Defensive Awfulness, By the Numbers

Darius Soriano —  March 31, 2014

I usually try to look at why things happen rather than the end result. In other words, process does (and always will) matter to me and getting to root of an issue is what I try to do on a consistent basis when I watch games (and, consequently, when I write about them here or elsewhere).

Normally, then, when discussing the Lakers’ putrid defense I would try to explain what is actually making it, you know, putrid. This might lead to an exploration of the team’s transition woes, their inability to stay in front of their men on the perimeter, how some of their wing defenders are habitual gamblers, how their bigs fail to protect the rim adequately, and how the lack of communication between the five players on the floor exacerbate all of the above.

Unfortunately, though, I don’t want to write a dissertation on the Lakers defensive deficiencies.

So, rather than get into how dribble penetration allowed on the perimeter exposes slow-footed big men who, even when they do rotate, aren’t then protected by the perimeter players who should be helping the helper but don’t, I’ll just post a few numbers that basically confirm the team’s terribleness. Since the All-Star Break, the Lakers are:

  • Tied for 29th in the NBA with a defensive efficiency of 112.2
  • Last in defensive rebounding percentage at 68.6%
  • 27th in fast break points allowed at 17.2 points per game
  • Last in points in the paint allowed at 51.3 points per game
  • Last in opponent’s effective field goal percentage (which accounts for the value of three point field goals) at 54.5%

To put some of these numbers in context, in every single one of those categories the Lakers’ post all-star game number would rank last when measured against the current worst number posted for the season. Said another way, whatever team ranks last for the season the Lakers’ numbers since the middle of February are worse. Read those last two sentences again.

Never have I believed that the Lakers have quite on Mike D’Antoni. When you watch the games, the team continues to play hard, an observation that even the opposing team’s broadcast crew makes nearly every game. That said, what is clear is that even if the team is playing hard, it is not playing smart. Nor do I think that “playing hard” translates to all aspects of the game at all times. Often times players do not make the extra rotation defensively, do not sprint back in transition to slow the opposition, do not give the effort to defense that they generally do to offense.

Whether this is due to coaching, the player’s individual bad habits, or a combination of both is open to interpretation. What is not, however, is whether these things are happening and the negative effect it has on the the team’s ability to compete game in and game out. And no matter what side of the player vs. coach of the debate you fall on, the fact is that it is a major problem moving forward. Not necessarily this year (there is little left to play for or prove in these final nine games), but for next year and beyond.

After all, do you want players who go hard on one side of the ball but not the other? Do you want a coach who is the one who oversees these things happening? These are the questions the front office will need to ask themselves this summer when reflecting on this season and forecasting out to future ones.

Because, ultimately, the Lakers cannot have another year where their defensive numbers mirror the ones they have put up the 2nd half of this season. Not unless they’re okay winning 20 some odd games each year.

Darius Soriano

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to Defensive Awfulness, By the Numbers

  1. “Whether this is due to coaching, the player’s individual bad habits”: I see no way that these stats can exist without it being a complete disaster by both players and coaches.

    Chris J: You are correct about “Showtime”: The Lakers can run whatever system they want, but the only way to have “fun” is to win. And the only way to win is with talent and effective leaders. We are lacking in both.

    LT mitchell: Hilarious post in the last thread. As you have seen, I have posted a couple of D’Antoni Alerts. Perhaps you could do a similar post. You could call your post The Buss Stop


  2. I think D’Antoni-ball makes playing defense more difficult, both because of the pace and shots relied upon, and because he favors offense over defense in match-ups, adjustments, and I’d imagine in overall effort in practice and strategizing. Defense is a mindset that must be valued very highly.

    If the Lakers want that Showtime type team, then they need to equip it with the right players, more athletic, able to defend better one-on-one, and with some strong leadership on the floor. Pat Riley, along with having lots of great talent to work with, stressed defense and rebounding. D’Antoni is a different kind of coach, capable of winning, but not my choice for the best way to go about it.


  3. Interesting take Darius

    If it was just slow PG that could be fixable.
    If it was just slow footed bogs who can’t jump that could be fixable.
    If it was just wings that out of position trying to cover for the guards that could be fixable

    When it’s ALL of the above it must mean a entire new coaching staff and system.

    Kobe and Nash sure would not have solved this.


  4. What contributes to a great defense? This is a fascinating topic. Now, I’m no expert. (I’m a tennis player, not a basketball player.) But I’ve always heard that defense — especially, team defense — is a matter of intensity and desire, not talent. Obviously, a certain modicum of talent and quickness is required. But I’ve heard many say that defense, unlike offense, primarily requires will and determination.

