Before the season started, Anthony Davis issued a challenge to his new teammate LeBron James: make the All-Defensive First Team for the first time since the 2012-13 season. While that likely won’t happen, James has given the Los Angeles Lakers his best defensive effort in several years.
Through 62 games, James has posted a defensive rating of 102.8, which is a 4.8 improvement from last season and his best defensive rating since the 2015-16 season, the same season he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship. He’s also posting a Defensive Real Plus Minus (DRPM) of +3.93, which is the second-highest DRPM in the NBA behind Rudy Gobert, who’s won the Defensive Player of the Year award twice and is among the favorites to win it this season.
As a team, the Lakers have been 9.5 points better on the defensive end per 100 possessions with James on the floor this season, according to Cleaning the Glass. The second-highest defensive point differential on the team is Alex Caruso at -3.7.
James hasn’t just been a good defender by his standards, or for his age; he’s been flat-out good, and it’s inspired his teammates to worker harder on that end. Following the Lakers’ loss to the Toronto Raptors, a game in which James posted a defensive rating of 97.3, Kyle Kuzma praised James for his infectious energy on defense.
“Seeing him play defense just lights a fire under everyone’s butt,” Kuzma said of James. “It’s championship time, and he’s just being a great leader by showing us the way. Especially starting on the defensive end, (in) year 17 getting after it. He’s had great leadership throughout the quarantine, training camp and even now.”
If Kuzma’s recent effort on the defensive end is any indication of how the rest of the team will respond to James’ commitment to that part of the game, the Lakers’ already-elite defense has the potential to go to another level in Orlando.
For the season, the Lakers are ranked third in defensive efficiency, and their superstar duo of James and Anthony Davis is at the center of their success. If they can get everyone else to buy in, they’re going to be a tough out in the playoffs. From the sound of things, they’re on the right track.