The Los Angeles Lakers’ seven-game losing streak can be largely attributed to the team’s struggles defensively. The team ranks second-to-last in the league in defensive efficiency while giving up an average of 109.8 points per 100 possessions, a mark worse than their already moribund 109.3 last season.
Things have been even worse over their losing skid. The Lakers are giving up 116.8 points per 100 possessions over the last seven games, and being outscored by an average of 19.1 points per 100 possessions, which ranks as worse than their already league-worst -10.7 net rating on the year.
D’Angelo Russell has only played in two of those games, but he’s not shirking responsibility for the Lakers’ struggles. On the contrary, Russell told Mark Medina of the Orange County Register that he blames himself for the Lakers not finding a way to end their slide over the last two games.
“It’s always my fault,” Russell told Medina. “Being the point of the defense and being on the ball and trying to make it tough for the next guard, I blame myself here.”
As Medina noted, opposing point guards have roasted the Lakers over the last two games (Derrick Rose dropped 25 points for the New York Knicks, while Darren Collison had 20 for the Sacramento Kings), continuing a season long trend, and Russell is far from blameless for the Lakers’ poor defense.
Los Angeles has been slightly better defensively with Russell on the bench this season, allowing 112.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor as opposed to 108.6 when he rides the pine.
Some of that number can be credited to Russell playing most of his minutes against higher-quality starters than the bench has to go against, but it’s not a pretty stat. Defensive field goal percentage also isn’t perfect, but it’s worth noting that the players Russell guards shoot 5.7 percent above their season averages.
However, Russell’s marks aren’t ALL bad. Lakers’ opponents shoot their second-lowest percentage on three-pointers as a team while Russell is on the floor. Some of that could potentially be chalked up to randomness, some of it could be because it’s easier to drive against Russell, but some credit could be due to Russell for running his man off the line at times.
The other silver lining in all of this? If Russell has been this bad defensively so far —and his willingness to take responsibility translates into improvement, not an insignificant “if”— just becoming “not actively harmful” to the Lakers’ defense could be a big step towards the team fixing some of their woes on that end and trending back upwards towards the level of play they displayed during their 10-10 start.