While the Los Angeles Lakers remain one of the top defensive teams in the NBA according to statistics, it has been clear it hasn’t been as strong as it was at the start.
One reason many point to is Avery Bradley‘s injury, which forced him to miss 13 games.
After signing in 2019 NBA free agency, Bradley was one of the standouts of training camp and earned himself a starting role. His ability to harass the opposing point guard set the tone for the Lakers on that end of the floor.
When Bradley suffered a hairline fracture in his leg, there was concern about what the Lakers would do. However, head coach Frank Vogel used it as an opportunity to challenge his team, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
“I said, ‘Hey, you know, we’re going to be without Avery for a while,'” Vogel said. “‘And if that just means our defense is going to go to hell, we’re in trouble. We need to learn to get it done without him out there.'”
Great head coaches have to push the right buttons and Vogel knew how much Bradley meant to his defense so he took a chance on trying to motivate his team. The Lakers have fallen slightly in terms of defensive rating, but remain one of the best when it matters.
For his part, Bradley admitted to being slightly embarrassed at Vogel’s comments, but understood his intentions:
“I was a little embarrassed when [Vogel] said it,” Bradley said with a sheepish grin when asked about the challenge. “But, no, it’s cool, man. I think it challenges us every single day, every single game. We have the personnel to be able to be the No. 1-rated defensive team, and so I think coach is just trying to motivate us and make it fun at the same time.”
In Bradley’s absence, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso have helped to pick up the slack on the perimeter. With Anthony Davis looking unchallenged at this point as the 2019-20 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, the Lakers have remained above average.
Most importantly for the team is they lock down when it matters most, still remaining at the top of the league in defensive rating in the fourth quarter. Now with Bradley’s return, the team will hopefully be able to pick right back up where they were originally.