Before the season started, the Los Angeles Lakers set out to be one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, and they accomplished that goal with flying colors.
Through 52 regular season games, the Lakers posted a defensive rating of 106.1, which was the third-best regular season defensive rating in the league, and the team’s best defensive rating since the 2011-12 season. In the postseason, they’ve posted the fourth-best defensive rating (106.6).
Leading the way for the Lakers on defense has been Anthony Davis, who ended the regular season ranked third in blocks (143), second in defensive rating (101.8), second in defensive win shares (4.4) and third in defensive box plus-minus. Davis’ monster defensive season earned him the second-most first-place votes for the Defensive Player of the Year award behind Milwaukee Bucks forward and reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Antetokounmpo ranked first in many of the defensive categories that Davis ranked second or worse in — including, but not limited to, defensive rating and defensive box plus-minus — and the Bucks as a team had the best defensive rating in the NBA. However, Frank Vogel is still of the belief that Davis is the best defensive player in the league, and he thinks Davis’ value on that end has been on full display against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals.
“The way we need to play against this team, if we’re gonna double the way we did, you’ve got to have big guys that can scramble and guard on the perimeter and have mobility,” Vogel said. “In my mind [AD] is Defensive Player of the Year. No disrespect to Giannis, but he just covers so much ground, and if you have smaller guys around him, you can just cover more ground.”
Unfortunately, the numbers have told a different story in the second round. Through two games, the Lakers’ defensive is 3.9 points better per 100 possessions with Davis on the bench. When you look at the postseason as a whole, though, Davis has the second-best defensive point differential (-14) on the team behind Alex Caruso (-19.9).
If the Lakers get past the Rockets, it’s safe to assume Davis’ defensive numbers will bounce back because none of the remaining teams pose the matchup problems for Davis that Houston does. Until that happens, Davis will have to try and be the Lakers’ defensive anchor from wherever Vogel plays him.