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Laker Film Room: How the Lakers run drop coverages

Luke Walton and JaVale McGee have recently disagreed on the pick and roll coverage that the Lakers run the most. What are there other options, and why aren’t they using them? Let’s take a look.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It isn’t a fun time to be a Lakers executive, coach, player or fan right now. The team is 3-7 without LeBron James in the lineup, and the outlook for his return is murky at best.

Times like these test the unity and cohesion of a team and signs of discord are beginning to show, with JaVale McGee recently criticizing Luke Walton’s play-calling on offense, as well as the Lakers’ pick-and-roll coverages. The offensive criticism is entirely warranted, but the Lakers have significantly outperformed expectations on the defensive end.

Drop coverages have been a staple for the team this season, with JaVale McGee, Tyson Chandler and Ivica Zubac patrolling the paint on ball screens as Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and others look to apply back pressure after fighting over the top of screens.

Let’s take a closer look at how the Lakers execute this defensive scheme, what their other options could even be, and why they haven’t gone to them:

McGee has been quietly terrible since returning from pneumonia, and the Lakers have been outscored by 53 points in the 172 minutes that he’s played during that time. He’s always had a tendency to turn his body on drop coverages in an effort to block the shot, but he’s swatting fewer of them while inviting scorers to the rim, and he’s begun to blame Luke Walton when the team struggles in those situations.

“They were definitely just exploiting the pick and roll. I feel like they were getting too deep,” McGee said after Friday’s loss to the Utah Jazz. “Maybe we should have changed our coverage from a drop to get up a little more, but we didn’t.”

They were getting too deep because JaVale was letting them, with nothing more than a token effort on his contains, but if your big man — who’s the most essential cog in the defense — decides that a defensive coverage isn’t working, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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