The Los Angeles Lakers traded for Roy Hibbert last offseason in an effort to fix their defense. The prevailing thought was that if Hibbert could maintain the effectiveness he showed at using "verticality" to defend the rim in Indiana with Los Angeles, then the Lakers could take steps towards fixing their moribund defense.
Anyone who watched the Lakers last season knows how that worked out. Hibbert’s effectiveness as an impediment at the rim was compromised by a combination of poor wing defense and a poorer scheme that saw him deployed too far away from the rim to make an impact.
Hibbert of course walked this offseason, and according to new head coach Luke Walton in some déjà vu inducing comments, the Lakers have found a solution to give them what Hibbert lacked last year.
In a larger feature on Mozgov’s health and readiness to live up to the big contract the Lakers gave him this summer, Walton shared some high praise for the center with Mark Medina of the Orange County Register:
Lakers coach Luke Walton called Mozgov "our starting center" entering the Lakers’ preseason opener against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday at Anaheim’s Honda Center. Walton proclaimed the 7-foot-1 Mozgov as "the best in the league at his verticality and protecting the rim." And after praising Mozgov for his passing and mid-range touch, Walton believed Mozgov can serve as a defensive anchor and floor spacer the same way Andrew Bogut did for Golden State.
Ignoring for now whether or not Mozgov can function for the Lakers in a similar offensive role Bogut had with the 73-win Warriors before they blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals (Mozgov told Medina he wants to be his own player), is the big man really "the best in the league" at using verticality?
Of the 31 players over seven feet tall who averaged more than 10 minutes a game last season, Mozgov’s defensive field goal percentage at the rim of 48.5 percent ranked sixteenth (For comparison, Andrew Bogut ranked fourth with 45.2 percent and Roy Hibbert was 22nd last season with 50.6 percent). Mozgov was ninth by the same qualifiers the previous season.
If one drops the height requirement to above 6’10, however, Mozgov takes a precipitous tumble to 35th, which is less than ideal for a player the Lakers just signed for four-years and $64 million to defend the rim.
Defensive field goal percentage at the rim is by no means a perfect qualifier for a player’s ability to use verticality, but those numbers are somewhat illustrative. The Lakers are going to have to hope that Walton is right, and that the (reportedly healthier) Mozgov they signed is closer to the 2014-15 version than the one that was out of the Cavaliers’ rotation for the postseason last year.