After having a top-five defense to start the season, the Los Angeles Lakers finished the season ranked No. 13 in defensive rating for the second consecutive year. Their defense took a massive hit when their defensive anchor, Lonzo Ball, went down with a season-ending ankle injury, and they fell No. 7 to No. 22.
During that stretch, LeBron James was criticized for not stepping up on the defensive end, and for good reason. Through 21 games for the Lakers from Jan. 20 to April 10, James allowed 111.3 points per 100 possessions, which might be average for any other player, but not a player of James’ caliber.
Granted, he was playing through a groin injury at the time, but the kind of effort he displayed was consistent with what he showed throughout the season. Next season, Anthony Davis expects him to be better, and during a recent interview with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Davis said he’s going to make sure to hold James accountable.
While Davis hasn’t put that into practice just yet, James told Spectrum SportsNet that he’s looking forward to the challenge:
“Let’s do it. I love it. You know me, I love a challenge. And for AD to set that standard... I love that. I got whatever is needed for the team.”
Does that mean Lakers fans should expect James to be a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year next season? Probably not, but consistent effort from James and Davis on a nightly basis should set the tone for the rest of the team and hopefully lead the Lakers to their best defensive season in years.
At 34 years old, though, it wouldn’t be surprising to see James save his legs for the postseason, when he’ll be expected to stay in front of elite two-way wings like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.