It’s the Defense, Stupid

Kurt —  November 29, 2006

Plenty of frustration after the Lakers loss last night, and frankly there are some chilling big picture issues right now. That said, some of the frustration is misplaced.

Yes, the zone defense seemed to again befuddle the Lakers. Yes, the Lakers settled to quickly for the three against the zone. Yes, there were 19 turnovers. But the offense wasn’t the problem — the Lakers shot a reasonable 51.2% (eFG%) and finished the game with an offensive rating of 109.4 (points per 100 possessions), which is better than their season average. Bottom line, they scored 105 points — that should be enough to win.

If you play defense.

The Lakers are currently tied for 20th in the league in defensive efficiency, and the key reason is other teams are getting good looks and knocking them down — opponents are shooting 50.3% (eFG%) against the Lakers this season, putting the Lakers 24th in the league in the most important defensive category (how other teams shoot against you). It’s not just good shooters such as Redd, it’s too many average guys shooting well.

Not shockingly, the biggest problem is at the point guard spot — it was the biggest problem last season and it was not addressed in the short term during the off-season. Smush Parker is allowing opposing points to shoot 49.7% on the season and have a PER of 21.6 — basically everyone is Tony Parker against him.

But the Lakers also are giving up good games to fours (a spot tough to defend in the West with guys like Dirk/Duncan/KG/Brand at that spot, plus now Randolph in Portland) and also to opposing centers. Sure, Bynum is giving us impressive blocks from the weak side and has been better at slowing guard penetration, but opposing teams are getting 17.8 points and 13.5 rebounds per game production out of the center position against the Lakers. Those numbers need to come down.

Phil is clearly looking for defensive answers — look at the lineup on the floor in last half of the fourth quarter against the Bucks. Kobe and Odom are givens, but Farmar was at the point, Smush sat midway through the third never to return. Luke was on the floor a lot, but Phil gave a lot of run to Turiaf with the game on the line. He knew they needed stops and went with the guys who were playing defense.

What really has worried me this season is basic point differential — the best way to tell how good a team is over the course of a season is to see how much they outscore their opponents by (or are outscored by). Just ask Greg Popovich, it’s a favorite stat of his. And the Lakers are in too many close games. But good teams win close games, you say? Not so much, what good teams do is not put themselves in position to have to win many close games. Particularly in home games against teams like the Bucks.

Right now the Lakers are 9-5, but if you look at their expected wins they should be 7-7, 8-6 at best. What is really scary: play at this level the entire season and they should finish 43-39.

That can be changed, but it is going to have to be changed on the defensive end of the floor.