Next season the Lakers offense should flow significantly better than it did in the previous season. The team has been constructed with the Mike D’Antoni offense in mind. Younger wing players who can shoot the three have been added. Chris Kaman, a center who has a midrange game, and Ryan Kelly, a stretch PF who can shoot the three, have also been added. This is great for the Lakers offense, which if nothing else, will be much more enjoyable to watch, but where does this leave the team on the defensive end?
The Lakers starting five, once Kobe returns, will look like this:
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Nick Young
PF: Jordan Hill
C: Pau Gasol
While the offense shouldn’t be an issue, where does the defense come from? Last season, Dwight Howard was essentially the Lakers defense all by himself. As we all know, he took his talents to Houston. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are minus defenders at this point in their careers and Pau Gasol isn’t the type of rim protector a team would ideally have in the middle. Nick Young isn’t a great defender, but generally will out produce his counterpart. That leaves Jordan Hill. Hill is unique for the Lakers, as he is the only PF/C on the roster who has true athleticism. For the Lakers to have any success on the defensive end, Hill must be the Lakers de facto rim protector.
Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman suffer from the same issue – they are too slow to rotate on defense consistently. We already know Hill can be an excellent rebounder, but we haven’t seen if he is able to take on the defensive responsibilities that will be asked of him. His high energy style of play leads you to believe he can take on this role, but Hill has never played more than 16.2 minutes per game for a season. Taking on the role as chief rim protector would require almost doubling that number, no easy assignment.
On the bench the Lakers will have Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Wes Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Chris Kaman and Robert Sacre. Steve Blake can be a pesky defender in short doses, as can Meeks. Johnson will likely have two important jobs with the Lakers – shoot the three and defend. Jordan Farmar gives the Lakers a younger point guard who should be able to stay with opponents with far more success than Blake or Nash.
This year will be make or break for Wesley Johnson. He was the 4th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, and clearly he hasn’t lived up to the massive expectations that come with being drafted the high. If Johnson wants to carve out a place for himself in the league, it is essential he becomes the Lakers best wing defender. Johnson has the length, a 7’1” wingspan, to be a defender who can cause havoc. The main issue is at 6’7” and only 206 lbs, he would certainly be bullied by larger small forwards. His body type is similar to former Laker Trevor Ariza (6’8” 210lbs), so there is hope he could flourish.
At the point guard position, Jordan Farmar will be asked to be the Lakers best defensive player. At only 26 years old, 27 in November, the Lakers added a point guard who is 7 years younger than Steve Blake and 13 years younger than Steve Nash. Even if Farmar isn’t an elite defender, his youth should help enormously. In Jordan’s press conference, he mentioned that “defense is a will thing.” Last season the Lakers seemed to spend more time blaming each other for defensive issues rather than actually focusing on the game. Jordan’s attitude, as well as his stature as a two-time NBA Champion, should help the defensive identity of the team.
The Lakers currently have 12 players on the roster, with the NBA minimum being 13 players carried per roster. This means the Lakers will add at least one more player, and by looking at the roster, it’ll likely be a player who can fill the role of the SF or PF. Likely, they won’t be seeing too much time on the floor unless injuries necessitate it.
The good thing for the Lakers, is three of the players they will rely on defensively – Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, and Jordan Farmar – are all playing for new contracts. None of these players will make the Lakers a good defensive team; the Lakers have no shot at becoming that. But if they can help keep the Lakers out of the bottom 1/3rd of defensive teams the Lakers could actually find some success.