Much has been made about the 2013-2014 Los Angeles Lakers defense--or perhaps lack thereof. From Nash and Kobe on the perimeter, to a small forward TBD and Pau's diminishing returns as a paint protector, there are serious questions as to whether or not we're looking at a bottom-5 NBA defense.
This all in mind, what hope, if any, do you see of the Lakers creating an at least adequate defensive scheme? In what way could their defense be good to great?
The Great Mambino
I'd instantly rule out this team ever having a good defense, let alone a great one. If anything, the Lakers should be aiming for mere decency on that end of the floor and not much else.
The team's Achilles heel for the past several years has been their ineffectiveness in pick and roll situations. Opposing point guards have sliced and diced the Lakers D in almost every situation possible, from All-Stars like Tony Parker and Chris Paul to faded impact players like Jameer Nelson and Jose Calderon to journeymen like Luke Ridnour. The only way I can forsee this situation getting any better is a core of new LA swingmen, including Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry using their athleticism and quickness to grasp defensive concepts quickly. From there, a more mobile Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman using their length to disrupt plays without fouling. This seems like PnR Defense 101, but it's shocking how horribly the Lakers have failed this class over the past three seasons. It's not out of the question for this to improve, especially with the new personnel in place.
More realistically, this team will have to heartily accept the team they are and work their defense within what should be a relatively stronger offensive scheme. In that sense, this should be a squad that works to be very disruptive in transition defense and again, use their athleticism and speed to get back on scattered running oppositions. Between Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Gasol, Hill and Young, this team has tremendous length and enough speed to wreak havoc while on the run or if they are able to force teams to play at their pace.
I have a hard time finding any area that the Lakers can be "great" on defense, let alone "good." The optimistic view is the sudden influx of youth and length at the wing positions can serve as a band-aid on a wound that was festering last season, but that remains to be seen. It needs to be cleansed, not taped up.
Maybe subbing Jordan Farmar into the game with the goal of pestering ball-handlers can become a thing, but that's risky with such a shaky back line behind him when Pau Gasol and/or Chris Kaman are in the game. The only drum that seems worth banging on is one I've been hitting all summer. Their hope for defense starts and stops with playing Jordan Hill significant minutes. Let's not even consider his mobility on defense (which he has a hefty advantage of over any other big on the roster). He's the best rebounder on the team and can be a key in limiting teams from grabbing an offensive rebound for extra possessions. On the other side, grabbing an offensive rebound eliminates a fast break opportunity.
The Lakers don't need a scheme so much as they need an "identity." They need to know what they are trying to accomplish on defense and apply those rules consistently. Point guards need to know if they're fighting under every screen or going over the top. Big men need to know if they're hedging in pick-and-rolls, trapping or containing over the top and rotating back to their man once the point guard recovers. It's difficult to say "this is what they need to do" because defense is such a tough thing to single out. It takes discipline, trust and clear principles to create a good defense. It takes all of that plus timing, decisiveness and multiple players seamlessly performing in their roles withing a system to create a great defense.
For now, there isn't much of that for the Lakers. Defensive cohesion doesn't develop overnight.
I can't imagine any scenario in which this Lakers roster somehow becomes a good or great defensive team. There just isn't enough individual talent on that end of the floor, and the lack of athleticism at the 1 and 5 spots will lead to plenty of easy buckets for the opposition on a gamely basis. We can, however, be fairly optimistic the team doesn't finish the season as a bottom-five NBA defense.
For them to be "good enough" defensively, D'Antoni and the coaching staff need to keep in mind each individual player's defensive limitations when putting together the different lineups. We know Kaman is horrible at defending the pick and roll, so it's probably a good idea to have him on the floor with Jordan Farmar. When Steve Nash is at the point, having Jordan Hill to protect the paint will give Nash a safety net, however thin it might be. More than a scheme or system, this team needs to have lineups on the floor that mask some of the obvious deficiencies. Both Farmar and Hill are young, athletic, and healthy - use their energy and play them big minutes. Farmar can and will be an absolute pest for the ball-handler, and Hill's activity in the paint should limit some easy buckets and second chance opportunities.
Consistency, consistency, consistency ...
Schemes or no schemes, success on defense will be dictated by the team's collective effort. D'Antoni cannot continue to experiment with different lineups while benching guys for multiple games. Not knowing your role on the team creates a feeling of indifference and that lethargy will kill any chemistry these guys have after a full training camp. Assistant Coach Kurt Rambis will likely play around with a variety of strategies, including a strong side zone that should limit some wing penetration. With that said, it is imperative that he, along with the players, know there is a promise of consistency with the lineups from D'Antoni. It's not easy coming up with a solid plan for defense when the head coach is playing mad scientist with different five-man combinations.
The defense preview included everything I have to say on the subject.