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Lakers problems: It’s all about the defense

Jan 6, 2013, 9:28 AM EDT

Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers Getty Images

Pau Gasol cannot find his place in the Mike D’Antoni offense. Steve Nash is still clearly not fully used to his new teammates. The Lakers lack shooters. With all the talent the Buss family is paying a pretty penny (well, many pennies) for we all expected an exceptional offense from the Lakers. So it’s been better than a lot of people realize (sixth in the NBA in points per possession) but inconsistent.

However, their offense not why the Lakers are two games below .500 more than 30 games into the season.

Their real problem is the defense. It is 17th in the NBA. They struggle in areas that good teams — like the Clippers on Friday — can exploit.

Don’t think it’s all about the defense? Look at the loss to the Clippers Friday night — Gasol was nonexistent on offense, they missed a lot of shots and the Lakers still put up 102 points. Problem is they gave up 107. Or to put it another way, they scored 107.5 points per 100 possessions in the game (slightly above their season average), but they gave up 113.8 per 100.

There seems to be a “once Dwight Howard gets healthy everything will be just fine” feeling around the Lakers and their fans. And that would certainly help. But it’s not the only issue and who knows what that timeline is anyway. I went back and re-watched every point the Lakers surrendered the last two games (thanks NBA.com) and it’s clear the issues are bigger than any one player.

Los Angeles is surrendering 42 points a game in the paint, seventh most in the NBA. That’s an easy one to say is all about Howard, but it’s really about rotations.

source:  There is a great example in the Clippers game Friday, with just over 2 minutes left in the first quarter. The Clippers are taking the ball out under the Lakers basket, CP3 gets free  on the left baseline off a Ronny Turiaf pick that takes Darius Morris out, essentially making this a pick-and-roll situation, so Jordan Hill comes out to help — but nobody helps Hill. Look at the spacing in the photo. Turiaf rolls, takes the bounce pass and dunks. Hill had to help or CP3 would have had a layup. Metta World Peace doesn’t move and the other Laker defenders — Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol — have to stick with their men out on the weak side.

The reason the Lakers give up so many points in the paint is often this — they struggle mightily with the roll man in the pick-and-roll. The Lakers perimeter defenders can’t stay in front of the ball handler, the big man helps and everything breaks down. The roll man shoots 57 percent when he gets the ball back against the Lakers, according to Synergy Sports. That’s 28th in the NBA.

There are other issues. The Lakers are 23rd in the NBA in defending isolation according Synergy. Also the “old and slow” Lakers struggle with teams that can push the ball in transition, something the Clippers did well. If your big men can run the floor well — and the Clippers’ bigs can — you can get easy and spectacular shots.

All of this is not simply solved. Howard getting healthy would certainly be a big step in the right direction. But right now Kobe is gambling and roaming again, and exposing the defense when he does. Gasol can look as lost on the defensive end as he does on the offensive end at times. (Although, to the people telling me on twitter Gasol was THE problem, on the season the Lakers give up 104.5 points per 100 when Gasol is on the floor, 110.7 when he sits. He alone not issue.)

On top of it all, is Mike D’Antoni the coach that can fix it? The Lakers weren’t defending for Mike Brown and he had the reputation of a defensive coach. The Lakers seem to be listening to D’Antoni, but that’s different than executing.

You see it is flashes — six minutes here, 8 minutes there. There are moments the Lakers show they can defend. But because of focus and physical limitations it never lasts.

Until it does, it doesn’t really matter what happens with the Lakers offense, they are not going to get near the level they expected before this season.

  1. rjlink1 - Jan 6, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    Yep, the defense is not great, and needs to improve. But in a D’Antoni system, the offense needs to be #1, not #6.

  2. yourfutureanalyst1 - Jan 6, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    It was said before Dwight Howard got traded that he made any team he was traded to better. The Lakers took the gamble on trading for him in hopes that they can keep him there long term, but with a team that lacks chemistry (on offense and defense) and Kobe jacking up close to 22 shots a game, that’s not exactly the formula for long term tenure for Howard. Whether Howard is healthy or “80%” he can’t fix the Lakers, and I don’t know what they were thinking hiring ‘Antoni. His style is up tempo and running, but with the Lakers that style doesn’t work. It’s like trying to turn a minivan into a race car.. Not Cool!! It’s not too late for the Lakers to save the season, but I seriously doubt that they will do anything should they make it to the playoffs.

