Defense. It’s All About Defense.

Kurt —  December 27, 2007

The Lakers are 18-10, one game back of the vaunted Phoenix Suns (who the Lakers just handled nicely, thank you very much). Andrew Bynum is having a breakout year, Derek Fisher (with Jordan Farmar behind him) have been a huge upgrade at point guard and Kobe is being Kobe.

Yet, last year the Lakers were 26-13 at one point, looked like a team on the rise, then a couple of injuries sent them spiraling downward. They finished with 42 wins, barely made the playoffs and were first-round fodder for the Suns. What makes this year any different?

Defense.

While we can talk about Bynum and other changes in the Lakers offense, they are playing no better on offense than last year compared to the rest of the league. And while offense can be streaky, defense never takes a night off.

Last year the Lakers had an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions used) of 110, which was seventh in the league. This year, that has jumped to 111.3 (so far), but that is still 7th in the NBA. Shooting the Lakers are almost identical to last year, shooting 51.1% (eFG%) last year and 51.2% this year, The only real difference this year is the Lakers are getting to the free throw line a little more.

But on defense, the Lakers are nearly 5 points per 100 possessions better. Last year the Lakers gave up 110.5 points per 100 possessions (24th in the NBA) and this year it is 105.9 (9th). Last year opposing teams shot 50%, this season it is down to 47.7%. The Lakers are also doing a little better on the defensive boards and fouling less.

There are a few factors at work here. Derek Fisher is not a great defender, but opposing point guards have a PER against him of 16.2 (slightly above average) compared to the 18 that Smush Parker allowed last year. (Think of it this way, 16.2 is about the equivalent of Devin Harris, 18 is about a Deron Williams of this season. Which do you want to face?) Throw in the good defense of Jordan Farmar off the bench and opposing PG’s have a PER against the Lakers of 15.2 this season (right at the league average) where last year it was a noticeably higher 17.

Another factor is the Lakers interior defense has improved. The energy of Ronny Turiaf, the maturity and improving defense of Andrew Bynum and the post defense of Kwame Brown (when healthy) have given the Lakers a boost in the defensive paint.

First and foremost that has forced other teams to shoot more from the outside — last season 37% of teams shots against the Lakers were close to the basket, this season that is down to 33%. That means more jump shots (which, obviously, are a lower percentage than stuff right around the hoop) but teams also are shooting a lower percentage on their jumpers — 44.8% last year down to 42.4% this year.

Finally, credit needs to go to the coaching staff, which clearly refocused on defense. The Lakers rotations are quicker, the team is playing the pick-and-roll better and there just seems to be more of a focus on the defensive end of the floor.

Things may even get better. The Lakers perimeter defense is improving with the arrival and increasing minutes of Trevor Ariza. Getting Kwame Brown back will give the Lakers another body inside.

The Lakers may or may not win 50 games, and the playoffs are a long way off. But when a team plays defense like this, you can start to dream a little.

Kurt

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34 responses to Defense. It’s All About Defense.

  1. Wow, I just saw this. Long time television sports reporter in LA Stu Nahan died. I remember him doing radio Dodger Talk for years.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/story?id=3169861

  2. Sweet, Kurt. You’re getting some props from the Lakers Official blog.

  3. Great read Kurt. I too would like to take the time to thank you for doing such a great job maintaining this site and putting all the time in to it.

  4. Kurt,

    Don’t forget all the little people you knew at FB&G before you got famous at TH!

    We’ve already recognized that defense is the key. It does appear that the Lakers are finally really doing something about it. This is a terrific update and summary.

    To me, the most encouraging part is that the defense is almost certain to get better. Having Kwame’s interior presence once again will give Phil more tools. Trevor’s role will consider to expand as he becomes more comfortable with the team. Bynum will learn to rotate better. Chris will continue to rehabilitate. They will play more and more as integrated units.

    I’d like to see us give up less than 100.

  5. the other Stephen December 27, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    but ronny has only been getting garbage time recently ='(

  6. 5. He just hasn’t been right since the concussion.

  7. Bynum’s presence in the middle is a threat to penetrators that Kwame never provided. That gives the perimeter defenders the ability to play their man closer; even if he gets past them, it’s not an automatic layup anymore. That has resulted in the opponents having a lower shooting percentage from outside.

  8. I’ve been a lakers fan since 6th grade (2000-2001) and am taking my brother to our first game.

    Will the Jazz fall under the titan weight of AB lob dunks? Will Kobe reject Okur like his Nutella endorsement was after the colorado charge?

    Holla at me up in 332.

    Kurt, congrats man – I check FB&G every few hours and believe me, its always worth it.

  9. Kurt,

    The usual congrats. The “oldies” here know the quality of your work. (Note: The only real oldies here are Kurt who is about 143 y.o. and Gatinho who is slightly younger at 132 y.o.)

    Anyway, back to the x’s and o’s I said I would provide regarding our defense and this is the ideal topic for it.

