The Los Angeles Lakers defense is terrible, and there's no argument to be made otherwise. Opponents are averaging 114.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com, which is the worst mark in the NBA. The Lakers struggle to protect the rim, don't have the isolation defenders needed to take players out of games and aren't nearly coordinated enough as a group to make crisp rotations to counteract opposing offenses. That last point -- team defense -- is where they're really getting picked apart.
Opposing shooters are draining 45.9 percent of their corner threes against the Lakers, one of the deadliest shots in the NBA. The Lakers have given up the sixth-worst shooting percentage from this area, which won't cut it in a league that's gradually leaning harder into analytics that show this is one of the best places to find efficient offense. The Lakers have allowed the most made corner threes in the NBA (28) through eight games played, per NBA.com.
Against the Lakers, the corner is the place to go. Their inability to put up some sort of respectable resistance to these shots doesn't fall on a single player, but the entire team and coaching staff. Head coach Byron Scott has repeatedly called for the Lakers to execute defense "on a string," but he surely didn't mean for them to play like a bunch of purple and gold yo-yo's.
Take, for instance, this very simple play from the Los Angeles Clippers. There's nothing flashy about this set that causes the Lakers' defense to break down, it happens on it's own. Chris Paul isn't immediately picked up by anyone and cuts into the paint. The Lakers' defense, meanwhile, is preparing to double team -- maybe even triple team -- Blake Griffin:
Once Paul gets into the paint everything breaks down for the Lakers. Every player on the floor is watching Griffin back down Ed Davis. Jamal Crawford and Chris Douglas-Roberts rotate along the perimeter to shift the Clippers' floor spacing while thee defense is ignoring them. Paul is going to curl out to the corner:
This is what the Lakers are left with:
It's easy to single-out Wesley Johnson in this play. but this isn't his fault alone. The Lakers weren't communicating as a team, and Johnson, Ellington and Lin didn't adjust at all. Sure, four of the five Lakers players picked up someone, but that's not because they were all crisply rotating. It was more like a game of musical chairs, and when the music stopped, Wes didn't have a seat to drop into
There are a few things that could have happened here. Wes could have rotated onto Douglas-Roberts, freeing Jeremy Lin to pick up Paul as he ran into the corner, or Ellington could have rotated into the corner, Lin onto Crawford, and Wes onto Douglas-Roberts. This did not happen, though.
Instead, somehow, someway the Lakers' allowed an all-world basketball player a wide-open three:
Here's the poor team defense in motion, sped up a bit:
The Lakers' defense is completely disorganized and doesn't have the personnel to make up for an obvious lack of cohesion. It's been the opposite so far this season: the lack of individual's who can play defense has repeatedly hurt them once their team defense falls apart.
This play from their lone win is another good example of a team-wide break down highlighted by a poor individual defender (Carlos Boozer). The Charlotte Hornets dump the ball into the low-post to Al Jefferson, and Kobe Bryant immediately digs in to double him. Charlotte is in a 4-out-1-in set, spacing the floor. Kobe's decision to double forces Wesley Johnson into a bad situation. He has to cover both Lance Stephenson and Gary Neal on his side of the court:
Jefferson looks at Neal, Wes jumps the passing lane, and Jefferson kicks out to Stephenson who is sprinting into the paint from the top of the three-point line. Lin sees this and gets into the paint to cut him off, and Carlos Boozer is still in the paint:
Remember that jumble above that the Lakers never recovered from? Here's another one.
Lin actually does a very good job of getting in front of Lance, but now the Lakers have a serious problem. All five of their defenders are in the paint (save Kobe, who's a step away) and the Hornets have three players spotting up from deep. Lance can put the ball anywhere on the perimeter for a clean look, but hits Williams, who is Boozer's responsibility. Boozer tries to close out but isn't nearly quick enough, or long enough, to make that kind of recovery:
There are more issues than Boozer here, though. Both Wes and Kobe are still hanging out in the paint instead of trying to get back out to their assignments. There's an argument to be made they're "waiting" for a rebound, but here's a better argument: What if Williams swings the ball to Kemba Walker? Johnson is nowhere near him. What if Kemba keeps the ball moving and hit's Neal? Kobe is nowhere near him.
This is another team-wide defensive failure.
And sure, it's easy to cherry pick plays that make any defense look bad, but it's too easy to do so with the Lakers right now. There's so little they do right when put into a position where they have to make decisions and react defensively that opponents are just shooting fish in a barrel.
Here, Jeremy Lin hangs out in the paint and ball watches as Kosta Koufos sets a screen for Vince Carter instead of staying attached to Mike Conley. Conley floats to the corner. Ronnie Price is also watching the screen, so Beno Udrih shifts to what will be an open passing lane:
And we have another jumble.
Both Wesley Johnson and Ronnie Price crowd Carter as he comes off the screen, but he now has a clear passing lane to Udrih. Lin finally moves out of the paint to close out on Udrih, but this goes back to the point brought up in the previous play. The closeout is there from Lin, so Udrih swings the ball one more time to the corner, feeding Conley for a wide-open corner three:
There's no reason for both Wes and Price to defend Carter coming off a screen, and Lin is in a terrible defensive position.
The Lakers have many issues on defense, which was expected. This is a handful of players who have never played together, under a coach in his first year with the team. The growing pains have been severe, but there's actual concern this team may not have much potential to grow. Their lack of discipline is a team-wide problem, and it will take a huge change in defensive strategy, and engagement, to fix this.
Byron Scott said he wasn't sure the Lakers' defense could be turned around this year after their seventh loss of the season. One thing that's certain, though, is all these threes and defensive break downs are grating on his nerves: