The Los Angeles Lakers’ last head coach, Byron Scott, liked to talk about how defensive minded he was essentially whenever a microphone was put in front of him. The Lakers, as almost anyone reading this is surely aware, were unable to transfer that mindset to the court, ranking last or second to last in defensive efficiency over Scott’s two years at the helm.
Such defensive futility is a large part of why the team has a new head coach in Luke Walton. So far, the change has made a difference. Preseason stats should be taken with an entire salt shaker or salt, but the Lakers’ are still only giving up 99.3 points per 100 possessions through five exhibition contests, a ten point improvement from their last in the league rate last year.
That level of success likely can’t and won’t continue, but Walton has been using improved schemes, growth from the young players, and offseason additions to at least guide the Lakers on an upward trajectory.
According to the resurgent Nick Young, the reason for his own defensive improvement is even simpler:
Young on improved defense: “It helps when you have a coach that will talk to you about it & prepare you, try to help you.” (via @SpectrumSN)— Ryan Ward (@RyanWardLA) October 14, 2016
Young’s damnation of the prior coaching staff via his faint praise for the new one aside, his defense has been shockingly good so far over the preseason. He’s stayed with his man on and off the ball, moved laterally, and used his long arms to help a Lakers bench that has made passing lanes look more clogged than the streets of downtown L.A. at rush hour.
Whether or not he and the team can keep up something close to this level of effectiveness when the real games begin remains unknown (they certainly didn’t in their loss to Sacramento), but at least we know that the players feel the current Lakers’ coaching staff is “trying to help them.”