NBA Ultimate Questions: Why are the Los Angeles Lakers Losing?

Lakers expert Andrew Sugar uses the Four Factors of Success to break down the Lakers' sad season.

Lakers Four Factors of Success

Many basketball pundits debate why the Lakers are losing so much this season; some cite the loss of Nash, others the lack of a real bench, or Gasol’s knees that are the problem. What makes the Lakers' sluggish start so fascinating is that they rank seventh out of 30 teams in numberFire's Power Rankings with an expected record of 13-9.

I attempt to explain to dig deeper to discover what has truly contributed to the Lakers 9-13 start. Advanced metrics, coupled with, Dean Oliver’s “Four Factor’s of Basketball Success” we’ll conclude that shooting (40%), turnovers (25%), rebounding (20%), and free throws (15%), applied both offensively and defensively, will tell the story in Tinseltown.


The Lakers are indeed a solid shooting team. Their 51% effective field goal percentage (which factors in that a 3-pointer is worth more than a 2-pointer) ranks sixth in the NBA. In fact, three of the Lakers' top scorers (Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Metta World Peace) are all shooting greater than 54 percent from the field. Defensively, the Lakers are more pedestrian. They hold opponents to a 48.5 percent effective shooting rate, which ranks 13th in the league. Even if we omit the three, the Lakers still rank seventh and 13th in field goal offensive and defensive percentage, respectively. Thus, it’s clear that shooting isn’t the real problem at hand.


The turnover woes have been a big issue this season for L.A. Without Steve Nash at the helm, the Lakers' estimated turnover percentage (estimating the number of turnovers/100 possessions) is 15 percent, ranking 29th in the league. On the flip side, the Lakers can’t force turnovers on their opponents either. Their 12 percent defensive turnover percentage is good for only 28th best in the NBA. If turnovers count for one-quarter of a team’s chance of winning, it’s easy to see why the Lakers have been losing games they should be winning.


Rebounding accounts for 20 percent of a team’s outcome, and the Lakers do this successfully. Defensively, Dwight Howard, Jordan Hill & Co. defend the glass at an effective 74.3 percent rate, making them good for 5th in the NBA. They also do a great job at crashing the offensive boards, posting again a fifth-best mark in NBA. In fact, D-12 is third in the NBA with 12.1 rebounds/game. Perhaps, if he didn’t foul so much (Howard leads the league in fouls), he’d make an even bigger impact in the paint.

Free Throws

Free throw shooting is a very interesting dilemma in Lakerland. Their 67.5 free throw percentage is second-to-last in the NBA. Undoubtedly, that number must improve for the Lakers, but is it hurting them now? Free throw factor, which estimates free throws made and free throws attempted over 100 possessions, is very strong for L.A. Their .263 FT factor of offense is second in the league, and their .188 FT factor defensively is fifth in the NBA. In fact, Howard’s 242 and Kobe’s 194, are the first and third most free throw attempts in the league, respectively.

To conclude, Kobe’s right in insisting you need to be patient with this Laker group. They’re the seventh-best metrics team in the NBA, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. If they cut down the turnovers and continue to gel together, things will turnaround. Didn’t we ask the same questions about the Heat a few years back?