Mar 22, 2012, 2:36 PM EDT
Since the day the lockout ended, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been the team to beat in the Western Conference. And while we can pick apart the Thunder’s flaws — they have gotten pushed around in the paint of late — their status as the top dog has never been in question.
But who is the second best team in the West?
It looked like maybe the Clippers for a while, but their offense has faded and their defense (and coaching?) exposed. Look at the standings and they say it’s the Spurs, and certainly they have been good this season, but the question remains if they have fixed their flaws from last playoffs — if they run into the Grizzlies or Lakers, two teams that get a lot of offense from bigs in the paint, can the Spurs really stop them?
Then there are the Lakers. At moments (particularly at home) they looked the part, then they go out and lose to Washington and Detroit and most recently a Rockets team missing its starting backcourt. It’s been hard to take them seriously because of consistency and play on the road.
But does Ramon Sessions change that?
Maybe. The Lakers defense has been solid all season, and in spots quite good. But their offense has been pedestrian — 16th in the NBA at 101.5 points per 100 possessions so far this season (via Hoopdata).
However, if you watched the Lakers the last few days when Sessions was on the floor, you could just tell things flowed better. His quickness and passing skills suddenly make Mike Brown’s offense work. In a fantastic post at Sports Illustrated Zach Lowe has the numbers.
But in the 100 minutes Sessions has played, the Lakers have scored 114 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would lead the league by a mile, according to NBA.com’s stats tool. The Lakers have been more efficient in just about every way possible during those 100 minutes…
They have shot many more threes per minute with Sessions on the floor and made them at a very high rate. This is a great thing for a team that has been one of the two or three worst three-point-shooting teams all season… The Lakers have attempted the equivalent of 20 threes per 48 minutes with Sessions manning the point, and they have hit 48 percent of them. In the 92 minutes Sessions has sat during those four games, the Lakers are still the Lakers, clanking away to the tune of 25 percent from deep on just 14.6 tries.
Yes, all these numbers are some Small Sample Size Theater. Yes, they’ve come against some pretty blah defenses for the most part. This is not how things are going to look exactly in five weeks when the playoffs start.
But soon Sessions will be getting the bulk of the minutes at the point for the Lakers and if he can raise the Lakers offense up to just good, they become the biggest threat to the Thunder in the West. And then we can all overanalyze how much of a role Derek Fisher would play in a playoff series between the two sides.