Los Angeles Lakers: Defense shines and ranks number one

Lakers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Lakers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The Los Angeles Lakers defense has shined and ranks number one early in the 2019-20 NBA season. Is this temporary or will it last?

Before the season kicked off, the Los Angeles Lakers were projected to contend for a championship and potentially dominate the league. However, this was due primarily to the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, two of the league’s best players who will have their names in the MVP conversation.

It may be very early on in the season, but the Lakers currently sit in first place in the Western Conference with a 5-1 record. Yes, LeBron and AD have been dominant, but it is the Lakers’ efforts on the defensive end that has put them in this position.

The Lakers are currently ranked as the number one defense in the league, holding opposing teams to 96.3 points per 100 possessions. With lots of length, and some stud defenders like AD and Danny Green, many analysts thought the Lakers could be a “middle of the pack” defensive team.

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Very few thought that they had this kind of potential on the defensive end, and that there was no way they could rank among defensive powerhouses like the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz.

There are many factors that have caused the Los Angeles Lakers to be great on the defensive end.

One of these factors is the culture that coach Frank Vogel has established. Vogel (who was not the most popular hire) has always been known as a defensive-minded coach. In six seasons with the Paul George-led Indiana Pacers, Vogel brought out one of the league’s best defenses year after year.

Being a defensive-oriented coach, Vogel will often make decisions based on the defensive impact. One of these decisions was starting newly acquired guard Avery Bradley.

Bradley has started every game this season at point guard, even though it is LeBron that is truly running the offense. Bradley has done a great job of harassing opposing guards, pressuring them all the down the court and forcing turnovers.

Vogel expects everyone to be in tune on the defensive end. He set the standard at the beginning of the year and is going to hold everyone accountable, including LeBron. By establishing this defensive culture and making decisions based on defensive impact, Vogel has put the Lakers in line to have a great season defensively.

Individual efforts are also a huge factor in the team’s success. Two of the more unlikely names are Dwight Howard and LeBron James.

Dwight Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, five-time All-Defense, and two-time blocks leader. How is he possibly a surprise on the defensive end? It was all about his effort. Due to what seemed to be a lack of effort, as well as injury concerns, Howard almost found himself out of the league this year.

But the Los Angeles Lakers gave him a chance, and they wanted Howard to meet them halfway by playing hard and playing within his role.

Howard has done more than meet them halfway and has turned the previous LA “boos” into ecstatic cheers in a Kristaps Porzingis-like situation.

Howard has been a monster on the defensive end in many aspects. He has contested and blocked shots, altering and forcing many misses. He has also done an amazing job of defending pick and rolls and has even done great at staying in front of elite guards on switches, Additionally, he has also played great team defense, especially showing help on weak side drives.

LeBron is in a similar situation. Everyone knows he is capable of playing solid defense, but it was a question of if he would put his mind to it. The Lakers do not need him to be amazing on defense, or even match up with the best opposing players. All that is needed is for LeBron to be focused mentally on defense and show some sort of effort.

And LeBron has done just that. He has shown much more effort already than last year, especially in situations of closing out on shooters as well as weak side help.

Finally, another reason the Lakers have a better than expected defense is that they simply were not given enough credit beforehand.

There are six current Lakers players that have received all defensive awards, including LeBron, Davis, Green, Howard, Bradley, and Rajon Rondo. Yes, some of these players may be past their defensive prime, but that does not mean they are not capable of still producing at a high level.

Green, Davis, and Bradley are all among the top of the league in their positions at the defensive end. Just the combination of these three on the floor will make any team very effective defensively.

In addition to talent, the Lakers have size, and lots of it. With a combination of Davis and JaVale McGee/Howard in the paint, it is very difficult for even the best players to finish anything in the paint.

To go along with size, the Lakers have a lot of length across the court. Along with the bigs, the Lakers have other players with long wingspans that disrupt passing lanes and block shots.

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It is early, and it is true that it has been the best-case scenario so far. Only time will tell if the Los Angeles Lakers can continue their success on the defensive end. And if they do, the league better watch out.