The Los Angeles Lakers have a multitude of problems, and although an injury to D’Angelo Russell hurts, it’s not the team’s biggest issue. Neither is the starting lineup. The Lakers’ real problem is that they’ve fully established themselves as the worst defense in the NBA at this point, and it’s the main reason they’ve been prone to so many blown leads and close losses alike this season.
Yes, offenses league-wide are better than ever, and yes, the team is young. Still, there is no reason the Lakers should be allowing their worst defensive efficiency in the history of the franchise (according to Basketball-Reference) and their fourth-worst ever relative defensive rating (their defensive rating relative to the rest of the league).
So why are the Lakers so bad? As you would expect from a bad defensive team in the NBA’s current era, the team allows the ninth highest percentage in the league on opposing three-point attempts (36.5 percent), while allowing the 13th highest percentage of opposing looks to come from that distance.
Those marks aren’t great, but they aren’t historically bad either. It’s not snipers that are dealing fatal blows to the the Lakers defense, but attacks from point blank range. Los Angeles is allowing their opponents to convert twos at the highest-rate in the league (53.4 percent), and that isn’t just opponents hitting a flukey percentage of mid-range looks. Lakers opponents are shooting 66.3% on attempts within six feet of the rim, also the highest mark in the league.
The Lakers’ lack of a real rim protecting threat reared it’s head once again in their loss to the Blazers. Portland took advantage of Los Angeles’ pu pu platter of defensive issues, from blowing by overaggressive bigs who got too close:
To taking advantage of poor contests:
Or exploiting cuts when the Lakers’ big men were drawn out of the paint:
Even when the Lakers’ bigs made the right rotation, the help for the helper was slow or nonexistant, as has been the case most of the season:
Poor box outs played a part too:
As the parade of various big men in those clips made clear, it hasn’t mattered much which member of the Lakers’ frontcourt is defending the rim either. Opponents are shooting 60.8% within six feet of the basket against Timofey Mozgov. Tarik Black is having marginally more success (59 percent), but both of those marks rank near the bottom of the league (14th highest percentage allowed at the rim for Mozgov, 28th for Black among centers to play in at least 20 games this season).
Thomas Robinson (62.9) and Larry Nance, Jr. (70.5 percent) have been just as bad. Ironically Julius Randle, he of the “too short of a wingspan for the NBA,” has actually had been the second-best Laker at defending the rim (opponents are shooting 57.5 within six feet of the basket against Randle).
Ivica Zubac has also been surprisingly good in limited minutes, allowing opponents to shoot just 54.5 percent within six feet so far this season, but as pleasant of a development as those two’s competency in this area is, it seems safe to say the team is going to need to make some serious fixes if they want to move out of the defensive basement.
That reality is almost assuredly a huge disappointment for the front office that signed Mozgov in part to shore up these issues, but they’re also not all his fault. The team allows a parade of ballhandlers into the paint and (as seen in the clips above) helps the helper poorly.
Some natural improvement as the young team gains experience would seem to be inevitable. However, Lakers head coach Luke Walton and his staff will also have to work on drilling their players with better habits as well. The team may not be able to avoid the lottery this year, and they will certainly have their work cut out for them if they want to avoid defensive infamy.