The Los Angeles Lakers are thrilled to have Lonzo Ball as their franchise point guard, giving them a talent to build an offensive identity around. Lakers head coach Luke Walton doesn’t expect their playbook to be the key in establishing that, though.
Walton, flanked by Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka, joined ESPN’s John Ireland and Mychal Thompson for an hour-long chat about the state of the franchise. It was a great window into where things stand with less than a week until training camp begins.
A big takeaways is that defense is the primary directive for Walton’s team, and he explained why that’s so vital to the kind of style he’s building around Ball.
“Defense is everything. Defense defense defense, because we want to run. We want to run every opportunity we have, but it's a lot easier to run when you're getting stops, and you're not taking the ball out of the net.
“As far as the way we're coming in, it’s gonna be a simple training camp as far as the amount of plays and offense we're putting in, because our focus is going to be on getting that ball, getting it to Lonzo, and getting on those wings and running as fast as we can,” Walton said.
The Lakers have been doing a lot of “taking the ball out of the net” in recent history, becoming a constant resident at the bottom of the defensive-analytics barrel. Pelinka’s hopeful that a renewed commitment to improving on defense, along with additions like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andrew Bogut, will lead to positive results.
“On the defensive end with Luke kind of preaching these principles with his staff, when you think about it we have Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who we signed who is an elite perimeter defender. Respected by all his peers in the NBA as a great great defender, and then we made a decision with Jeanie's support yesterday to bring in Andrew Bogut as our 15th guy. Paint protector.
“There was an analytic that the front office ran that said our team last year had one of the lowest percentages at stopping other teams at the rim. Teams would get by us on the perimeter and finish at the rim,” Pelinka said.
The Lakers’ defense has been last in the NBA in each of the last two seasons in defended field goal percentage on shots attempted within six feet of the rim, and were bottom-three the season prior. There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical about how much of an impact Bogut can make in the paint, but Caldwell-Pope should be a noticeable help in preventing dribble penetration.
All of this sounds great on paper. The Lakers are built to be a fast-paced team, but you need transition basketball to establish that kind of tempo. Transition comes from stops. Stops come from defense. Really makes you think.
The Lakers allowed 110.6 points per 100 possessions last season, according to NBA.com, the worst mark in the league. Obviously there’s much work to be done, and a few days of training camp alone are just the start of a long road toward improvement.
Walton noting that the offense is going to be bare bones is also worth mentioning. It makes sense that a team with so much strategic investment predicated on Ball pushing the pace and handling the ball wouldn’t bog things down with Xs and Os. Simple screen sets should be fairly easy to implement, and Brook Lopez spacing the floor as a legitimate three-point shooting center is a fuzzy blanket for Lonzo to use in a variety of ways once the ball stops.
Featured players like Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance, Jr. and Jordan Clarkson already have a year of working in Walton’s system as well, which should help ease the growing pains once halfcourt sets come into play.
*All quotes transcribed via ESPN Los Angeles