    Let’s use Michael Cooper as an example, one of the premier defensive players of his era (or any other era). Did Cooper have talent? Yes. Definitely. He could run like a greyhound and jump out of the building. But he did not have the kind of talent that Julius Erving had. And yet Cooper was a far better defender than Julius Erving. He didn’t have Larry Bird’s skills. But He was a superior defender to Bird in every way (and would also give Bird fits).

    So…offensive skills and talent are not necesarily transferable to defense. They were in Michael Jordan’s case and, to a degree, in Kobe’s case. But those two, I believe, were the exceptions, not the rule.

    To get back to Cooper, then — What was the difference that made him a great defender? I believe that the differentiating factor was Cooper’s intensity. His grit. And, frankly, his meanness. When Metta World Peace was interviewed recently about the Lakers’ recent misfortunes, he stated that Nick Young needs “Lions’ teeth.” He went on to say (on radio): “He needs the taste of blood in his mouth.”

    This seems almost to be a mindset. And the mindset is not just dervied from the players, I believe, but is inspired by the coaches as well (as was the case, famously, with Pat Riley). Defense must not only be a priority for a team. It must be THE priority. When you combine that emphasis from the coaching staff with the players’ intensity (which is different than merely “playing hard”), then the result is an outstanding defense.

    The Lakers’ need coaches who believe that defense must be the highest priority for a team. And they need players with the right mindset, the right intensity and determination. Right now, they have neither.

    But I believe that if we had a Michael Cooper or two on the team, their influence would be contagious. We would, of course, also need the right coaches.


  5. Darius,
    I think your observations are a key to why the Laker simply have to replace MDA. Not to do so would signal to the players that this way of playing is ok. I don’t want a defensive coach who shows no respect for offense, because the game is still won by the team that scores more points. When this is added to the fact that we simply have to retain some of our big men – not all, certainly – and MDA will insure that if a big can leave, they will.

    I think this year we have had a bunch of players competing to see if they could be our bench next year. We need starters and we need new coaching. Kobe, Nash (yes Steve Nash), and Pau are the only ones who have truly experience being starters over their career. Meeks may get something of a shot, with Kobe at the 3, but we have to find a starting PF, a competent PG to back up Nash, and a rookie to develop. This may not make us contenders, but we should be able to field a competitive team next year, with room to improve.

    Perhaps we need a defensive specialist at the SF/PF and perhaps our backup PG needs some defensive chops, but that is how I see our development.

    In that light I see us trying to keep Meeks, Henry, Bazemore, Hill. I think we will bid on Farmar and perhaps give Johnson something to remain, but these are all rotation players and not starters. I don’t expect us to be successful keeping them all. No, I don’t believe Farmar has earned an NBA starting job just yet.


  6. From that last thread:

    “They could have made the team even worse than it is, but they didn’t.”

    That’s actually the scary part.

    So is the Kobe circumstance. Good that he wants to take the remainder off, as that should help with the losing, but remember, next season’s pick is top 5 protected. So would help if they weren’t any good next season. We all must otherwise face the cold, hard reality. Kobe eats way too much of the CAP and he isn’t going to serve as the lure for some stud to sign on in any event, as his time in the league is coming to an end (i.e., any stud will have to ask, what happens after Kobe?). So there’s the double burden of his contract plus the fact that he’s on the way out. And I’m being generous here, since owing to rather limited minutes, none of us really know what he has left in the tank, i.e., he might play for a few more, but at what level?

    Now on to Darius, the one problem is same as it ever was, though yet worse. Bad enough that Kobe was no longer Kobe on D, but now they’ve Meeks and KO’s favorite PG in the league. Those two give up more penetration than a crack whore looking to score more crack.

    And back in D’Antoni’s glory days with the Suns, well, were they good rebounding teams? According to Reference, in 04-05, their DRB% was 68.3%, good for 29th in the league (they went 62-20). As you can see from your own number for this season, that’s somewhat worse than this season’s 68.6%. In 05-06, the Suns were 72.1%, good for 19th. 06-07 was 71.9%, good for 20th. His last season there, the Shaq year, was 70.9%, good for 29th. And even worse than the DRB, is the ORB, since what with the paint all but cleared out, there’s few near the rim to get the O board. And so, 04-05, 27.5%, good for 22nd, 05-06, 22.1%, good for 30th, 06-07, 22.7%, good for 29th, and 07-08, 22.4%, good for 29th.

    It’s a combo of players and coach, and so with the right mix in Phoenix, they won, despite their poor rebounding (they scored efficiently). But he hasn’t that right mix since then, and witness the horror.

