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Frank Vogel loves the defensive growth Carmelo Anthony is showing

The Lakers got an unexpectedly great contribution from Carmelo Anthony defensively on Sunday, and Frank Vogel says he’s continuing to improve on that side of the court.

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Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

When Carmelo Anthony goes into the Hall of Fame one day, there will be little mention of his defense, nor should there be. A top-ten scorer in league history, Anthony’s reputation as an elite bucket-getter with a focus on just one end of the court has merits, even if it’s been sometimes exaggerated throughout his career.

But on Sunday, Anthony — amidst yet another scoring outburst off the bench — showed he still has something left in the tank on that end of the floor, as he played a central role at times in a much-improved Lakers defense that held the Rockets to 85 total points and 54 in the first three quarters before a garbage time comeback fell short for Houston.

“Reputations are reputations,” Vogel said after practice on Monday, “but he’s had the mindset to come in and pull his weight and then some on the defensive side of the ball and be part of a great defense. So he asks great questions, makes sure he’s sharp with all of our coverages. And I think the other, more specific thing is that — and this is something you don’t see when coaching against him — is that he’s a great communicator defensively.

“He’s really one of our best guys out there at calling out the action, making sure our guards’ feet are changing when screen and rolls are happening and things like that. And if you’ve got a great communicator on defense, that really helps everything.”

On Sunday, Anthony recorded four blocks and two steals in the victory, only the second time in his career he’s done so in a single game. The four blocks tied a career-high, and are his most since 2013. To call it a vintage performance would be an understatement considering the rarity of its happening.

It’s such a rare feat that even Vogel admitted he didn’t see it happening at this point in his career, let alone on Sunday.

“I didn’t expect to see him have a defensive performance like he did tonight,” Vogel said after the game. “He was great. Forget about the steals and blocks and strips, he’s always good with his hands. But he was in the right position. When you watch him on tape coming into this year, like the effort’s there. He plays hard on that side of the ball. We have to protect him in certain ways, and we’re figuring that out and landing in some good spots with that. We’re asking him to do things within our system like have low-man collisions, which he was great with tonight.

“He’s willing to do all these things, he can do all these things and when he’s providing that kind of performance on the defensive side of the ball with the way he’s shooting it, he was a huge part of our win tonight.”

While Anthony struggles in certain aspects defensively, it’s not often for a lack of effort, but instead physical limitations that come with being a 37-year old in his 19th season. It’s especially true for one joining a new team with a new scheme and a recent history of elite defenses as well.

But Anthony has relied upon years of experience to blend into the Lakers defensive system.

“Just sticking with the principles and getting more comfortable with our schemes as a team and what we’re trying to do and being in the right position,” Anthony said on what led to his performance on Sunday. “And just doing what I’m asked. If it’s my time to be the guy that (rotates) over on the defense, I got to trust that somebody’s going to have my back and they’ve got to trust that I’m going to be able to make that play. So it was just a matter of becoming more comfortable with what we’re trying to do, and finding it by any means.”

Anthony almost certainly won’t have another performance like Sunday’s on the defensive end. But if he can continue to pair his explosive offensive performances with solid defensive outings, he will be an important piece for the Lakers this season.

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