The Los Angeles Lakers have improved their defense this season. The team ranks 23rd in defensive efficiency (giving up 106.5 points per 100 possessions) after ranking dead last (109.3) a season ago. Still, after the team gave up 118 points to the Chicago Bulls in their second loss in a row, head coach Luke Walton made it clear he’s not satisfied with the team just yet.
"Our fouling set the tone. All of sudden you got shooters getting in rhythm from the foul line," Walton said following the game (as transcribed by Bob Garcia of Sports Out West). "It makes it hard to win. Our guys are playing with enough effort and scoring enough."
The Lakers certainly struggled to keep the Bulls off the line on Sunday night, giving up 28 free throws as their wing defenders did their best impression of matadors. Jimmy Butler was especially effective at the line, going 12-14 on freebies on his way to a 40-point game.
“Jimmy went crazy,” Julius Randle put it simply after the game.
Allowing 14 free throws to a single player and 28 to an opposing team hasn’t been the norm, but it’s also not that much worse than the Lakers have been on average this season. The team allowed 22 free throws per game heading into their loss to the Bulls, good for the eighth-worst rate in the league.
It’s the exact type of thing a young team adjusting to playing defense at the NBA level is going to struggle with. Players will be prone to silly fouls, or unsure of where the line is. Younger players are also less likely to get the benefit of the doubt from referees.
Walton seems to understand that the situation isn’t hopeless, and somewhat par for the course for where the Lakers are at their current stage of development. He’s going to keep harping on it, but he believes the team has what it takes to learn and improve in the areas in which they’ve struggled as well.
“I think that the players have belief in themselves,” Walton said. “I know our coaching staff believes in our guys, and it’s about continuing to get better, mainly at the little things.”
One of those little things is fouling too much, and avoiding doing so is the next step in the Lakers’ defensive development.
All stats per NBA.com. All quotes transcribed via Spectrum Sportsnet unless otherwise cited. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.