Coming into the season it was pretty much a given the Lakers would struggle defensively. Sure, Byron Scott would talk up having a defensive mentality and playing a physical brand of basketball that would make life difficult on opponents, but so far that has really just been talk. Instead what we have seen to start the season has been a team playing a particularly bad brand of defense that when looking at the numbers has been downright scary.
Before we dig into those, however, let’s put the caveats out there. In the team’s first four games of the season none of their opponents were ranked lower than 12th in offensive efficiency last season:
- Clippers: 109.4, 1st in 2013-14
- Rockets: 108.6, 4th in 2013-14
- Suns: 107.1, 8th in 2013-14
- Warriors: 105.3, 12th in 2013-14
In other words, the Lakers have faced a gauntlet of strong offensive teams to open their season. Further, they have played these teams in the season’s first five nights while playing shorthanded. These are not the circumstances you want to play any games under, but especially not teams who have a lot of offensive firepower who can take advantage of the team’s defensive weaknesses.
In saying those things, however, the defensive numbers over those first four games are downright awful. A sampling:
- Points allowed per game: 118.0, worst in the NBA
- Defensive Efficiency: 120.2, worst in the NBA
- Field Goal % allowed: 50.5%, worst in the NBA
- Effective Field Goal (eFG) % Allowed: 58.7%, worst in the NBA
- 3point Field Goal % allowed: 43.6%, 26th in the NBA
- Opponent 3point Field Goal attempts: 29.3, most in the NBA
- Fouls committed per game: 28.0, 2nd most in the NBA (29.3 by the Magic)
To summarize, the Lakers allow the most points, have the worst defensive efficiency, allow opponents to shoot over 50% from the floor (with an eFG over 58%), over 43% from behind the arc on the most attempts in the league, and do this all while committing the 2nd most fouls each night. Those last two points are particularly troubling since it is now pretty much accepted that two of the most efficient ways to score are at the foul line and from behind the arc. Welp.
Before I completely bury the team, though, I should note that there are a couple of things the team is doing that I do like. The team is middle of the pack at forcing turnovers (though, not many of these are of the live ball variety). Byron Scott has done a good job of having his guards dig down on post players, having them execute good double teams when the big man commits to his move off the dribble. The team is also doing a good job of limiting shot attempts inside five feet, allowing the 6th fewest attempts per game in the league (just don’t ask what opponents shoot, you won’t like the answer).
Of course, these positives pale in comparison to the negatives so far. And while some of that can be explained by the caveats above, not all of it can be blamed on those things. The Lakers over-help inside and that leads to an inordinate amount of open three pointers. They are poor in transition and that leads to the types of open looks that lead to a high field goal percentage. And while it would be nice to say the reinforcements coming back will help, I don’t think adding Ryan Kelly and Nick Young back to the rotation are going to help things much on the defensive side of the floor.
Now, I do not expect the Lakers to be this bad on defense all season. At some point things will normalize some, especially as they face opponents who aren’t as strong offensively as their first four opponents. But, while the numbers will improve some, they do reflect what the eye test tells us. And as much as we might want that to change, with this personnel do not bet on it.
*Statistics for this post from NBA.com/stats