When LeBron James first left the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with the Miami Heat, their focus in training camp was almost solely on defense. According to James’ description of his first training camp with the Los Angeles Lakers, Luke Walton is taking a similar approach to his first season coaching LeBron as Erik Spoelstra did.
According to James, the Lakers have primarily been focusing on defense thus far in the few practices they’ve had. He says that’s how they’ll get into their offense, through success on the other side.
“I think it will be kind of similar to Miami in the sense of we really started with our defense and got out and ran,” James told reporters after practice Wednesday afternoon. “When you get out and run, you’re able to get down the floor before teams can set their defense.
“There’s a lot of good defenses in our league, so to be able to get stops and get out and run before defenses get set up. That’s what we did a lot in Miami. We started with our defensive side and if you defend, it gives you an advantage on the other end.”
For statistical context, those Heat teams James is mentioning didn’t really play as fast as he might remember. In 2011, they ranked 21st in terms of pace, then 15th in 2012, 23rd in 2013 and 27th in 2014. As has often been referenced this summer, the Lakers are coming off a season in which they tied for the second-fastest pace in the NBA.
Still, anyone can surely remember how devastating those dynamic Heat teams were on the break when they did run, so the theory James is envisioning makes sense.
Thanks to crazy overhaul, the Lakers are going to be implementing a brand new system basically on the fly. So focusing on defense, something the Lakers can control, in order to grab a few easy buckets each night is a sensible approach.
While James mentions the higher-caliber defenses in the NBA, focusing on defense to create offense against inferior opponents should pay even higher dividends, as they tend to turn the ball over more often and get back on defense more lackadaisically.
James’ teams may not have gotten out in transition as much compared to other teams, but he is one of the game’s absolute best on the break. In Miami, James had Dwyane Wade to help lead the break and in Cleveland, he had Kyrie Irving for a few years and Kevin Love outlet passes, but he hasn’t played on a team with this many guys capable of getting the transition game started, whether from a rebound or a turnover.
The idea of James being able to simply get out on the break while Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo or Brandon Ingram get the ball past the first layer of defense is, quite frankly, thrilling to think about.
And when it is James starting the break and he has shooters filling the lanes next to him, he’s almost weirdly detail-oriented.
“I know how guys like the ball,” James explained. “I watch a lot of film. Knowing if guys like seams or no seams, if they like low passes or high passes, if they like the [pass on the] numbers or the forehead, it’s my job to get it to them.
“I think our coaching staff and Luke will put them in positions, but wherever they are on the floor it’s my job to get it to them.”
One thing I legitimately can’t wait to watch on a nightly basis is the precision James manages on cross-court passes on the move. The idea that he recognizes who will be on the receiving end and alters the way he holds the ball or where he’s going to hit his actual target heading into each pass is mind-boggling.
None of this is possible, though, if the Lakers don’t live up to the caliber of defense they played last year, especially early in the season. If they’re able to match or even exceed that efficiency, they have the tools to be absolutely deadly in transition. That James, the coaching staff and the rest of the Lakers have already recognized this leads me to believe they know what to focus on to make it happen.