There are several storied franchises in the NBA; orgnanizations whose history runs deep with success and the type of glory that others envy. The Lakers are one. So are the Celtics. Even the Knicks carry a cache from their 70’s triumphs and their status as contenders in the mid-80’s and into the 90’s.
But there’s really only one glamour franchise: the Lakers (sorry New York).
It’s a combination of that history of elite success, geography, and star status that make this so. Jack sits courtside while Kobe scores in bunches. Before that the Diesel stalked the court and demolished foes with brute force while charming the masses with catchy one liners and a fun loving personality. Go back further and it was Showtime, the Logo, Elgin, and the Big Dipper. The Lakers have been a franchise that not only won, but did so with style and charisma all while celebrities sat court side. This has been the Laker way.
Fast forward to this season and that’s changed. Not the celebrities part, but the style and charisma part. Oh, Kobe is still scoring in bunches and with Gasol and Bynum flanking him, the team also possess some players with style and substance in their games. But gone is the glitz.
In it’s place is grit. The Lakers no longer play that entertaining style that has fans jumping out of their seats as waves of fast breaks capsize their opponents. They no longer put up boatloads of points with fans cheering for that rub-it-in-basket that the teams of only 2-3 years ago would bury. The team has moved away from an offensive dominant team to a defensive one. They win ugly.
More specifically, they win with defense. Some defensive numbers for you to chew on:
- The Lakers rank 5th in the NBA in defensive efficiency with a mark of 97.6.
- They’re also 5th in points per game allowed.
- They’re 3rd in defensive field goal percentage allowed and 5th in three point field goal percentage allowed.
- According to Hoopdata, the Lakers allow the 3rd fewest shot attempts at the rim and are 11th in the number of 3 point field goals allowed (the two most efficient shot types in the league). Meanwhile they force the 7th most long two’s (shots from 16-23 feet) in the league.
- And when shots are put up, they clean their defensive backboards by sporting the 5th best defensive rebound rate in the league.
Ultimately, this team is starting to suffocate teams on defense and it’s leading to the wins we all enjoy. And while it’s not a style that’s particularly pleasant to watch, the results are what matter right?
And this is where Mike Brown deserves credit. He’s refocused this team on getting stops on every possession. He has plus defenders at several positions (Bynum, Gasol, Kobe, Barnes, and Artest) but he’s not just relying on those guys to carry the load. He’s making sure all players rotate to shooters in order to contest shots. He’s holding players accountable by calling timeouts after defensive breakdowns and pulling guys that make multiple mistakes on that side of the floor. He may not have the best athletes doing the chasing, but he’s getting them to bust their humps to force shooters to put the ball on the ground and then getting the rest of the team to rotate behind them to get their backs.
Sometimes the physical limitations of his guys means it doesn’t work. Murphy may not be able to get across the lane quick enough to contest the shot at the rim after a weak side wing gets beat off the dribble. Fisher can’t always effectively challenge the jumpshooter after digging down in the paint to help the post. Gasol or Bynum can’t always get to that big man stretching the floor in the weak side corner. But, even if they don’t get there, you see them trying. The hustle is there even if the results always aren’t.
Early in camp the quotes coming from practices were that the scrimmages were “spirited” and that there was an emphasis on being a body on body defensive team. That’s carried over to the season and so far results speak for themselves. Yes, the offense needs to improve and I’m hopeful they’ll find a formula that works on that side of the ball before this season is up but, for now, Mike Brown has brought a hardhat mentality to Hollywood and it’s paying dividends.
Around these parts we’ve always said that the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them. That saying was a reflection of the belief that while the Lakers would always have a good enough offense, simply trying to outscore your opponents isn’t a philosophy that’s produced a lot of success. In order to win at the highest level, the Lakers would need to get stops. This year, the Lakers are proving capable of getting those stops (and they’ve needed them considering their offense is only middle of the pack). If they can keep it up throughout the year, they may end up being good enough to get where they want to get. Even if it’s not the path they’d normally take to get there.