    The other part, and I think that we went over this around the time of his hire, but simply recall the quotes from some former Suns re some not only not knowing whether there was a defensive scheme at all, but even if there was, the adjustments were zero.

    Now to be fair, re the right mix, this mix wouldn’t be right for anyone. To take everybody’s hero from last night, the line on Kaman has always been that he’s good to go on the O end but shows no enthusiasm on the D end.

    Now to end with your last line or two, see my comment above to the other soul. I’m happy with 20 wins next season, as the 1st rounder is top 5 protected. I don’t otherwise see a quick turnaround, for the reason stated (nothing will change much until Kobe’s contract expires). And precisely owing to that contract there is the imperative to draft well, exceedingly well, and while having the no. 1 pick doesn’t mean that you’ll draft well, it does mean that everyone subject to the draft is available for you to draft, i.e., both Jimbo and Mitch could say that this Player X is going to be hall of famer, and they’d be right, but if he goes to some other team the pick before, what good does that analysis do?).

    For an almost forgot, or two, Darius, I’d rather the team won in the 20s, and hopefully well and truly hits the draft lottery this season and next, and in every sense and respect, than have a couple of 45 win seasons. And I think, despite the words emanating from the FO, that the FO would agree. Sure, they don’t want the ticket sales and TV ratings to entirely tank like the team, but Kobe’s contract, when properly viewed, is their own admission that they won’t be competitive for at least two seasons following this one, and so overpay Kobe for all that’s he given while he (as was the intent) spends the next two seasons on the Kobe Farewell Tour (while he otherwise chases some scoring records).


  7. K Love hustled for 3 quarters against the Lakers. He is slow and can be a weak defender yet he hustled and beat his man down court as long as he was in. That attitude has been missing all season from all 5 Lakers on the court. Yes, the high pace offense can leave players out of position but they should still try to recover and help each other.


  8. Physical Keys to individual defense:

    lateral movement
    being able to jump quickly without gathering as well as being able to jump high
    long fingers
    strong hands
    strong base (post defense)
    upper body strength (fighting through screens)

    Mental Keys:

    a willingness to read and study tendencies of opponents
    a willingness to expend effort on contesting shots, close-outs, and boxing out

    Keys to Team Defense:

    Communication (on court, at practice and in huddle)
    A coherent scheme with a couple of guiding philosophies (hedge and recover or SSZ or not giving up transition etc )
    Use of peripheral vision
    A rim protector with lateral mobility
    a perimeter player who can stop penetration
    a physical wing who can match up with go-to wings

    Before the season, the KBros said that the Lakers might be one of the worst defensive teams in NBA history. As much as I hate to say it, all the time that Nash and Kobe have missed probably made the D a bit better than it would have been.


  9. The question of what makes a great individual defender is an interesting one. The mindset and desire to compete on that end obviously are generally a prerequisite to becoming an elite defender. But physical tools shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s rare to find elite defenders not blessed with great length/wingspans relative to their positions. Battier and Bowen were excellent high-IQ defenders, understanding defensive angles and positioning. But the history of defenders – whether interior defenders like Chandler/Hibbert or wing players like Paul George, Lebron, Sefalosha, Ariza, Jimmy Butler – were all gifted with great wingspan and in general (with some exceptions) had exceptional athleticism and were quick of foot.


  10. Craig W: “the Laker simply have to replace MDA” I know you have been making some statements in this regard before, however I am counting this one as the point where you have officially/fully changed your mind (I commend you – cause I almost never do when it comes to the Lakers). I will mail you your membership card.


  11. As one of the leaders here and on Laker Talk I am very hurt I have not been asked to join the club Robert.

    You will be hearing from my attorney Chaz.


  12. I believe Defense should come primarily from the players grit and desire. When the Heat got togheter the 1st thing they talked all the time was defense and when the team went thru that 9-8 start there was a constant: freaking defense. When they mesh and turn it around offensively well, we know the story. I dont mean to compare this Lakers team to the Heat by any means but i was taught on my playing days that everything starts on defense. You dont need an intricate rocket science like defensive scheme to be effective on the defensive end Kobe has said countless times that PJ ran 2 maybe 3 defensive sets but we all saw how he glared and how he sat players when they play bad defense , and the Showtime Era Lakers werent exactly defensive machines but they made stops when it mattered Pat held players accountable. When i played if i blew an assigment or didnt play hard enough on the defensive end, my butt was going to be on the bench period, end of story. Thats were MDA failure lies, not accountability on defense. If you blow 100 assigments a game dont help dont comunicate and just stand around and nothing happens to you, why would you play hard on that end?


