When Frank Vogel was hired by the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, he had a reputation for being a defensive-minded coach, and rightfully so. In the five seasons Vogel served as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers, the Pacers finished the regular season with a top-three defensive rating three times, including the best defensive rating twice.
Obviously the defensive talent Vogel had at disposal — Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, etc.— made his job easier, but he also needed to put those players in a position to succeed, and to his credit, he did. The same has held true with this year’s Lakers team.
The Lakers ended the regular season with a defensive rating of 106.1, which was the third-best defensive rating in the NBA and the best defensive rating they’ve posted as a team since the 1985-86 season. That defensive rating has dropped to 108.1 in the postseason, but they’ve still posted the best net rating (+7.2) of any team by a 1.9-point margin.
Anthony Davis, who finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, has obviously played a big role in their success on the defensive end, but Davis believes their commitment to the less glamorous end of the floor started with Vogel.
“He got on us day one about defense,” Davis said. “Guys know he’s a defensive-minded coach, and we know that if we want to win, we’re going to have to play defense. Obviously offense, you can look at teams, you know, when I was in New Orleans, Alvin [Gentry] used to say it all the time, he used to preach defense. I had the best offensive team, we would score 130 and would never get past the second round of the Western Conference because we didn’t play defense.
“You hear the cliché all the time: defense wins championships. In order for you to win, you have to defend. That’s what we try to do. He told us from day one that we’re going to being a defensive-minded team because that leads to fast-break points. We want to run, we want to get stops and run and the only way you can run is if you get stops. So guys just kind of bought into it. We trust him and we trust each other, we can trust each other on rotations.”
The Lakers held the Miami Heat to 96 points in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, which is the fewest number of points the Heat have scored in their playoff run. Their second-lowest point total (98) also came against the Lakers.
There might be better defensive teams, and even better defensive coaches, but the Lakers are one win away from securing a championship and Vogel has prioritized defense over everything else during their playoff run. The NBA might not recognize Vogel for his efforts, but it’s clear the Lakers do.