When the Los Angeles Lakers hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the 2019-20 season, they earned it through a hard-nosed defensive identity. Behind Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, and JaVale McGee, the Lakers swarmed teams at the rim, making life difficult on opposing offenses.
Since then, L.A. has decided to go a completely different route from the defense-first teams of the past two seasons. Instead, they focused on adding shooting, isolation scorers, and high-level transition playmakers.
What it led to has been the league’s 16th-ranked defense and even worse offense that has a tendency to stagnate amid all the isolation. So when Howard was asked to compare this year’s group to the championship team, he had little interest in doing so. “That’s a really tough question… We can’t go backwards,” Howard said.
“Different team, different season, so we can’t go backwards. It would be bad for us to try and go back and remember what we did two years ago. We’re a different team with a new style.”
When asked why things are so different, he pointed towards the mentality and play styles of all the new players. “I just think it’s a different team. We have a lot of scorers, I would say, one-on-one scorers who need a rhythm, need shots and stuff like that to get into a rhythm. It’s kind of been a half-court type of team, LeBron posting up, AD posting up, Russ posting up, Melo posting up. So we have our iso guy, THT too, so it’s just different.”
As Howard says, it’s very difficult to have a strong defensive identity when the roster is built with offense-first players. Especially with Davis missing a large portion of the season with injuries, the amount of players who put emphasis on defense is extremely limited.
Stylistically, it’s fair to say the Lakers front office ventured too far away from what made them great the last two seasons. Going from Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dennis Schroder, and Alex Caruso to Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, and an injured Kendrick Nunn signals a complete change in identity.
Hopefully, when the Lakers evaluate what went wrong this season, they’ll come to the conclusion that returning to a formula of LeBron James, Davis, and 3-and-D wing shooters is their best bet to get back into contention.
James discusses defensive breakdowns
James also took note of the team’s frequent defensive issues, saying that a Frank Vogel team should always be defense-first. “We’re on a Frank Vogel team and obviously it starts with defending,” James said. “It starts with the point of attack from the point guard position and then obviously this league is a huge pick-and-roll league, so bigs being able to help the guards out.
“Protect the guards. Guards getting back in front of the ball and the bigs get back to be big on big so we can also rebound when the shots go up, but obviously, it’s been a challenge for us this year. Defensively we had a lot of breakdowns and lost a lot of games because our defense had broken down.”
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