The Los Angeles Lakers were a horrendous defensive team during the 2016-17 season. They gave up 113 points per 100 possessions, the franchise’s worst defensive rating since the stat became trackable in 1949. Offensive efficiency was up across the league last year, so the numbers might not be quite as bad as they look, but whatever way you slice it, they were bad.
The Lakers’ bad defense wasn't all the fault of Jordan Clarkson, or any one player for that matter. It takes a team effort — or lack thereof — to produce defensive incompetence on the level the Lakers’ displayed throughout last season. The addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will help, but the Lakers are going to be mostly reliant on better defensive coaching and natural development from their younger players if they want to be better on that end.
Jordan Clarkson understands that, and he told Mark Medina of the Orange County Register he wants to become more of an impediment to Lakers’ opponents:
After listening to the Lakers coaches constantly harp on his defense, Clarkson has continued to work on it.
“A lot of it is not just one-on-one defense,” said Clarkson, who cited the team’s need to trust and communicate with each other on rotations. “There’s a lot of team concepts I have to pick up on and really put my mind to this year so I can help the team the best way I can.”
Clarkson is right that his one-on-one defense wasn’t the Lakers’ sole issue, but it certainly didn’t help, a reality reflected by the fact that the Lakers were 3.6 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Clarkson sat than they were when he played.
Clarkson is also not the most aware player away from the ball, so if coaches are preaching those kinds of things too him and he’s listening that’s a positive, because entering his fourth year in the NBA at age 25, it’s not impossible to believe Clarkson would improve on defense. It would be hard for him to get much worse, so that’s kind of a positive.
That being said, this is one of those situations where everyone is better off waiting and seeing before getting too excited at Clarkson saying the right thing. Let’s see if he can speak better defense into existence, or maybe even practice it into reality.
All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.