The Los Angeles Lakers offense only managed an offensive rating of 89.9 against the New Orleans Pelicans in their loss on Tuesday night, meaning the team scored at a rate that would have translated to 89.9 points per 100 possessions.
That would easily be the worst rate in the league if continued over a full season, but according to Lakers head coach Luke Walton, the purple and gold’s problem lay on the other end of the floor.
"We have to go into these games with a much stronger desire to play defense,” Walton said on Spectrum Sportsnet following the game, and based on the Lakers’ recent defensive performances it’s hard to argue.
The Lakers started the year as a slightly below-average defensive team, which given how historically awful they were last season stood as a massive improvement. The team has regressed since then, however, and is now giving up 108.6 points per 100 possessions on the season. Not only is that the third worst mark in the NBA, but it’s less than a point better than the 109.3 the Lakers allowed last season.
It’s been even worse over the last ten games, in which the Lakers are allowing an almost impressively bad 113.1 points per 100 possessions. Yes, the team did have their metrics nuked by the Golden State Warriors for two of those games, but that is still really horrible.
Is it fixable? The answer one has for that likely depends on a few things. If you think the Lakers’ defense to start the season was sustainable, then sure they can bounce back. If you didn’t, than this is just a painful to watch regression to the mean.
The other factor to take into account is injuries. While the time missed by Nick Young, Julius Randle, and D’Angelo Russell isn’t exactly leaving the Lakers without multiple Defensive Player of the Year candidates, the absences of those three have led to more minutes by more defensively challenged players. Thomas Robinson isn’t going to make a huge difference on that end, Lou Williams playing more is never good news for a team’s defense, and neither is Jose Calderon doing the mannequin challenge in a misguided effort to relate to his millennial teammates.
Those types of problems may not be fixed by a simple boost in effort from the Lakers. The team’s defensive personnel is just somewhat lacking, and team’s have started to exploit them more efficiently now that they have more tape. Walton attempting to coax more desire out of the team is understandable, but no matter how badly this Lakers team wants it, they may just not have the personnel to be great on the defensive end.
Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.