The Lakers lost to the Dallas Mavericks last night. Watching the game was painful to watch. There were endless scores of baskets in the paint.
What happened to the Laker defense?
Not that Laker defense has been stellar all season, but, at least there was some presence in the paint. The Mavericks made the Lakers look like a practice team; continuous routine of layups through give-and-go situations and pick-and-roll plays. It didn’t matter who was involved in the plays. Everyone got a piece.
Do you think it’s sole Pau Gasol’s job to protect the paint? It’s not. This is where the loss of Shawne Williams hurts the team. It’s cliche to say that his affect on the team is greater than his statistics, but it is true in this case. He was the Robert Horry for the current lineup; providing 3-point range, team-defensive help, and a calm presence on and off the court. His 5.2 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game are good numbers considering he played just 20 minutes a game. He kept the ball moving on offense and leaked out perfectly to the 3-point line for open shots. Defensively, he fought against perimeter power forwards and post up players alike with great effort.
Ryan Kelly is going through a maturation process as a rookie with added playing time. He repeatedly got burned by Dirk Nowitzki. Shawne Williams would have provided a fighting chance considering his wingspan and defensive fundamentals. Shawne is effective as a team defender. Pick-and-roll situations require team help rotations and boxing out in the paint, and he provided that consistently all year-long.
Offensively, Pau had to work harder to get any kind of shots in the paint. Ryan Kelly has 3-point range, more he is more likely to put the ball on the floor and draw in defenses near the free throw line, exactly to the area where Pau likes to work. Pau was averaging around 20 shot attempts a game prior to the Mavericks game. Last night? He shot 5 of 14 from the field, with a greater difficulty of shots. He didn’t get the space that he was used to, much closer to the basket.
Now that Shawne Williams is no longer a Laker, Ryan Kelly needs to step up his defense in terms of covering the paint. He’ll understand basic man-defense principles, but positioning to cover up the paint and boxing out is a different dimension altogether. It’s still surprising to see Sacre get so much more playing time over Chris Kaman too. The Lakers actually outrebounded the Dallas Mavericks by 6 total rebounds including grabbing 5 extra offensive rebounds, but Kaman’s range from the center position would have fit in nicely considering how far Gasol was shooting away from the basket.
In the end, it’s a business decision for the Lakers. Unfortunately, the morale of the team isn’t as upbeat as it was earlier in the season. There are too many injuries. There’s too much time to wait. The Lakers gutted a solid player away from an already crippled Laker team.
Sometimes it isn’t just the losing. Sometimes it’s because, they lost a member of the family.