Remember back to when you were in practice in whatever sport it was you played. During practice, your team likely ran sprints and there was always that one teammate who ran just a little too fast and forced everyone else to pick it up. That person was the worst, but the impact mattered.
That’s what it felt like watch Avery Bradley pick up Stephen Curry full-court in the Los Angeles Lakers’ first preseason game. He was working just a little harder than everyone else (and maybe too hard, given the way he was picking up fouls), and set a tone that his teammates followed.
Jared Dudley told our own Harrison Faigen in his wide-ranging feature on the Lakers' defensive approach that another guy who has been setting that tone might surprise you, given the way he’s played defense over the last couple years: LeBron James.
“A lot of defense has to do with your energy level, so someone like LeBron has had to save his energy so much for offense, but now we have Anthony Davis. We have better scoring on this team than last year, so he can be able to shift and balance his energy in the right way to help both offensively and defensively,” Dudley told Silver Screen and Roll.
“In scrimmages, he’s being really assertive. His man isn’t scoring. He’s not being lackadaisical with back door (cuts), he’s assertive because you have guys like Anthony Davis calling and directing, and making it a lot easier on everybody.”
James’ defense has come under fire in recent years, and last season was no different. But it was hard to hold him accountable when the closest thing he had to a peer was Rajon Rondo, who isn’t exactly a defensive stalwart, himself.
With Davis, though, James has a legitimate peer whom he respects beyond most fellow NBA superstars thanks to their shared Klutch ties. Like it or not, that relationship matters, and in this case (as well as the Lakers even landing Davis), the Lakers stand to benefit greatly from it.
As James’ defense goes, it will mean just a little more when someone of Davis’ stature is pointing out a missed assignment than if any of the young guys from last year would’ve attempted to do so. To that end, Davis has said he’s going to hold James accountable on defense, just as James is pushing Davis to prepare for games more thoroughly.
There’s also the effect of the aforementioned effort Bradley gave not just in that preseason game, but apparently throughout training camp. If the entire team elevates their level of effort and execution defensively, James can even further slow any individual slippage.
Whether all this matters is obviously debatable. Every season, these kinds of headlines come out of literally every team’s training camp. But with James, there are definable ways he and everyone around him can improve. Dudley’s observation thus far is a nice starting point.
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