The young core of players on the Los Angeles Lakers is impressing with its effort on the defensive side of the ball so far this season.
For what head coach Luke Walton has been preaching, the evidence has been in the numbers (via SB Nation):
“The winning part of it gives them confidence in the fact of what we’re preaching, as far as defense gives you a chance to win every night. Whether we win that game or lose that game at the end of the night, when we’re playing aggressive like that, and we’re defending like that, and we’re communicating like that, we’re in the game, which is not easy at this level.”
Last season, the Lakers allowed 110.6 points per 100 possessions – which was the worst overall defensive net rating in the NBA.
This season, Los Angeles has improved that mark and has allowed just 99.7 points per 100 possessions. Only three teams in the league currently have a better defensive rating.
According to NBA Math, rookie point guard Lonzo Ball ranks Top 10 overall in the league for Defensive Points Saved. Players are shooting 7.2 percent worse against Ball, which ranks Top 5 among players at his position who have guarded at least 100 field goal attempts.
Ball spoke about how this helps them on both sides of the floor (via Bleacher Report):
“We’re coming in wanting to play defense now. We see that it makes our offense a lot easier.”
The No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft is one of many first-year players on the roster in Los Angeles. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was signed in the offseason and is known as an impressive defender, says the team takes pride in its defensive effort.
Another anchor is Brook Lopez, whom the team received in a trade that sent D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets.
Lopez has one of the best Defensive Real-Plus Minus ratings in the NBA, via ESPN. Meanwhile, even though he has had limited playing time, their newest big man Andrew Bogut has reportedly been a valuable player in helping others get to their correct spots on defense.
This has likely helped returning players like Julius Randle take the next step when guarding opposing offenses. Randle has said Bogut is the “point guard” of their defensive unit.
In the aforementioned story from Bleacher Report, Walton said he noticed the changes on defense for Randle as well:
“[Randle’s defense has] been a big factor and it’s why it’s tough, especially in the fourth quarter, to take him out of the game … And Julius’ ability to switch on to the ones and the energy he’s playing with … it’s been a better fit to have him finish.”
Among those who have covered at least 20 isolations possessions on defense, players have a 32.7 effective field goal percentage against Randle. This trails just Marc Gasol, Ryan Anderson and Khris Middleton but is ahead of all other NBA players.
Randle has increased his block rate from 1.4 percent last season to a very impressive 3.8 percent this season, per Basketball-Reference. Compared to last season, the team’s defensive rating has improved by 14 points per 100 possessions when he’s played this season.
It’s this kind of defensive mentality that will separate Los Angeles from other teams as they continue to grow.