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.

to It’s the Defense, Stupid

  1. Yeah I was at the game last night (sitting a few rows behind Jack and Morgan Freeman) and it looked like Phil pulled Smush out of the game after he made a bad pass which led to a layup for the bucks in the third quarter. Smush reacted to being pulled by throwing off his headband and slowly walking off the court. For the rest of the second half, during every timeout, as the team was huddled around their coaches listening to what to do, Smush was just sitting by himself at the end of the bench not joining his teammates in the huddle. I think his attitude after being pulled in the 3rd quarter led to him not being put back in the game by Phil. Phil gave him a chance… he was about to put Smush back in for the last 2 minutes but again, Smush slowly took his time walking over to the scorer’s table and slowly started putting his headband on and before he even got to the scorer’s table, he had already been called back to the bench and he was never put in. I personally like Smush and I am a big fan of his play and potential, but I think that he needs to realize the position he is in and he needs to not take that for granted. A big part of being in the NBA is to know how to be benched for one dumb play, but be strong enough mentally to put that behind you right away and get back out there and help your team (Farmar does a very good job of this) so I think Smush (and the rest of the young lakers) will not reach their full potential until they start playing like all the great Lakers that came before them who knew that they had to play and act like Champions night in and night out, not play and act like an 8th seeded, first-round losing, mediocre basketball team.


  2. As great as breakdowns come, great stuff …


  3. I think that defensivley our biggest problem is that we switch WAY TOO MUCH. This mostly happens with Kobe when he is chasing people around on screens, which in turn leads to Luke and Smush playing scramble defense, and voila- open shot for the other team. Honestly I don’t think Smush or the PG spot is what’s causing us the most problems, I think it is our philosophy of sag and recover, especially Luke and Kobe, who have both been lit up several times this year. We can’t hope teams miss open shots, that’s not good d, that’s good luck. Kobe and Luke have to step up, stop getting lost on the court and get a damn hand up in the shooter’s faces.


  4. The poor defense this year is perplexing as Phil Jackson teams are usually very good defensively. The Lakers were certainly better last year.

    While the team has responded well offensively to upping the pace this year, I wonder if the pace is too fast for their defense. That would be a sticky problem.

    Also, the Lakers best defender isn’t 100% yet. That has to be contributing to the problem.


  5. kwame a., that’s an interesting point about the sagging. I was basing my post more on season stats. I’ll try to chart how they are dealing with picks in the Utah game (and maybe the Clippers) and put together a post.

    See, this is why I love this blog, people here know the damn game.


  6. I don’t see an easy way out of our defensive malaise. I have slowly soured on Smush as I see his attitude deteriorate. I don’t see someone who is anxious to help out his teammates, but only worried he won’t getting ‘his’. However, I don’t think Farmar is the answer at this time. He tires when played too many minutes and then makes physical mistakes. He just needs more time and defensive practice.

    Phil may try out Sasha if he performs as well as he did last night, but I don’t ever see him as a starter.

    Kobe and Walton together may not be the best defensive combination either; at least until Kobe gets closer to 100% at the defensive end. I suspect we may see more of Mo Evans as Phil experiments.

    I really feel the 2nd team will have to have Farmar, Walton, and Bynum to run the triangle correctly and balance the team out. It was the 2nd unit last night that really accelerated our collapse. I know, the 1st unit started the slide, but the 2nd unit occasionally has to bail out the 1st unit, especially against lesser teams.


  7. On the Bucks second quarter run, it started against the second unit but the first unit came in it did not stop the bleeding, it got worse. then the third quarter started poorly with the first string. It was mostly the second string making that little late third quarter run, but when Odom subbed out for Lamar the Bucks started the run that gave them the win. Take from that what you will. Kobe led the team as a +8, Bynum was -11. Bynum and Kwame really can’t have off nights on the same night like that.


  8. Although our offense is putting up good numbers and scoring at a good rate, the turnovers are defintely a problem. They may not prevent us from scoring 100 a game, but they ruin the flow of the game, give the other team easy buckets and momentum and stifle our maximum offense potential. Also, why can’t anyone on our team, besides Luke, make a decent post-entry pass, I mean I know that Bynum doesn’t get the best position, but for the love of the game we need to learn to fake it and make it in the post.


  9. Am I missing something? If the Lakers continue at their pace, winning 9 out of 14 (64%), they should end up with around 52 or 53 wins.


  10. ALI, the Lakers have won more than their share of close games this season. Over the course of 82 games, that’s a tough way to make a living, things tend to balance out. If the Lakers keep living on the edge, games like the letdown against the Bucks will even out the fast start, and the Lakers will drift back toward .500.

    That’s the simplistic version, you can get more details of how to calculate it here if you want:


  11. I hate the sagging on defense that I’m seeing. Farmar is really the only one I can think of that fights thru a pick almost every time. Smush sure as hell doesn’t. Smush hesitates too much. When he plays instinctively he does pretty well. When he catches and shoots he does OK. When he tries to “run the offense” he just kills the flow entirely. Face it Smush is a 2, not a one. Farmar is a 1.


  12. (off-topic)

    Apparently Nate Robinson bounced the ball to himself and tried to dunk, but was called for traveling.

    In the middle of a game….

    As Simmons might say, “The NBA – IT’s FANNNNTASTIC!”


  13. Good offense (and I don’t just mean scoring points here, it’s about controlling tempo) can lead to good defense. Feed the post early, slow the game down, and there will be fresh legs on the perimeter to defend.


  14. Great read man, I love your work. Maybe keep us updated with it on ?