A Category 5: Here's why the Lakers may be the greatest team ever
Should we save everyone the time and the aggravation and just have Kobe pose kissing the O'Brien Trophy retro Jordan style right now? Because barring injury or stupid personnel maneuver (neither of which can be discounted), there is next to no way the Los Angeles Lakers will be denied the NBA World Championship this season. In fact, they may end up being the greatest team of all time. And I'm talking objectively. Let me lay out the case.
At the moment, I would argue the "Greatest Ever" distinction lies with a different Los Angeles Lakers team, the 1971-72 version. I make that assertion because that 71-72 Laker team had a "Net % Team and Opposition Win Score above the NBA average" that was higher than any team I calculated, and my calculations go back to the 1963 NBA Finals.
My calculations are presented here in 3 parts, each of which you can click on to view:
1. Two seasons ago-1976-77
2. The Rest of the 1970s NBA Finals
3. The 1960s NBA Finals through to 1962-63
Caveat: I must note that numbers 2 and 3 are based upon certain "estimates". The NBA did not keep all of the statistics necessary to calculate Win Score until 1976-77, so I had to estimate turnovers, blocks, and steals using a mathematical model. That said, I believe the results, while not perfect, are legitimate.
By my "Net % Win Score above NBA average" standard, the 71-72 Lakers just edges out the most underrated team of all time, the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks (47.9%), along with other more lauded teams such as the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls (47.5%), last season's Boston Celtics (46.3%) and the 1985-86 Boston Celtics (43.7%). Note: Bucks fans, the 1966-67 Philadephia 76ers, a team often cited as the greatest team of all time, and one certainly held in higher regard than the 71 Bucks, is not even close using my standard (39.6%). I guess it pays to play in a big market (had the 71 Bucks been able to face the Knicks in the Finals, and had they added the 1974 championship, I believe they'd be much better remembered).
So, with that background, let me tell you about the growing monster known as the 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers. Last year the Lakers had an outstanding offense (+24.5%), but a mediocre defense (+2.1%). They were thus beaten (as is normally the case) by a Boston Celtic team with an outstanding defense (+31.9%), and a pretty fair offense(+14.4%). Apparently, the Lakers took note. (From the desk of The Los Angeles Lakers: "NEED TO ADD DEFENSE").
And this season they've done that. And in doing so, they've put it all together. They've got the same old offense, and a very unLaker like commitment to defense... and its downright scary. As soon as I saw that I took notice. THAT was what I was looking to see... would the Lakers commit themselves to defense? It seems they have. And in so doing, they've become the epitome of that stupid high school cheer, "Our offense is awesome..." (+47.6%), "...our defense dominates" (+40.6%). And as the refrain suggests, that's the "winning combination". Go back over my charts and you'll see that's the case. The perfect storm... a team that plays +20 offense AND +20 defense... comes along maybe once in a generation. And when it does, all you can do if you're the rest of the NBA is duck your head, fasten the roof, and hope the tornado doesn't take your whole house.
Will the Lakers end up with a +87.6% net above Win Score. No chance. But I wouldn't count on them regressing too far back to the mean either. Basketball's a pretty predictable sport. Team's don't flash domination like this and then stop altogether. Now, if you pressed me, I'd probably bet the defense begins to lax as the Lakers begin to distance themselves from the pack. But I'd also bet we'd be likely to see it again in full throttle... oh, around mid May.
Last season, I called the Celtics a lock... based on the same analysis (shown here)... in February. This year I'm not waiting that long. In my book, barring unforeseen catacylsmic events, the Lakers are this season's World Champions. The only question left to be decided is, are they the greatest team ever?
Its early, but they're on their way.
Footnote: When I say their commitment to defense is "UnLakerlike" I'm refering to the bizarre similarity in Championship makeup... across generations... that exists for the Lakers, the Celtics, and the Pistons. The Lakers almost always have teams that are superior offensively and just above average defensively. By contrast, the Celtics... going all the way back to the 60s, seem to always have teams that are just average on offense but absolutely stifiling on defense. And the Pistons lockdown defenses of the late 80s were mirrored in their counterpart championship squad of the middle 2000s.