In a league built upon trends and unearthing the next heralded market inefficiency, one of the most constant competitive advantages throughout the years continues to be defense. Yes, defense.
Granted, what may seem boring or unsexy to some, teams that are stout defensively continue to show they have a higher floor compared to their opposition, even within an era prominently recognized by its inordinate amount of threes and thunderous tomahawks.
Defense is — and has always been — a sturdy foundation of which the rest can be built upon.
In fact, among the top-ten teams in defensive rating last season, seven won at least 48 games, eight reached the playoffs and three made it to their respective conference finals according to Cleaning the Glass. For the Lakers, this an upper-echelon tier they will attempt to join.
While many have already assumed the Lakers will improve on what was the 23rd-rated offense last season with the addition of Anthony Davis and a cavalcade of shooters, the team’s defense will also need some fine-tuning if they want to resemble a legitimate title contender. The inclusion of Davis in particular, will likely play a big role in achieving that.
The dynamic big has routinely showed in what has somehow already been a seven-year career, to be one of the most impactful defensive players in the NBA through his otherworldly combination of size and functional athleticism.
Davis has also recently even cited winning Defensive Player of the Year as one of his individual goals for the new campaign. An ambitious goal, sure, but one that his new teammate Alex Caruso, told Spectrum SportsNet he believes is more than achievable for the 26-year-old. And defensively as a group, could prove to be “really good”:
“I think this team could be really good defensively. I saw AD make some comments about wanting to be Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s more than capable of that. So I think we have the right guards and the right supporting cast around him to make this a really good defensive team. I think it’s just going to get to training camp and push each other and see how good we can be.”
Individually, it is difficult to argue against Davis’ qualifications as he possesses all of the necessary physical tools to reach DPOY status, as Caruso points out. But likely more important from a team standpoint is the question of how effective his supporting cast will be in combatting the opposition.
In the early portions of last season, the Lakers actually outperformed expectations, as they hovered around the top-ten in the league in terms of defensive rating until teetering off once injuries and laxness creeped in. By season’s end, the team would eventually settle in around the middle of the pack per the same metric.
While many of the players who helped (and hurt) the team’s defense last year are mostly gone, there should be a level of concern present in terms of how quickly the new names and faces will mesh. Mainly, because past examples of clubs who graded out as strong defensively, often shared a significant degree of roster and schematic continuity.
Fortunately, there are credible reasons to share Caruso’s optimism for the Lakers’ defense. First, as a group, the team could benefit from playing under new head coach Frank Vogel, who has largely been recognized for his defensive-minded approach and past success with his stifling Pacers’ teams.
Additionally, the team’s non-Davis additions could help shore up any loose-ends left behind by those who are now gone. The Lakers’ front-office targeted and inked defensive-minded veterans like Danny Green, Jared Dudley and even most recently — Dwight Howard, to help bolster the 14th-rated defense from a season ago.
Green in particular, will likely help provide the biggest impact among the group. The reigning NBA champ finished second among all shooting guards in the NBA in terms of defensive real-plus-minus last season.
But beside Green, Caruso himself could end up playing a significant role in the team’s success as it only takes a quick glance of the Lakers’ roster to recognize the glaring hole in the club’s point-guard depth chart, specifically with the void left on the defensive-end after Lonzo Ball’s departure.
However, the team fortunately employs one of the more under-the-radar — sneaky even — backcourt defenders in the league in Caruso.
Although not getting consistent run in his career thus far, the “Bald Mamba” has showed to be a very capable rotation player when given the opportunity — specifically as a defender.
This is a skill the Lakers will definitely and desperately need as among the current other options at point guard, Caruso has easily showed to be the most effective and closest semblance to Ball’s impact.
Listed at 6’5” and equipped with good athleticism (ask Kevin Durant) Caruso has the physical tools teams often look for in the backcourt. As supported by the “eye-test,” Caruso’s defense was also received favorably per the data.
Last season, the former Texas A&M alum graded out in the 87th and 84th percentile of the league among guards in Bball-Index’s Perimeter and Interior defensive metrics. Both of which earned “A’s” in the site’s grading system. According to Larry David, this is pretty, pretty, pretty good.
While there will always be a somewhat wait and see approach when it comes to a new coaching staff, players and expectations, the Lakers at least have the makings of a good defensive team.
Whether or not this translates onto the floor may depend on if Davis does indeed provide the impact of a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and if Caruso is given enough of a chance to prove he is the quality player many Lakers’ fans believe he could be.
All stats per NBA.com unless otherwise noted. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.