To say that the Los Angeles Lakers were bad defensively last season is akin to calling an 18-car pileup on the freeway a “traffic delay.” While technically accurate, it dramatically understates the severity of the damage.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton could have taken the easy way out this year and asked for a team that gave up a league-worst 109.3 points per 100 possessions to be improved defensively. It wouldn’t have been hard, as the team could have done that almost on accident.
Walton is not setting the bar quite that low, however. Walton told Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News that he thinks the Lakers “will be a good defensive team” this season, but it’s hard to see a path towards more than marginal improvement on that end.
Despite Walton’s uncertainty over the starting lineup, the Lakers will likely start Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell in the backcourt. Those two will probably be better on defense this year than they were last season (especially in Clarkson’s case), and Walton may be confident in Timofey Mozgov’s ability to protect the rim, but the Lakers saw last year that one seven-footer can’t quite fix all of a young guard pairing’s mistakes. Fortunately for them, Mozgov is (probably) not Roy Hibbert and Walton is not Byron Scott.
Instead of espousing platitudes about “manning up,” Walton is actually teaching the young Lakers defensive techniques, and explaining to them why what they’re working on is important.
Defensive details are a HUGE focus of Lakers training camp right now (i.e. closeouts, bumping, tagging cutters, trapping, rotations, etc.)— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) September 28, 2016
And a really good question by @KamBrothers was how much learning those details makes them realize, why they were so bad on D last year….— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) September 28, 2016
To which, most everyone on the team last yr, has replied something along the lines of now they understand why they were so bad last yr…— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) September 28, 2016
Better fundamentals and scheme alone won’t quite fix the Lakers’ defense just yet. The team would have to basically not show up for games to regress defensively, but how much better they can be will depend on how quickly Clarkson, Russell, and Randle can pick up better habits, how much of a step Luol Deng has lost, and if Timofey Mozgov can regain his form from the 2014-15 season.
That’s too many variables to assume the Lakers will be “good” defensively this season (without even mentioning the bench), but the team is at the very least focused on stepping forward, which is a positive sign.