What Can't Brown Do For You? (The Data View of the Lakers Decision)
That was fast. After a brutal 1-4 start to the 2012-13 campaign, the Lakers got rid of head coach Mike Brown and presumably the Princeton offense. The Lakers assembled a power squad in the offseason, bringing in the likes of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in addition to their already dominant core of Kobe and Pau (...and Metta). Let's take a quick look at whether this management decision makes sense.
Five games into the season is enough to make a rational and educated decision, right!? No, absolutely not - especially in an 82-game race. Yes, Mike Brown had a (shortened) season last year to make changes, but this firing comes as a result of their dream team not performing to expectation. Expectation is a funny thing though: the smaller the sample size, the greater the variation from expectation will be. Just think, if you flipped a coin 5 times (out of a potential 82), it could very well come up heads four times. That 80% heads rate is a huuuuge deviation from the expected 50% rate. But the more and more you flip it, the greater the chances are that it will be within a small margin of error around 50%.
Even after the 1-4 start, we at numberFire still have the Lakers at 77.8% to make the playoffs and 6.8% to take home the title. Furthermore, we have them as our No. 10 ranked team based on efficiency, expected to win 59.5% of their remaining games. That means they should go 46-31 the rest of the way.
The Lakers rank No. 7 in offensive efficiency so far this year, scoring 105.9 points per 100 possessions. While they rank No. 29 in turnover rate, turning the ball over on 17.5% of their possessions (only the Thunder are worse), they rank sixth in effective field goal % and No. 2 in both offensive rebounding rate and free throw rates. The other side of the coin is defense, where they allow 107.6 points per 100 possessions -- that's no good. This is mostly because they are not forcing turnovers (No. 26 in the NBA at 12.3% of possessions ending in a turnover) and they are fouling too much. Opponents are averaging .225 free throws per field goal attempt, seventh-worst in the NBA. One more note is that Dwight Howard's personal defensive rating is at 105 right now, meaning he allows 105 points per 100 individual possessions against him as a defender. While defensive rating is not a perfect metric for an individual since it is highly estimated -- in fact it is highly tied to the team defensive efficiency -- Howard's career defensive rating is 98 and it has not been above 96 since the 2007-2008 season. He is consistently one of the top defenders in the league, hence his yearly defensive player of the year award.
So why fire a guy after just five games? Is it to send a message to your players? Do they actually think Mike Brown is the reason for the Lakers early failure? Chances are, that decision will actually look brilliant to the public, because the Lakers will undoubtably regress upward toward expectation as the season continues and sample size increases. It is unfortunate that Brown has to be the scapegoat when he is likely not at fault anymore than random variation is at fault. There's obviously panic in L.A. rivaling that of the panic in L.A. during "The Day After Tomorrow," but five games is still five games. At least give Brown a fighting chance to deliver (see what I did there?) on expectation.