  13. Ko: Your membership in the club is not in question. In fact, while we often express things in very different ways, there is not many major items we disagree on. Jim, MD, Mike Brown, Phil, Poker, Cigars, etc.. I would say we have quite a bit in common. The only big difference I remember is Derek Fisher. Given the history of the point guard position since his departure, can I claim victory on that one? : )


  14. If a hesitance to paying Dantoni’s salary while he sits at home next year
    is even a remote concern of the FO
    that would be a classic case of being penny-wise and pound-foolish

    Kaman’s outrageous performance once again highlights
    the bizarre state of the team and Dantoni’s myopic strategy

    I allowed myself a fantasy today
    I closed my eyes and imagined that I had heard the announcement
    that our coach had finally, mercifully been terminated

    and for a few brief moments
    in the fleeting whimsy of my dreams
    All was right with the world.


  15. On retrospect Robert Fish was great. His toughness, grit and off the court demeanor is missed and needed the past 2 years.

    Matter of fact he can come here and coach defense next year.

    Next week while I am in Vegas, gambling, drinking wine and smoking cigars I will have one of each for you King Robert!


  16. no, no JC — MDA must first be allowed to cement his claim beyond doubt as the most inept Lakers coach ever. Please be patient; haven’t you been reading Robert’s recent (superb) work on this subject? Just nine more games and then MDA can be allowed to slink away in utter disgrace.

    Trust me; it will be worth the wait.


  17. Defense begins with the coaching staff. The best defensive teams are not simply a group made up of top notch individual defenders. Before the C’s put together the big three no one would have called Ray Allen or Paul Pierce lockdown defenders. Decent yes. Lockdown no. But when put on a team with Garnett and Perkins they looked better defensively because they were given a team defensive strategy. And it was actually enforced by the coaching staff. That strategy became their team identity. The Celtics mastered the strong size zone. They were built to stop teams with dominant wings like the Lakers, Cavs, and Heat at the time. Not only did they zone up well on the ball side they would also funnel dribble penetration to the middle where Garnett and Perkins where waiting.

    Conversely, the current version of the Heat do not have the size Boston had. So they play a different strategy. They ball hawk and do a lot of trapping on the perimeter. It works so well because they have such great athleticism and lateral speed on the perimeter. They can push the ball handler into a corner, trap with a second player, and still recover when the ball is passed out of the trap. Its a different style of defense, but it is effective based on the talent Miami has.

    In both cases the coaching staff runs (ran in Boston’s case) a defensive strategy that complimented the players strengths. That is why it has to start and end with coaching. It is too easy to neutralize the effectiveness of one individual defender. The entire team has to be defending in sync as a unit.

    Indeed the Lakers lack talent. There is no way around that. No style of defense is working consistently when the talent isn’t there. But there is not even a semblance of strategy there. They don’t have to be THIS bad defensively.


  18. Phil Jackson wasn’t known as a defensive genius, and those Celtics may not have had awesome athletic talent, but both could grind it out, controlling the pace of the game and balance the floor to suit their game. D’Antoni needs athletes, more like the Heat, and super ambitious players who police themselves on defense. Since the 3 joined Miami, that’s a team where players go to win. They don’t accept losing, and they know if their game is just to score as many points as fast as they can, it’s not going to happen.

    “That’s the scary part.”

    That was in reference to the Lakers holding on to Pau, Kaman, and others this year, instead of crippling themselves for the remainder of what was already a lost season. Kobe’s contract and giving Nash his due are also relevant. Scary for some fans, maybe, but I don’t think Laker management is afraid of anything. The NBA is a business. It’s entertainment, and it’s also an institution. And it’s personal. There is actually some loyalty involved. Believe it or not, it really isn’t completely about winning. The Lakers are part of a league they care about, pure sentiment and also what impacts the bottom line. It’s a bad season for them, but they’re going to hold their heads high. They don’t fear the future. They’ll simply do the best they can under the circumstances. However long it takes to get back to the top, they’ll do it without sacrificing what they believe in. That’s a franchise I like to root for.


  19. Warren Wee Lim April 1, 2014 at 5:12 am

    The best requisites for individual defense are:
    1. Health
    2. Youth
    3. Athleticism


  20. T Rogers
    I agree 100%.
    Defense begins with coaching. The staff has to insist on it or as Fern said, players should be benched.

    Look at Chicago & Thibideau.
    Defense is part of their culture.
    If “a disciplined dog is a happy dog,” so also is a disciplined team a happy and productive one.
    Dantoni’s teams have zero discipline and that is a direct reflection of their coaching.

    It’s not quite as simple as this, but it could be said that:
    Offense requires Talent, and
    Defense requires Desire.

    And we all know what Desire can achieve.


