3. The Los Angeles Lakers improved upon their already outstanding defense.
Not only have this year’s Los Angeles Lakers improved on two of their greatest weaknesses from last season, but they’ve done so while somehow fortifying one of their greatest strengths – their defense.
By adding two of 2019-20’s best defensive players in Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews, the Lakers spent this offseason fortifying what was already a strength of their roster.
The 14 games we are judging the team on is admittedly a small sample size, but the early returns have been very impressive. Thus far, the Lakers’ defensive rating of 104 per game leads the NBA this season and is a full 2.1 points better than it was last season.
Not only has the team been very effective at stifling opposition shooting (ranked 5th in opposing FG% and 4th in opposing 3P%), but they’ve continued to limit opposing second-chance opportunities, ranking 2nd in defensive rebounds per game at 38.1 and 3rd in defensive rebound % at 76.1%. Furthermore, they lead the league in charges drawn per game at 1.21.
All of these metrics are a significant improvement on last year’s numbers, both in raw numbers and as ranked relative to the rest of the league.
Advanced defensive data for the season is not yet available on BBall Index, so beyond the eye test, it’s hard to properly assess how each player has performed on the defensive end. However, based on defensive rating per 100 possessions, only one rotation player has a rating below 106. For context, only four other teams even have a defensive rating of 106 or better at the time of writing.
One potential defensive weakness that is yet to be exploited this season is the lack of a big-bodied backup at the center position, a highly-desired rotation piece when you share a conference with MVP-candidate Nikola Jokic.
However, Marc Gasol has built a reputation in the NBA as the destroyer of opposing bigs (just ask Nikola Vucevic and Joel Embiid), so if he can stay healthy, he’ll go a long way into slowing the Jokic’s of the world down.
Additionally, despite his defensive struggles in last season’s postseason matchup, Anthony Davis has started the season playing like a bonafide DPOY candidate and has the ability to guard almost anyone in the league.
As we witnessed last year with the crosstown rival Clippers, even talented teams with lots of new pieces often take time to gel. With four new players in the rotation this season compared to last, there’s a distinct possibility that once given the time to build on-court chemistry, the Lakers will be even better defensively than they are currently, a scary proposition for future opponents.
It’s easy to regress after the dizzying high of winning an NBA title. However, the Lakers have measurably improved in so many facets of the game, that I believe that this year’s team is somehow better than the championship-winning team of 2019-20.