    This holiday season I’ve seen more games than usual and I realized a few things:

    1. – Bynum is not doing a good job when “showing” on the pick’n roll. When you “show” you must be aggressive and get your body really close to the guy setting the pick. This will force the ball handler to take a step higher and give the fellow defender time to get back in time to stop the penetration (or ideally “push” the handler to the weak side help).
    As is, Bynum is leaving a lot of space between him and the guy setting the pick, which allows the ball handler (Steve Nash did it a couple of times) to dribble between the defenders, and that instantly kills the defense.

    2. – Our transition defense is not working properly. First of all, you don’t jog back to the defense, you run (a couple of guys aren’t running). Our bench is deep and guys shouldn’t worry about getting tired.
    The other problem is lack of organization in the transition defense. With the current ball handling skills, there’s no point on trying to stop the opposing point guard, as he will be skilled enough to get by the defender. What must be done is go side by side with him and again force him to drive into the help defender, whoever he is.
    Also, the first thing we must protect is the rim (and that we do) when we run back, but we don’t need 5 bodies beneath the rim. The first couple of guys go to the rim and wait for the rest. If the first two guys are the PF and C they stay within rim range until defense gets back together. If the first two guys are the PG and the SG, they go to the rim, wait for the bigs to get back, and then go out.
    Nevertheless, we leave the corners open. When the offense is increasing tempo, you let them shoot 3’s from the corner. You cannot stop every shot, so at least let them have the ones with low success %. (note: this is to stop a high tempo offense, not a fast-break. You cannot stop a well executed fast-break)

    3. – Some players are not boxing out on the defensive rebound, specially the ones playing the SF and the PF (except Turiaf). No further explanation is needed I think.

    The Lakers need to further increase their defensive skills as a team, if the conference finals are a goal. Otherwise, we cannot handle a seven-game series against those midwest powers.

  10. But I don’t look a day over 125.

  11. How does our defensive rating compare before and after Kwame’s injury? Historic postings around here indicate that Kwame’s defense has been far superior to Bynum’s. With Andrew getting starters minutes against quality opposition, does that still hold true, or has Bynum brought his defensive game up, as well, when he’s not fighting for minutes?

  12. Good question Bryan, and I don’t have an exact answer because I don’t have time to break it out right now. However, in the last 10 games (all without Kwame) the Lakers defensive rating is 106.8, up slightly from the season average of 105.9. However, other factors play on those numbers, such as Ronny’s health.

  13. Off-topic but the Lakers.com Practice Report Videos are great. I don’t have to wait till the end of the night or next day to see how writers interpret their mini interviews with players and coaches. I get to see what they see and I make my own judgments, its great. I don’t get quotes out of context.

    I know you are a big fan of the new site Kurt, and so am I.

  14. 11 & 12: I would also add that the team DRtg bumping up slightly in Kwame’s absence does not necessarily tell us anything as reagards Kwame vs. Bynum.

    I’m going to make up magic numbers here. Let’s say that the entire rest of the Lakers defense remained static at the 1-4. Kwame has a DRtg of 100 and Bynum of 98. We subtract Kwame as starter and replace him with Bynum. The Lakers now have a better starting 5 unit defensively. But who replaces the old Bynum bench minutes? It’s either Mihm, Ronny or Bynum working his 30-40 minutes (assuming Andrew doesn’t function at as high a level when his minutes are extended.) Now if the overall Lakers defense goes down, this is because the Lakers don’t have Bynum AND Kwame. Not necessarily because Kwame is a better defender than Bynum.

    One of these days I’ll try and get some individual DRtg sheets going. But those numbers are far less reliable than ORtg. What would really help us is if we started some kind of Lakers Defense Project. Have fans score things like Forced Misses and do some real calculations.

  15. Is it possible to break down the points allowed per possession so that it calculates what the number would have been like had a single player played in every possession?

    Like, if Bynum and Kwame both played in the same game, which had the lakers give up 110 points per 100 possessions, could we say, ‘had Bynum played 100 possessions, the number would have been X while had Kwame played 100 possessions, the number would have been y.?”

    Of course it’s still much like the +/- where it’s still dependent on who you face (1st or 2nd unit, shooters or slashers, etc.) but it could measure each players’ effectiveness against teams, lineups, etc., and tell us which player ‘influences’ defense more.

  16. 13. Check out TrueHoop tomorrow Saturday. I’m back running that place into the ground and have a whole post on upgrades to the Lakers and other sites around the league.

  17. DE -FENSE!!!

    Great read Kurt…I didnt realize the numbers had improved that much…it certainly seems a LOT better than last year. And I love to see how infectious playing Defense is with the entier team…like every one wants to out do each other…you can also see them talking a lot more…verbally commuincating that they lost their man and for whoever to pick him up…that is a HUGE help to these numbers too.

    About D-Fish and his D-Rating….I got a question on those numbers…are they attained from Point Gaurd vs Point Gaurd? His numbers may be slightly hire than league average…but he does drive the O-Player to the help defender….which is much more that I can say for Smush last year…Fish has never been the fastest guy on the floor…but he is one of the smarter guys.

  18. 17. Those numbers are from 82games.com and are point guard on point guard. However, I think we all agree that what Fisher does in terms of team defense is far better than Smush, who would gamble and just end up way out of position.

