Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is once again proving himself as an elite defensive coach. At the All-Star break, the Lakers have a clear grasp on the league’s No. 1 ranked defense with a defensive rating of 106.1. The second-best team sits a full two points behind them.
Much of their success on that end of the floor has been due to LeBron James. In his 18th season, James looks as engaged on the defensive side of the ball as he has in years, where the narrative had slowly become about him taking plays off. Perhaps it’s out of necessity because of the absence of Anthony Davis, but it has still been incredible to see.
Vogel sees it the same way, as he referred to James as the middle linebacker of the team’s defense. “I think he’s always trying to fly around,” Vogel said. “That’s why we’re the No. 1 defensive team in the league. Him being back there as the middle linebacker both calling things out and being really active on the backside.
“The last two opponents we’ve had a lot more double teams, which activates our backside. I think it is a combination of the scheme that we’re in, plus his mindset to pick things up on that end and shift a little offensively with what he’s doing to try to help our team get going. I think it has been highly productive on both sides of the ball.”
While James is not an NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate, he could find himself on an All-NBA Defensive Team if he continues to make this kind of impact in the second half of the season.
Perhaps the return of Davis will take some pressure off of him and allow him to focus more on offense. But James has seemed highly motivated to not take any plays off and give his full effort to every game this season.
James adjusting to improve defensive physicality
Part of the reason for James’ success on defense this season has been an intentional adjustment made on his part. “It’s my job to figure out on both sides of the floor,” James said. “I think defensively I’ve just been a little more active.”
“Trying to be in the right position where it will benefit our team and myself. I’ve just been flying around, and it’s helped out our team. Everyone has been flying around; they’ve helped me out as well too.”
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