013 NBA prediction contest, that group of players could have been expected before the season to contribute a collective net schedule-adjusted efficiency of minus-9.6, a performance roughly as bad as the Bobcats have been this season. In reality, the Lakers' scrubs have actually contributed a minus-8.5 net efficiency rating, which means they've actually slightly overperformed expectations.
Los Angeles' front-line stars have certainly disappointed, contributing a net efficiency rating of plus-8.3, well below the plus-10.0 the Lakers could have reasonably expected. Mainly that's been due to Howard and Gasol, whose respective advanced statistical plus/minus ratings are 2.5 and 2.2 points lower per 100 possessions than would be predicted before the season. But the 60 percent of team minutes the Lakers have gotten from the Bryant/Howard/Gasol/Nash/World Peace cohort is almost exactly what was predicted before the season. In other words, it's not like the Lakers' reliance on players other than their stars was exactly unexpected.
Add it all up, and the Lakers are hardly the league's most disappointing team this season, much less of all time. Given the quality of the players they've handed minutes to, Los Angeles' net efficiency rating of plus-1.5 is actually only 2.1 points per 100 possessions lower than the plus-3.6 mark we would have expected from the preseason projections of the Lakers' individual players, a shortfall that's only the ninth biggest in the league this season.
Even in light of their preseason projections, going into the season there was a nontrivial 23 percent probability that the Lakers would have an efficiency rating as low as the one they've actually posted. Based on the talent levels of their rosters, the Celtics, Hawks and Bucks -- just to name a few -- have all undershot their expected efficiency ratings more than the Lakers. (And the Spurs have overperformed far more, relative to their expected efficiency, than the Lakers have underperformed relative to theirs.) Among teams since the 1979-80 season who were projected to have a net efficiency of at least plus-3.6, 36 have fallen shorter of their predicted efficiencies than this season's Lakers.
There will be an inevitable postmortem on the 2012-13 Lakers campaign. Please resist the urge to merely look at their four Hall of Famers and call them one of NBA history's great disappointments. This season hasn't gone the way L.A. had hoped, to be sure, but many of those expectations were unrealistic to begin with.
A lineup with Nash, Bryant, Gasol and Howard would have been unbeatable several years ago, but the versions of those players this season's Lakers counted on were either injured or older, faded copies (or both), and Los Angeles never had the depth to make up for it. Basketball history has offered up far more surprising results than this flawed roster missing the playoffs.