  19. Hey you mathophobes… Stop feeding me with all those stats or else I’m going to gag all over the site.

    Seriously, I think these numbers help. They represent something that is not obvious in the naked eye. Its what an intermediate fan is all about. Since I don’t have access to all the Laker games, I’m sticking to my own measuring stick on defense – the hustle points. Sometimes, its not defense that wins it… its the hustle.

    For instance, the NY game was a wash. We had an 80% Kobe exploding for 39-11-8 and we grabbed em Knicks by the balls for 25. Yet the 4th was close. NY was staging a comeback and it seemed like Jamal was determined to tie it up – UNTIL Jordan Farmar stole the ball, ran like crazy and dunked it like Ughh!

    That for me is more of hustle than defense ALTHOUGH people often count that for a defensive play. I’m not sold to those 2 terms being synonimous yet but they are definitely related.

  20. Off Topic

    Newest Laker Cliche: “I’m a Laker fan 1st, Kobe fan 2nd”

    =================================

    It gives me a grin everytime I hear this on other fan sites…

  21. great read hurt.

    i just want to drop a little note comparing last season and this season.

    we were 26-13 last year because we had a VERY soft schedule in the beginning. we played 10 of the first 15 games (?) at home. that team really wasnt that good, and at the second half of the season we saw it… compare to this year, currently at 18-10, this is a VERY different team. we actually had one of the toughest schedule in the league as of now, and we are still making it happen.

    defense, fish, the growth of farmar and bynum, the ariza trade, radman being more familiar with the O, all reasons why i believe this team will make some noise in the upcoming months…

  22. The coming home games will tell us a lot of how well the team has improved on defense.

    They will be facing teams of different offensive calibers and it will show how well they will adjust their defense each outing.

    I believe Boston will provide the acid test as they have the most versatile offense among the visiting teams. Utah is more of a two man and pick and roll team, Philadelphia relatively young run and gun team and Indiana a good shooting team. Our pick and roll and transition defense will be tested.

    I believe we have a decent post-up defense, an improving pick and roll defense and a suspect transition defense. Straight up defense is ok, too.

    In between, hustle plays on defense are pretty much inconsistent. I would love to see our guys exerting more effort in going for the loose balls as some of you guys have commented.

    I hope one or two of the coming games will be shown live here in the P. I.

    Go for 4-0 Lakers!!!

  23. Hmmm..I jus wonder if Mitch Kupchak is calling up Pat Riley right now and going “Ha-Ha” a la that Muntz kid in Simpsons…man schadenfraude feels so good..

  24. I’m worried about the Boston game though; if history is any indication, strong defensive teams (Cleveland, Houston, New Orleans) really hurt us on both ends because alot of times our defense is fueled by our offense rather than the other way around. Still hopeful though.

  25. a 3-1 homestand would be nice…

    i cannot let myself start thinking a 4-0 streak when we are playing utah then boston… utah is a very decent team even with the recent disarray… and i dont need to say much about boston at 24-3… they key to that game might be containing their role players such as rondo, perkin and house…

  26. We better do more than just ‘contain’ the role players for Boston if we want to win. If their top 3 players go for 70pts then we will probably lose.

    This is a team we need Bynum, Kwame, and Turiaf in to contain the inside. We need to let the others stay with their men on the perimeter.

  27. Kurt,

    Your article is up on truehoop…..very nicely done. That was one of the better off topic type basketball articles I’ve read this year.

  28. I read it as well, great article. You bascially wrote the same thoughts I had floating in my head. Keep up the good work! PS don’t listen to the blazer homer comments on that site.

  29. about that Boston game…its a 2nd night of back to back for Boston (Utah the night before)…just saying…

  30. The Boston game is going to be tough. You know that Doc Rivers is going to find something meaningless to fire his team up. TNT’s already provided a quote from Derek Fisher. Whatever.

    Our main task Sunday is going to be defending the 3 point line. That is going to be very tough, considering KG is in the post, but we’ll have to do something. I wouldn’t be very surprised if Phil gives Ariza some burn, as he seems to be our best 3 pt line defender. Too bad Ronny isn’t healthy right now, because we could use him.

  31. I am a frequent reader, can’t remember if I’ve ever posted.

    I just want to add my voice to the thanks for the high quality of this site and the posts. This one on defense is a prime example, Laker site for ‘grown up’ fans. (Let’s say LakersGround is the cheeseburger and soda, and this is the prime rib with cabernet…err something like that.)

    Much appreciated ! And well done on True Hoop too.

  32. The guy formerly known as Lamar Odom December 28, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Anoni-what did Fisher say?

  33. Something along the lines of “We’ll see them in LA”

    Doc Rivers has already pumped his team up with a quote from Q-Rich… firing his team up to play the KNICKS! Unbelievable…

  34. 33-well you know a mediocre, scandal-riven, unmotivated team is um…….ah forget it….I was trying to play a facetious devil’s advocate on behalf of the Knickerbockers but….wait….wait…….watch out for Renato Balkman!!! He’s the dark horse; j/k no….that won’t even fly…..there really is no reason (or there shouldn’t be) for a 24-3 team to need to get fired up to play the putrid Knickerbockers.