  3. infectorman - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    There’s that phrase again
    “Old n slow”

    so nice…

  4. davidly - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    Until it does, it doesn’t really matter what happens with the Lakers offense, they are not going to get near the level they expected before this season.

    Why were they expected to get to level? I still can’t figure that out. Not to toot my own horn, but I knew that their defense was going to be dismal well before the season started. There was no reason to believe otherwise, unless you can enlighten me, Kurt…?

    • Kevin S. - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:25 AM

      Well, probably because Kobe and MWP’s defensive reputations exceed their abilities these days, but I’d say it’s primarily because those Orlando teams with sieves like Reddick, Turkoglu, Lewis and Anderson were still among the best in the league defensively, and that had a hell of a lot to do with Dwight Howard. The question now is how much of that performance also had to do with SVG?

      • davidly - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:36 AM

        Some have said that Bryant never earned his reputation as a defender in the first place. At any rate, nobody should have expected him to be his dominant self on offense whilst helping to chase point guards around.

  5. jmclarkent - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    I believe that what you see now was the common expectation when the Lakers went with Mike D.

    – He doesn’t have the kind of players that are needed to run his offensive system.
    – His defensive system had always been “score more points”.

    If they planned to have this team to win NOW (which is not an unreasonable request), they picked the wrong guy to coach it, frankly.

    • yourfutureanalyst1 - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:17 AM

      I couldn’t agree more. I meant to think that they passed on a guy who has proven to win Championships on 11 different occasions, for a guy who has yet to Prove. I particularly NEVER agree with Magic Johnson but he was right about Mike Brown, and he’s right about ‘Antoni, they’re not the right coaches for the Lakers.

      • mazblast - Jan 7, 2013 at 12:22 AM

        I don’t think Jim Buss has a clue about how to build a Winning Team (Kupchak, despite his GM title, is essentially irrelevant except that he’ll be the fall guy soon). However, before you Laker fans completely eviscerate Short Buss, keep in mind that Phil, for all his Zen Genius BS, had his teams get eliminated from the playoffs rather abruptly his last couple of years, had shown no willingness to adjust, was unwilling to travel, was increasingly cranky about some writers challenging His All-Knowingness, and probably wanted more money than God has in order to coach again.

        The way Short Buss handled the Phil situation–indeed, the whole coaching situation–was a mess. He should have stayed with Brown, OR let Bernie Bickerstaff and his “go out and play” way continue (small sample size, but it seemed to work), OR given Phil time to sort out his ego/Zen issues and accept or reject a reasonable offer.

  6. BigBeachBall - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    phil jackson is sitting in an armchair somewhere laughing his ass off…

    • badintent - Jan 7, 2013 at 3:19 AM

      So is Mike Brown.

      But you gotta love Howard for being honest,”We have to be like each other on the court Even if we aren’t friends off the court ”
      Wonder who Dwight is talking about. Could it be the same guy that didn’t invite his Laker team mates to his wedding ? His Royal Hynea, Kobe ?

  7. manchestermiracle - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    So this is, what, the 14th or 15th article about the woeful Laker defense? I lost count several dead-horse-beating “analyses” ago.

    “It’s a slow Sunday morning. Whatever will we post?”
    “I know, run another crappy-Lakers-defense article. The haters love those. Lots of hits. Get Kurt to write it, I think he has the original set up as a short cut on his desktop.”

  8. timb12 - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    I’m not trying to bash Laker fans, but it’s always something. Or maybe it’s just in these articles. First it was once they learn D’Antoni’s system, then once they get Nash back, and now it’s once Howard is healthy. I don’t know what the excuse is going to be next, but I’m looking forward to it.

    • mazblast - Jan 6, 2013 at 12:03 PM

      Kobe will have another of his “I’m so great that I can play through ALL these injuries that would each end the season of a mere mortal” episodes, involving phantom maladies.

  9. themagicfanguy - Jan 6, 2013 at 11:48 AM

    @Kevin Exactly. Though Dwight does a great job, people don’t give SVG enough credit. Although, you underestimate Lewis, Redick, and Anderson’s defensive abilities. Yes, Turk is horrible lol.

