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Defensively, Cunningham needs to learn some of the intricacies of positioning when rotating, but that’s true for almost every young player. He’s been solid defending on the ball against players of different skills and sizes, while also making an impact in the passing lanes away from the ball. Maybe Cunningham lacks the explosiveness of a potential MVP or an annual first team All-NBA player. Plenty of executives and scouts around the league felt that way even before the draft. But he has enough scoring skills and all-around goods to become a star in this league.
But more problematic is that some of this is simply effort — the Lakers deciding to put more energy into defending with pride and passion. That has been absent for long stretches; it wasn’t there in the fourth quarter Sunday when the Pistons went on a run that could’ve meant all sorts of things for the Lakers had they not held on. “When we get a lead, we have to take the three ball out. There’s way too many breakdowns or short closeouts or playing sort of ‘first-quarter defense’ when they’re looking to bomb threes,” Vogel said. “You have to adjust. We didn’t do it well enough tonight.”