I’m not going to argue with the old saying that “defense wins championships.” That truth is older than I am. In the grind of a seven-game series, nothing can get you back into a game or shut the door behind you like good, solid defense. But I will argue that you need guys that can fill the bucket.
Shaquille O’Neal was the 2000 league scoring champion. Bryant finished 12th. In 2001, O’Neal finished 3rd in the scoring race, and Bryant 4th. And in 2002, O’Neal finished 2nd, and Bryant was 6th. Except for the first year, the Lakers had two scorers in the top 10. The Lakers were the ultimate two-handed boxer.
How about now? Bryant finished 2009 in 3rd, and Gasol at 36th. Whoa! What the…?! In 2010, Bryant placed, 4th and Gasol 32nd. Ouch! Currently, Bryant sits at 6th and Gasol 30th. These are completely contrasting numbers. How do the Lakers even stay competitive with such a difference in scoring from their All-Stars? You would think that a team in the middle of their second three-peat campaign would have two guys that can put points on the board…right?
The answer to this riddle, and last leg of our discussion, lies on the glass. What the current squad lacks in scoring, it makes up for in rebounds. O’Neal finished 3rd, 4th and 8th in league rebounds during those championship years. Behind him, no other Laker even finished in the top 40. He was the Lakers’ only real source of loose balls off the glass. Pau Gasol finished 2009 and 2010 at 15th and 5th, respectively. He is currently 9th overall. The key to this equation is Lamar Odom.
Odom ranked 31st in 2009, 16th in 2010 and currently ranks 21st. Bynum, as an added bonus, also makes the list ranked at 35th. That’s three Lakers in the top 40 rebounders.
In my opinion, while defensive rebounds create possessions, offensive rebounds create points. I feel offensive rebounds work heavily in favor of the rebounding team. The rebounder is already in the immediate proximity of the basket and is usually in good position for a put-back. Or, if the rebounder outlets to the perimeter, the defensive team is usually in a momentary state of disarray. That first outlet pass to the outside is either a great time to get an open look or start a round of passing while the defense takes a second to find their rotations.
The first championship team was a scoring team with two phenom-ballers who could both put up points. And most the time they were at wits end with each other while doing so. Our current Lakers squad is a bit more well-rounded from top to bottom. Oh, and they actually like one another.
Obviously the characters have changed, but the trends and rankings are strikingly similar and compliment each other well, and that’s a great sign. Are we happy with the Lakers’ regular season play when we want to be? Probably not. Will we see a couple more inexcusable losses before the regular season ends? Count on it. Will we probably see a couple painful losses in the playoffs? Be prepared folks.
But are they in a position to make a legitimate run at their third straight championship and 17th in franchise history based on factual numbers that matter and not just talent and expectation? Absolutely.