Commentary

The NBA's positional craters

Even top teams like the Lakers have big gaps to fill this offseason; here they are

Updated: June 23, 2011, 6:23 AM ET
By Kevin Pelton | Basketball Prospectus
Derek FisherBrian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesDerek Fisher did not offer much help for the Lakers at point guard.

With the majority of NBA teams shifting into offseason mode -- a group that now includes the Los Angeles Lakers -- a common theme is improving on weaknesses. For some teams, that requires difficult assessments. In other cases, the problem was all too obvious all season long. We're interested in the latter group, the positions that were the biggest trouble spots for their teams.

To evaluate the weakest positions in the league, we were guided by a handful of statistics. 82games.com tracks team production by position, as measured by John Hollinger's PER. The best measure is net PER, which includes a measure of individual defense in addition to offensive performance. Those stats were supplemented by using Basketball Prospectus' wins above replacement (WARP) metric by position and a dose of common sense to come up with the following rankings -- with the now-eliminated Lakers sitting smack in the middle of them.

1. New Jersey Nets: Small forwards (-7.6 Net PER, -9.5 WARP)
When the Nets signed Travis Outlaw as a free agent, last summer, it made sense on the surface. Outlaw had been considered one of the league's best reserves and, at 26, was just entering his prime. What the Nets failed to realize was that Outlaw's best play with the Portland Trail Blazers came as an undersized power forward, not at small forward. During 2008-09, for example, Outlaw had a PER of 14.0 when playing the 3 but an impressive 23.0 PER as a 4-man. As it turned out, Outlaw could not even match his previous performance as a small forward when his 3-point percentage cratered, leaving him as one of the league's most inefficient scorers (Outlaw's true shooting percentage was just 46.9 percent).


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