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March 23, 2011, 02:14 PM ET
The Exception That Proves the Rule

by Kevin Pelton

I hadn’t thought about the Los Angeles Lakers’ three-point defense in a while before Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register checked in on my Unfiltered post the last time the Lakers hosted the Phoenix Suns. Notes Ding:

The Lakers led the NBA in 3-point defense last season. So it wasn’t that likely for them to do so well again this season considering the random element involved in that statistic.

[…]

The Lakers did do something to help their 3-point defense since then this season, though.

The changes made in their defensive scheme have meant Lakers defenders stick with 3-point shooters better and concede more mid-range shots. At least in some part because of that, the Lakers entered Phoenix’s second visit to play them at Staples Center on Tuesday night ranked third in the NBA in 3-point defense. The Lakers were allowing 33.6 percent success on 3-pointers, trailing only Chicago and Miami.

By virtue of playing the Suns, the Lakers dropped slightly to fourth in the league. But they are still the only team that has ranked in the NBA’s top five in defending the three-point line each of the last three years.

    2011   2010   2009
1    CHI    LAL    CLE
2    PHI    CHA    ORL
3    MIA    OKC    LAL
4    LAL    MIA    CHI
5    ATL    BOS    BOS

Looking at that list, I may be underrating the extent to which a defense’s overall ability to contest shots predicts its three-point percentage allowed. Other than this year’s Hawks, all the rest of the teams in the top five in three-point defense have also been top 10 defenses overall. So we may be able to improve our ability to predict opponent three-point percentage by considering other factors. Still, the sheer randomness involved makes it difficult to expect teams to consistently be elite at defending the three–except the Lakers.

As for the defensive changes, Ding’s excellent reporting helped lead to this Sebastian Pruiti post on just what exactly the Lakers are doing differently and why.

You can contact Kevin at kpelton@basketballprospectus.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kpelton.

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