Lakers Defensive Problems are About Rim Protection and Prevention

Darius Soriano —  January 2, 2017 — 7 Comments

When watching games, one of the most oft-cited stats when it comes to the Lakers is points in the paint allowed. The Lakers are league’s worst team of points allowed in the paint, surrendering 47.9 points a game. In case you were wondering, this ranking is not a product of pace as the Lakers are also worst in the league per 100 possessions at 47.6.

This fact leads most analysis to tilt towards the Lakers needing to do a better job protecting the rim. This is, to a certain extent, true. For example, here is the Lakers’ shot chart for the season to this point:

lakers-overall-shot-chart

In case you were wondering that green circle near the basket is bad.

Further, when you get closer to the rim, the Lakers are allowing teams to shoot 66.4% in the restricted area — the worst percentage in the league. There’s no single culprit when your team allows opponents to shoot this well at the rim. That said, the team performs particularly poorly when Timofey Mozgov is in the game:

mozgov-on-court-shot-chart

Of course, these team numbers shouldn’t just reflect poorly on Mozgov. If he’s guarding a stretch 5 and then D’Angelo Russell gets beat on  back cut along the baseline for a layup, that’s not on Mozgov but it would fall into the shot chart above.

However, what further supports Mozgov himself is having issues protecting the rim is the fact that on shots he’s defended inside 6 feet, players are shooting 61.1% from the field. Compare that number to 57.9% for Tarik Black and 54.9% for Julius Randle. I know there is noise in a stat for shots “inside of 6 feet” — especially in the context of rim protection — but I think it’s somewhat telling that Black and Randle do better in this area than Mozgov.

Also, in only comparing how opponents shoot at the rim when either Mozgov or Black are in the game we see that teams also shoot worse with Black in the game (64.0%) than with Mozgov anchoring the defense (66.8). It’s not a huge differential, but I found it surprising that teams convert at a lower rate against the undersized Black than against Mozgov.

More telling than these shooting percentage numbers, though, is the sheer volume of shots teams take against the Lakers in the paint and at the rim in general.

Consider that Lakers’ opponents have shot the 2nd most shots in the restricted area in the entire NBA. The only team who has allowed more shots in the RA than the Lakers are the Thunder, but their opponents shoot over 7% points worse on those shots (59.2% vs. 66.4%). So, to summarize, the Lakers are allow the 2nd most shots in the restricted area but allow opponents to shoot the best percentage in the league when they take those shots.

In other words, the Lakers not only have a rim protection problem, they have a rim prevention problem too.

This is why pointing the finger at Mozgov and saying the team should maybe play Black or go small (with Randle or, when he returns, Nance) more somewhat misses the point. The Lakers struggle to defend dribble penetration in isolation. They defend the screen and roll poorly as a team — guards don’t get through picks well, big men don’t contain ball handlers well on hedges, and weakside wings don’t tag the dive man well enough to prevent easy passes/lobs.

You can point at Mozgov for some of these things, but it really is a team wide issue which needs fixing. If you’re Russell or Lou Williams or Brandon Ingram or Jordan Clarkson, you cannot continue to get beat on straight line drives or die on screens. If you’re Randle or Black or Nance you cannot continue to get beat off the dribble on switches. If you’re Black or Thomas Robinson you cannot allow guards to turn the corner when hedging the P&R, getting to the rim to create an easy shot or an offensive rebounding opportunity.

If you’re looking for fixes, these are the areas in which they lie. Only when these things are fixed will the Lakers start to surrender fewer shots at the rim. And only when they do these things better will players on the back line be in better position to challenge and alter those shots. Only time will tell if the players who can accomplish these things are actually on the roster, however.


Darius Soriano

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7 comments
LordMo
LordMo

Perimeter defense is really the problem especially when DLO is at the top. Really easy to get around him and it puts the bigs under pressure almost immediately. He will have to get better but I'm not sure if he can cover any starting PG in the West. Even Rubio lights him up. Also, the starting bigs are not defensive type players...Moz has never been and Randle looks like he never will be but his rebounding makes up for some of that. To keep Randle you will have to acquire a "Defensive Plus" center like Noel.

I'm with Vasheed and you guys know I say it all the time...DLO looks like a 2 and JC looks like a 1. But the Lakers are dead set on reversing them. I think Jimbo is stubborn like that does not like to admit his mistakes...but there is nothing wrong with putting the kid in the best place to succeed. Just because you throw a couple of "no-look" passes that does not make you a PG. The Lakers need to quit playing and trade for NN and move out JC and whatever it takes to get Wall kick DLO over to the 2 where he can get that J off and use his height and length to guard the 2's of the league. If they do that...watch what happens next year! Trust me!

Vasheed
Vasheed

I noted this from a previous threads analyzing line-ups that the Lakers best defensive line-ups don't feature Mozgov but, instead a PF playing Center.  I believe this to be because it allows the front court to be mobile enough to cover for the the back court allowing penetration.

The best line-up consistently feature Nance, Ingram, Clarkson, and Williams.  Nance and Ingram seem to be the Lakers only above average defenders.  Williams has been their most goto scorer and Clarkson has been one of the Lakers most consistent guys now for years but, is probably what he is going to be into the future.

I think the Lakers should be open to trade talks.  I don't think the defensive problems are structural in that we've changed coaches and similar problems persist.  There is something to growth but, I'm not a big believer in going from horrendous defense to stellar through growth.

Bottom line, I believe the Lakers backcourt at least needs changes and I would at least listen to any reasonable offer that did not include Nance or Ingram as a means of doing so.

KevTheBold
KevTheBold

@Vasheed 

I agree that the defense is essential, however the name of the game is putting the rock in the hole, thus being willing to toss away elite scoring would place us in the exact situation, only on the other side of the fence.

D'Angelo is key to our future success.

And though defense is not a main factor in a great point guard, his main problem imo, is not defensive incapability, but bad habits. He routinely allows players to get by him, in hopes of poking the ball away, or swatting the shot from behind.

He also has a habit of moving off his man, and into the paint for rebounds.

In other words, his problems are not insurmountable, and definitely not worth throwing his potential star assets away for.

Vasheed
Vasheed

@KevTheBold @Vasheed

I would have a flexible mindset.  I appreciate the things Russell does right.  Though I have in the past and after watching him play now for a while wonder if he would be better as a 2.  

I just don't approve of the complete hands off no trading policy that allows for no reworking the line-up into something that can play defense.  Changes need to be made.  If not here then there.

Sometimes to get something worthwhile you have to be willing to give something worthwhile. 

KevTheBold
KevTheBold

@Vasheed 

You may be right on the two guard proposal. I still however believe in his pg potential.

As for hands off however,.. imo, a top two draft pick guard is something rare, and even rarer, is a good one. 

He's shown some remarkable potential and has already made two marks on Laker history, thus for now, I would place him off limits.

KevTheBold
KevTheBold

@LordMo 

Oh much more than just a couple of offensive games goes into the logic of wait see.

As for being sure, I'm not sure of anything, except that we don't know at this stage, and based upon his flashes, we would be silly to give him up at age 20.

To do so, would not only be impatient, but imprudent, and would imply motivations which have more to do with previous pre-draft opinions, than anything he is, or is not doing at this early stage of his career.