The Los Angeles Lakers started the offseason smoking hot with the additions of LeBron James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Since then, the moves made by the front office haven’t quite been met with the same enthusiasm.
Historically speaking, James is at his best when surrounded by shooters. However, according to a joint report by Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst, the type of roster president of basketball operations Magic Johnson sold to James was one built on players that can create for others and play hard defense. Evidently, James bought in and he’s not the only one.
In an interview with Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN, Caldwell-Pope talked about his high expectations for the Lakers’ new-look roster on the defensive end:
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on how the additions of LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee improve the Lakers defense: “We won’t know until we play a game or practice but right now I think we [are] at least a top-five defensive team, and we are going to reach for that.”
While it’s nice that Caldwell-Pope has faith in his new teammates to buy in on the defensive end, only a few of the aforementioned players gave KCP a reason to be as optimistic as he is.
Of the 14 players expected to be on the Lakers’ 2018-19 opening night roster, only five of them finished with positive defensive box plus-minus: Lonzo Ball (2.5), JaVale McGee (2.1), LeBron James (2.0), Brandon Ingram (0.3), Josh Hart (0.2) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (0.4) himself. It’s far from elite, but it’s start.
However, this notion that Rondo and Stephenson somehow make the Lakers a better defensive team has more to do with reputation than facts.
Rondo posted the worst DBPM of his career (-0.7) last season with the New Orleans Pelicans. But at least Rondo knows when to lock in defensively, only posting a negative DBPM once in his postseason career. As much as he might hate the nickname “Playoff Rondo,” it is very much a thing.
Stephenson, on the other hand, hasn’t been an impact defender since James was still in Miami. There’s no questioning he looks like he plays hard defensively, but that’s about all that can be said about him on that end.
Luke Walton will have his work cut out for him once training camp rolls around, but if he got a bunch of teenagers to buy in defensively, there’s at least a chance he can get the Lakers’ newest players to buy in too.
Last season, the Lakers had the 12th-best defensive efficiency in the NBA, with a defensive rating of 105.6 thanks in no small part to Brook Lopez and Julius Randle, who both departed from the team this summer.
One can argue that McGee and James are upgrades defensively, but Randle and Lopez contributed things that the former don’t, such as Randle’s ability to switch onto guards on Lopez’s ability to space the floor. Needless to say, there’s going to be an adjustment period.
That’s not to say the Lakers are a worse team defensively because of their newest acquisitions, it’s just a little ambitious to say they make the team better on that end.
All stats were provided by bsaketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted. You can follow Christian on Twitter at @RadRivas.