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8 charts that explain the Lakers

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Dive in to perhaps the most interesting story in the NBA right now: the Los Angeles Lakers' rapid decline.

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The Lakers appear to be the worst team in the Western Conference and perhaps the second-worst team in the entire NBA. They'd be the early favorite for pole position in the NBA lottery race if not for those pesky 76ers.

How did we get here? Why is this so shocking? What's next? These eight charts will do their best to explain the Lakers.

1. The Lakers are rarely this bad

Lakers Are Never Bad

This is the single chart that fuels all the wonder around the Lakers' horrid state: it's like a double rainbow in the Gobi. We are not remotely used to seeing the Lakers below .500. It's only happened four times in the past 38 years. Further, when the Lakers are bad, they're never Sixers bad. Last season was the Lakers' worst in L.A., and they still won 27 games, which is closer to mediocre than flat-out awful.

2. There aren't many defenders here

Lakers Defense

That's the Lakers' starting five graded on their 2013-14 defensive RPM, as reported by ESPN.com. There's reason to take that data with a grain of salt: Kobe played limited minutes, Jordan Hill is likely underrated and Jeremy Lin is likely overrated. But the idea in general terms is sound: this starting five is very short on defense.

3. Kobe takes a lot of shots

Lakers Cake Chart

The exploding pie cake chart shows the share of each players' shooting possessions per game, using data from Basketball Reference. Shooting possessions incorporate free throw attempts into the figure -- the formula is 0.44 times FTAs, plus FGAs. The 0.44 multiplier accounts for league norms on and-1 opportunities.

As you can see, Kobe takes a lot of shots. Like, more than one of every four shots the Lakers attempt. And he's only playing 34 minutes per game. Imagine if he were up around 38.

This isn't necessarily bad in and of itself, of course. Kobe is clearly the team's best healthy offensive player, so he should get more shots than anyone else. It's just another facet of what makes L.A. so fascinating to watch. (James Harden in Houston is similar in this respect: he's taking 24 percent of the Rockets' shot attempts.)

4. Byron Scott has a mixed record on defense

Byron Scott

This is pretty interesting, given the data from Basketball Reference: the first season of each of Byron Scott's coaching stops has featured a bottom-10 defense. In New Jersey and New Orleans, his teams' defenses improved rather quickly. Adding Jason Kidd and then Chris Paul in his second seasons clearly did not hurt.

That did not happen whatsoever in Cleveland, and L.A. will almost assuredly fit the pattern this season. The question is whether next year will be like Scott's early jobs or a Cavs redux.

5. The Lakers take a lot of long twos, and don't shoot them too well

Lakers Shot chart v2

Ignore the vast red beyond for a moment. We're focusing on the wide yellow zone here. In this shot chart from NBA.com's stats page, we see that the Lakers take a ton of mid-range jumpers, but don't shoot them at league average. The Lakers are 24th in the NBA in field goal percentage on shots 15-19 feet from the basket, yet L.A. is No. 1 in the league in long twos attempted per game. That seems like a bad combination!

6. The Lakers are three-averse

lakers threes v2

Only one team takes threes less frequently than the Lakers (Minnesota), even though L.A. is about middle of the pack in shooting percentage from downtown. The coach has said he doesn't think teams win championships by relying on threes. He should meet the last several NBA champions.

Anyway, it could be a case of the Lakers heretofore only taking the most obvious threes. If they took more, their shooting percentage would plummet. Regardless, this is an issue that can be resolved when Nick Young is healthy ... supposing Scott doesn't get in Swaggy's way.

7. There is one giant salary anchor here

Lakers cap

That's the Lakers' current salary cap sheet, with the data from the excellent ShamSports.com. As you can see, L.A.'s front office went into the free agency period with an enormous liability (in the financial sense): Kobe Bryant is due 38 percent of the salary cap. Add in Steve Nash's dead-weight deal and more than half -- 53 percent, actually -- of the Lakers' salary cap space was used. It's hard to do much around that.

8. There is hope ... in 2016

lakers 2016 cap

So long as Kobe doesn't re-up at a massive dollar figure and Mitch Kupchak doesn't sign someone else long-term in 2015, the Lakers are poised to have something like $80 million in cap space in 2016 as the new national TV deal kicks in, assuming there is no smoothing mechanism. The NBA would like the cap to be closer to $80 million, which would give the Lakers $70 million in cap space under this exercise. That's still a lot! Like more cap space in one year than is mathematically possible at this point.

Add in the Lakers' huge local revenue, the lure of L.A. and Kupchak's history of success, and there's no reason to think the purple and gold won't be right back in the saddle in two years' time.

★★★

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