Lakers regressing toward the mean
I know I already declared the Los Angeles Lakers NBA Champions for 2008-09, I think like 2 games into the season. That may have been premature. Early on, they looked incredible, but things have changed.
The good news for the rest of the NBA is the Lakers' incredible production numbers of early November have fallen off across the board. They are still headed for an outstanding record, but they no longer look like an all-time great team.
Compare the two sets of data below, the first produced yesterday, the second produced in mid- November:
LA coming back to Earth
If you look at the TWC numbers from the two charts, a couple things stand out. First, the TWC numbers for every Laker have declined. No big deal. You would expect that to happen.
If you notice, though, the one Laker whose numbers declined the least are Kobe Bryant's. Indeed, his numbers at present jibe with his career norms. That suggests he will sustain his production level throughout the season. But the Lakers big start was powered by other Lakers... namely, Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza. And those 2 have fallen off.
I wouldn't be that concerned about Andrew Bynum. Had he not been injured last season, his TWC would probably have ended up where it is now (TWC is a product of a player's Marginal Win Score and his percentage of his team's overall playing time... it captures value by rewarding productivity as well as longevity). Thus, he can probably sustain himself at his present production level. I'm not sure about Trevor Ariza, though. Ariza's numbers are still high, but they have declined sharply. If I were a Laker fan, I'd be worried. Ariza's numbers are still well above his career norms, so his "bottom" is really uncertain.
The Lakers also have problems at the point guard position. Jordan Farmar's production has dropped off substantially, and is now below average, and Derek Fisher no longer seems capable of providing the Lakers with even "replacement level" production (if you go back a few posts, based on last season's numbers, I pegged the "replacement level" Marginal Win Score for NBA point guards -- in other words the average production a team could expect to get from a readily available "scrub" point guard -- at -1.4. Fisher is currently producing a Marginal Win Score of -2.6.)
One final note. Pau Gasol has been below average as a power forward (MWS/48 at power forward: -0.5). His positive Marginal Win Score has been produced entirely at the center position (MWS/48 at center: +3.0). That suggests Gasol is suffering diminishing returns as a result of Andrew Bynum's presence in the lineup. And indeed, that seems to be the case. When Gasol is playing the power forward, his rebounding numbers decline significantly... from 15.8 per 48 at the center position to 9.9 per 48 at the power forward.