  21. Doesn’t MDA stand for massive defensive anathema?


  22. Ko
    From previous thread
    I am a believer in the +/- stat.
    That’s one reason I feel Jordan Hill deserves more consistent minutes than he’s gotten.

    I couldn’t find the season total for Kendall Marshall at first look, but I’ll take your word for it, that his season stat might be poor in that area.
    That could also be a reflection of his minutes, which are high, and the team’s overall +/-, which is probably corroborative and also atrocious.

    In my defense, when he plays well, as he did the other night against Phoenix, KM passes my minimum eye test, at least on this team. He had a nifty steal and a block and finished w 11 assists w 3 turnovers, 3 steals, 13 points and a +/- of +30.
    So if one game makes a trend, he’s an all-star 🙂

    I believe the FO likes him and at his salary, which is low, he’ll most likely get another season to show his mettle and prove one of us right.


  23. darius: we get it, we got it, good: the man has got to go. and like you said, if the front office does not get it, then they gots to go; as if, right?

    taking up a collection to provide our own billboard up/down figueroa blvd: THE MAN HAS GOTS TO GO !!

    all together now: THE MAN HAS GOTS TO GO !!

    Go lakers


  24. When few players on the Lakers can guard sufficiently anyone 1 on 1 it hard to play team defense without someone being open. I’m not expecting MDA to become a defensive genius but, I’m expecting more next year.


  25. Warren Wee Lim April 1, 2014 at 10:43 am

    J C, meet Mike Brown. He’s a coach that preaches defense even on his sleep. His offense is not very good. Care to… oh wait.


  26. Warren Wee Lim April 1, 2014 at 10:47 am

    My point is that in order to win, the Lakers need to bring in talent. Lets not decimate the front office for the talent (or lack thereof) that we have for this team. Right now we’re starting:

    A PG that was waived as soon as he was traded. He earns the minimum.
    A SG that only this year became a consistent shooter and make a layup. He makes 1.5M.
    A SF that was undrafted and was traded for at the deadline. He earns rookie contract still.
    A PF that is a 2nd rdr in a draft where not even 5 names even pop up. He earns 2nd rdr money.
    A CE that is a 1-time all star and has fallen off the grid that he took our mini MLE last yr.

    Go figure.


  27. One of the K-Bro’s (Andy) with an excellent article that I’m pretty sure some within the FB&G Community will enjoy and decipher –


  28. A lot of what passes for great defense in today’s NBA is just outright clutching, grabbing and in general, butchering. The NBA allows a lot of contact and teams that foul on every play know that referees won’t call every foul, because they don’t want to disrupt the “flow of the game”. Think 2008 Celtics and you’ll see the point I’m trying to make. Battier and Bowen have made careers of butchering. Michael Cooper was a great defender who didn’t resort to dirty tactics to accomplish his goal. He wasn’t above a good, hard foul, but that wasn’t his main MO.


  29. D’antoni ball hurts the Lakers defensively because everyone has the green light, and no one knows where the shots are gonna come from. This often leads to bad shots and poor floor balance, which lends to the bad transition defense. I agree with @Vasheed nobody can stop anyone else so the team defense is garbage too. We can all agree that this season sucked, so it’s on to the next one. Here’s an article you guys might like.


  30. Excellent comments. I’m impressed folks.

    Serious question: If you are planning to let go of the coach, when do you make a move? Does it make sense to do it now or wait until the offseason?

    While I know that many here think we need to drop the dead weight now, it seems to me that there is value in letting the season come to a close. I mean, winning from this point forward does not serve us any benefit, so we may be better off letting MDA continue to dig his own grave. I mean, imagine if you release MDA, put Rambis in charge and the players win the next 7 of 9 in a “good riddance” gesture to their old coach?? Would that help us any?


  31. @MannyP I think you let the season play out and then fire him, it brings closure to everybody that way. Besides you’re right at this point we don’t need anything giving this team a spark with us so close to a top 3 draft pick.


  32. What is best in life?
    To crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentations of their women.

    That should be an aggressive defenders mantra. Angles, positioning, anticipation, psychology, strategic and tactical thought, awareness and a burning desire to make the person opposite of you suffer as much as possible. You can do a lot with limited athleticism but having the body, brain and mind for it makes for nasty times. The basket never moves, so you better.

    Regarding team defense, proper schemes that players must follow or face punitive action is how you get the most out of role players. Boozer doesn’t alone kill Chicago’s defense. But when it appears he isn’t at least given effort, he’s on the pine. I love defense more than offense.


  33. Kamen and Pau starting.

    So now that the season is cooked Mike decides to try and save his job by playing his next players.

    Nice April Fools joke there Mikey but we are not fools.