    • mazblast - Jan 6, 2013 at 11:59 AM

      When Howard was with Orlando, it became the meme to say that he was The Guy. Rather than actually, you know, uh, what’s the phrase, oh yeah, WATCH THE GAMES, it was far easier for the media hacks, especially the national ones, to say Dwight had no help and that this was why the Magic didn’t do better.

      Now, there was some truth in this–the talent level wasn’t the best there. However, it wasn’t Dwight and the Dwarfs as it’s been portrayed.

      If he’s still hurting, he should take time off and work at healing and rehabbing. He doesn’t seem to be helping matters right now. What we are seeing now is that DH isn’t the Superman he’s been portrayed as being.

  10. 00maltliquor - Jan 6, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    I can’t believe my Lakers are 17th in the L on defense!! No way!! There are 13 other teams out there who suck worse!!?? I can’t imagine it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a swiss cheesier D in all my life…but there’s at least 13 others who are worse? This year!?

  11. chargerdillon - Jan 6, 2013 at 1:35 PM

    Lets be fair and look at the list of excuses used thus far….. Dwights not healthy, Dwight cant shoot free throws, Nash isnt healthy, Nasy doesn’t know the system yet, Kobe is shooting too many 3’s, Kobe isnt playing defense, Mike Brown is a bad coach, D’Antoni is not a defensive coach, Pau Gasol can’t play in this system, Pau Gasol is old, Pau is injured……..

    After awhile the list of various excuses becomes too long you forget where this all goes back to.

    Blame anybody you want, this starts and ends with Jim Buss. While I don’t for a minute think this team is going to win a championship, i do 100% believe if they had hired Phil Jackson, they’d have lost half as many games as they did when they were chasing Jackson/D’antoni. Jackson has made very similar pieces in his system work to the tune of championships.

    We are watching a team with the identity of their owner, somebody who really doesnt know what they want. He doesn’t know what style his team should run, thus why you have Mike Brown and D’antoni 2 very different minded coaches who both couldn’t make this roster have a positive record.

    This is all about Jim Buss running the organization and having NO REAL CLUE HOW.

    Phil Jackson would not have made this a championship team, but he wouldve knew how and he would’ve known where to start. D’Antoni does not and never will. Mike Brown does not and never will.

    The Lakers were a championship team when they followed one mans vision, Phil’s vision.

  12. 00maltliquor - Jan 6, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    There seems to be a “once Dwight Howard gets healthy everything will be just fine” feeling around the Lakers and their fans.
    ________________________________________________________________________________

    STOP SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF LAKER FANS KUUUURRRRRT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AAAAAAHHHH YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. 777cockymoney - Jan 6, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    this proves kobe bryant is overrated.lebron is better .more statistical.lebron doesnt have this crappy start lebron better passer,defender,more efficient shooter.heat have better record.this proves lebron brtter.kobe doesnt pass at all unlike lebron kobe gets noone involved.kobe is selfish,ballhog who shoots lakers outta games.i saw kobe takes foir times as many shots as pau,dwight which means he only cares for himself instead of gettin others involved.
    his team record proves he is overrated and lebron miles better.

  14. pricejustin24 - Jan 6, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    Another gem, Kurt. Oh my god you are a disgrace to keyboards everywhere. Moron

  15. johnnyd1956 - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    Bad defense coached by D’Antoni…what a shock

  16. somekat - Jan 6, 2013 at 7:06 PM

    It’s going to be tough to fix the defense. Team defense is at an automatic, and major, disadvantage when the opposing PG can do whatever he wants. Nash was a liability on defense in his prime. Now he’s a step or two slower. Almost impossible to have good team D when the PG can go nuts night after night

  17. magicbucs - Jan 7, 2013 at 3:27 AM

    @ Kevin s
    Exactly those magic teams that were in top 3 on defense every year had sub-par perimeter defense but SVG had them rotating on D. Dwight would step up then the next man had to rotate, If you missed your rotation you’d be benched. Ask Brandon bass.
    Right now just like phil, SVG is also smiling in Seminole county Florida :^{D

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