Lakers: Defense Progressing, But Still Needs Improvement

The Lakers’ defense is still abysmal, but there are signs of hope

It’s been a rough 11 games to start the season for the Los Angeles Lakers, but even at 2-9, the squad has already shown progress from opening day. Despite starting the season at the very bottom of the league defensively, the Lakers have shown some improvement over the last several games and potentially have some foundation on which to grow as a unit.

After an 0-4 start, head coach Byron Scott drastically changed his rotation by activating 36-year-old Metta World Peace and rookie Larry Nance Jr. Since then, the pair have supplied some much-needed discipline on that end of the floor. Through the first five games of the season, the Lakers were nonexistent on defense, averaging the second-worst defensive rating and giving up the second-most points per game (NBA.com).

1st 5 GamesLast 6 Games
Def Rtg:109.329thDef Rtg:102.519th
Opp FG%:47.427thOpp FG%:413rd
Opp PPG:11329thOpp PPG:99.312th
Opp TOV:12.8T-30thOpp TOV:11.229th

 

As of late, those numbers have improved significantly. Over the last six games, the Lakers are ranked 12th in opponent’s points per game and, surprisingly, third in opponent field goal percentage, per basketball-reference.com. Their rotations have improved substantially and they are no longer allowing free access to the rim like they were during the opening few games. While their opponents have been weak during this six-game stretch, they were giving up 120 points to equally poor teams to start the season.
Progress aside, they haven’t been making it easy for themselves.

Even when they do get stops, they often fail to secure possession. Thus far, the Lakers are allowing the second-most offensive rebounds per game (12.7) and have given up 36 putbacks, fourth-worst in the league (NBA.com). Their glaring rebounding problem took center stage in their most recent 120-101 loss to the Phoenix Suns, where they were out rebounded 55-41 and 18-7 on the offensive glass.

Scott acknowledged this shortcoming after the game, vowing to spend more time on “back to basics” rebounding drills at practice.

While Scott’s warning may serve as psychological motivation for the Lakers to extend their effort on the court, it may overlook a bigger defensive issue entirely: who is on the court in the first place. Coming into the season, expectations for this squad were tempered considering the objective lack of star power. However, Scott’s curious personnel management hasn’t done any favors to the team’s performance, especially on the defensive end.

In Monday night’s lost to the Suns, the starters played just 14 minutes together, two minutes more than the five-man unit of Brandon Bass, Marcelo Huertas, Larry Nance Jr., Lou Williams and Nick Young. On paper, that is an abysmal defensive lineup and the real life product is no better. That unit produced a net rating of -17.4 and an astronomically bad defensive rating of 135.1 (NBA.com). To make matters worse, it also surrendered this:

Last night was no outlier. That unit has been atrocious defensively the entire year, yet has played the fourth-most minutes of any Lakers lineup. In 19 minutes, that lineup has posted a net rating of -16.5 and a defensive rating of 133.5. That output is third-worst in the entire league among lineups sharing the court for at least 15 minutes this season (NBA.com). These disappointing numbers can largely be attributed by the defensively-inept backcourt duo of Huertas and Lou Williams.

Williams’ defensive effort has often been called into question and, despite an impressive preseason display of passing, Huertas’ inability to stay with NBA-caliber point guards defensively has become a major concern. Couple that with the head-scratching decision to play Bass extended minutes at center and you’ve got a lineup destined to fail on the defensive end.

With that being said, it’d be irresponsible to blame specific players for the Lakers defensively lapses considering defense is, first and foremost, a team effort. While they’ve made some steady improvements from the very beginning of the year, the team as a whole still needs significant improvement to reach competence at the defensive end. Still, Scott could help his own cause by giving World Peace and Nance extended playing time while limiting the minutes of that disastrous defensive lineup of Bass-Huertas-Williams-Williams-Young.

There’s certainly a light at the end of the tunnel, but this year we’re going to have to get there one step at a time.