It didnâ€™t take advanced statistics â€” or half a brain, for that matter â€” to see that the Lakers biggest problem last year was defense. Which is why the first notes Iâ€™m reading out of training camp in Hawaii make me smile.
Chris Mihm told ESPN that two-third of the early practices focused on defense, something rare in the NBA.
Out of the same Ric Bucher ESPN.com report, during practices the Lakers are working on full-court pressure each time the ball comes up. In some cases the pressure may be relatively token (you run a higher risk pressuring, say, Steve Nash than his backup), but the basic idea is sound â€” make the opponents take some time in getting into their offensive set. Less time in the set offense slightly lowers the percentage of getting the shot they want. This is not the answer, but it is a small step in covering up the Lakers defensive weaknesses.
It also appears they are going to work to keep the point guard position fresh â€” Phil Jackson told the Daily News he wants to keep Aaron McKie at about 28 minutes a game. That means Sasha, Smush and just about everyone but Mihm may get their shot to prove they should play point. We just need one person to step up in the backup role.
It may not be â€œsexy,â€ but will be plenty more talk about defense in the next few weeks (the Laker preview on this site will be broken down into two parts, offense and defense.) I think the NBAâ€™s two biggest markets â€” Los Angeles and New York â€” are interesting test cases this year to see how much improvement on defense a coach can have.
Remember, last time Phil Jackson took over the Lakers their offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) remained exactly the same as the year before, but what won them the title was their defense improved from 24th to the best in the league. This time Phil doesnâ€™t have an in-shape and motivated Shaq in the paint to intimidate, but Iâ€™m curious to see what he can do with the pieces heâ€™s got.
Just based on the comments, apparently some people thought the â€œifsâ€ post was a little too negative in tone. Iâ€™m actually pretty positive about this Laker team, both short and long term. This season, if they can keep the key players healthy and commit to defense, the Lakers are a playoff contender, which is a huge step forward. And having Phil Jackson back gives the franchise something it lacked last year â€” direction. I said at the end of last season front office direction was the thing the Lakers needed first and foremost, and they got it.
In the long run, I think they have the core of a very good team but they need to use the cap space coming in a couple of years wisely â€” just counting on LeBron or Carmello to jump ship and come to LA is not wise, just wishful. The Lakers are on the path to build a team more along the lines of San Antonio with one superstar (Kobe/Duncan) and a bunch of good players around him who buy into a system and can play good defense. That style of team wins championships.
That gives me a lot of hope.