All summer long a main talking point for any Lakers coach or executive when discussing this upcoming season has been the need to improve on defense. Magic Johnson says in order to run, you need to get stops. Rob Pelinka frames the signings of Andrew Bogut and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as finding defensive tone-setters. You’ll find similar comments from Luke Walton. It should be no surprise, then, that the defense was the theme of the first Lakers training camp practice.
Summary of Lakers first practice
1. individual defensive drills
2. team defensive drills
3. transition defense drils
4. rebounding drills
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) September 26, 2017
I don’t want to be a broken record, but here are the Lakers defensive rating ranks for the past four seasons:
Sensing a pattern? Coincidentally, the Lakers missed the playoffs all of these seasons. Turns out, it’s hard to win games when you’re the worst defensive team in the league. The entire organization making this a priority, then, isn’t just a talking point. It needs to be a reality that gets executed not only by the FO seeking out players or the coaches implementing and refining their schemes, but on the players to go out there and improve at this.
Which means practicing it. A lot. Which is what the Lakers did on their first day of training camp. For what it’s worth, the players seem to be responding well:
Lonzo Ball on practice: “A lot of defense. Everybody was competing, which was great. Felt good. Energy was here.”
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) September 26, 2017
Trudell also noted that Walton likes the size Ball brings defensively and that Randle, Caldwell-Pope, and Kuzma were “standouts” in late practice defensive drills. All of this is good to hear.
Of course this is the first day of camp. Energy and enthusiasm for what the coaches want will be high. The team practices again Tuesday evening, and will then return to the floor on Wednesday morning for more work. As the days pile together and the competition increases, we’ll see if spirits remain as high as they are now.
Then again, this is one of the benefits Walton brings over coaches in seasons past. He relates to these guys and, like his mentor Steve Kerr in Oakland, he fosters an environment where guys want to come to work and get after it while still having it be fun. Which is something that will be needed not just in camp, but as the season goes on. Especially when you consider how much of defense is tied to desire and effort level to execute the scheme.
Ultimately, this team will be judged on wins and losses. And even if they’re going to be really fun on offense, if a leap is not made defensively too, the progress as it relates to the standings won’t be much better than the last four years.