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Portrait of a Thief: Lakers are a top defensive team due to their steals

Averaging over nine a game, the Lakers are stealing their way to being a top defensive team

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Despite their recent victory, the Lakers are having their worst start to a season since 2014-15, when they also started 0-5 and ended with a record of 21-61. With so much going wrong in Darvin Ham’s first season as head coach, it’s hard to see any silver linings, but there are some if you dare to look.

Defensively the team is one of the best in the NBA, with a defensive rating of 104.7 and averaging 9.2 steals a game. So why have the Lakers been so good at forcing steals, and does it even matter when they’re a sub-.500 team?

Mr. 94 Feet Patrick Beverley

The Lakers have been an excellent defensive team despite their lack of wings and being undersized at the guard position. They’ve accomplished this by giving maximum effort and focusing on the nuances of defensive play. No one is a better example of this than Patrick Beverley. At 6’2, the Lakers consider him a wing and slot him as so for many defensive assignments. Despite his clear height and weight disadvantage against most of his opponents, he makes his presence and impact felt by being the aggressor. A master at taking the best angles and reaching in without fouling, here is a video of Pat Bev demonstrating why the Lakers were so excited to bring this defensive specialist to the team.

Anthony Davis Has The Higher Ground

AD’s ability to be a defensive disruptor has never been in question. He is a force of nature, fast enough to defend guards and strong enough to bang with bigs. This defensive versatility is hard to account for, and something Davis takes advantage of on a nightly basis. Take a look at these clips of AD using his height and athleticism to get steals and end offensive possessions.

Russ, a defensive specialist? Why not?

Russell Westbrook. Just saying the name can be a point of contention in Laker land, but one thing has been clear. This season, he has made a commitment to the defensive side of the ball that he’s never made in his career. In the clip below, Russ demonstrates fighting off the screen and staying committed to his assignment. He dips his shoulder, turns the corner, and reaches for the steal. This play has been a staple for Russ and every Laker guard this season.

Staying Engaged

One aspect that makes defense so difficult is a team’s ability to stay engaged. You have to be fully focused and not have a mental lapse that causes an easy basket. We describe this in a myriad of ways, but it comes down to doing all the small things that add up to big things. Boxing out, making rotations, focusing on footwork, using the sideline as a defender, etc. Of all 55 steals the Lakers have forced so far this year, one aspect they’ve been elite at is keeping their hands raised and forcing turnovers by disrupting the passing lanes. Every pass is an opportunity to interrupt an offensive possession, and no team has disrupted those possessions with steals and deflections more than the Lakers.

At 1-5, this season has not started smoothly for the Lakers. However, the defense has taken a 180 from last season, and it’s an aspect the players can build off of as long as they maintain this focus level. Darvin Ham stressed this defensive focus in his introductory press conference. “It starts on the defensive end, and from there, we’re going to build back toward the offense.” The defense has looked great; let’s see if that offense can start to catch up in November.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.

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