The Los Angeles Lakers look different than they did last season.
Even though the Los Angeles Lakers just won their 17th NBA title, the front office decided that roster changes were needed. The feeling was that to defend their title, the team shouldn’t stand pat.
General Manager Rob Pelinka traded for or signed five new players: Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell, Wes Matthews Jr, Alfonzo McKinnie and Dennis Schroder. He also re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Markieff Morris. As a result the Lakers now have a stacked, deep roster.
How does the current roster compare to the championship squad in three important areas?
Comparing the Los Angeles Lakers’ defense
Aside from the superlative play of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the team defense was probably the biggest factor of the 2020 postseason title run. In the regular season, they finished ninth in the league in points allowed per game, 113.1
In the postseason the Lakers gave up just 112.8 points, despite having 5-6 blow-out wins when the defense relaxed at the end. More importantly, they held all four playoff opponents — Portland, Houston, Denver and Miami — to below their average points per game.
With defense in mind, many fans bemoan the loss of rim protectors Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. During the regular season, the duo combined to average 2.5 blocked shots and 13 rebounds a game and were a big reason why the Lakers controlled the paint. The team led the league with 6.6 blocked shots per game.
However, their contributions fell significantly in the postseason to 1.1 blocks and 7.7 rebounds. McGee was ultimately benched for seven of the team’s 21 games while Howard sat for three. The Lakers were third in the postseason with 5.3 BPG.
In their place this season are Gasol and Harrell. For their respective teams last season they combined for 2 blocks and 13 rebounds. But their defensive strengths are not blocked shots. Gasol is regarded as one of the NBA’s best position defenders in the low post, while Harrell absorbs more charging fouls from an opponent than almost any other big man.
Outside of the paint, the Lakers will now plugin Matthews for Danny Green. Both are plus defenders on the perimeter. The team returns its other two best outside playoff defenders, KCP and Alex Caruso.
Also, 6’4″ Talen Horton-Tucker, an outstanding defender with a huge 7’1” wingspan, is slated to receive minutes this season. Although it may be hard for McKinnie to get much court time, he is also regarded as an excellent defender.
Schroder puts great pressure on the ball, similar to what Avery Bradley did in the regular season. He and KCP will likely defend most opposing point guards, although at times that duty will fall to either Caruso or THT.
The Lakers’ best defensive player is, of course, AD, who many thought should have been voted the NBA’s best this past season. In the postseason, LeBron also stepped up his D.
It will take a little time to completely integrate the new players into the team’s defensive system. There will likely be a slight drop in the number of blocked shots, but the overall Lakers defense should be nearly as good this season and will remain a team strength.