One of the benchmarks of the Los Angeles Lakers identity over the past two seasons was elite perimeter defense. Between Alex Caruso, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dennis Schroder and Avery Bradley, Frank Vogel never had a shortage of players to throw at opposing stars.
Heading into the 2021-22 season, all five of those players are long gone. Beyond that, they’ve been replaced by players not particularly known for their perimeter defense. There is not a single top-level defender between Russell Westbrook, Wayne Ellington, Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn and Rajon Rondo.
This puts plenty of pressure on the shoulders of Kent Bazemore and Talen Horton-Tucker, who figure to be the team’s go-to defensive stoppers on the perimeter. Despite that drastic change from years past, Vogel is not overly concerned.
“Yeah, we lost some strong perimeter defenders, but we’ve got great two-way players and no one that we feel is really a liability,” Vogel said at Lakers Media Day. “We have a smart scheme that I think our guys will come in and compete in. And we’re going to set a high standard for what we can accomplish on a defensive end. Are we going to be the No. 1 defense in the league again? I don’t know. We have the rim protection to do it, we have the minds to do it, we have the athleticism to do it. Is this group going to commit like the teams of the last couple of years? That’s going to be the question and that that’s going to be the challenge placed upon them.”
This season figures to be the ultimate test of Vogel’s ability as a defensive coach. He has already developed the reputation of being one of the NBA’s top defensive minds, but he’s also had excellent talent in that department both years in L.A.
If he can mold this group into a capable perimeter unit, it would be his most impressive feat yet. Of course, Horton-Tucker and Bazemore will be solid, but success in this department is going to require buy-ins from the rest of the backcourt.
This is especially true for Westbrook, who isn’t a bad defender by any means but is known for gambling and being undisciplined defensively. As the man who will get the majority of point guard minutes, he needs to put emphasis on being a more grounded defender.
Obviously, building a brand new defensive identity is going to take some time, so some rough moments can be expected in the opening weeks of the season. However, a strong interior presence and Vogel’s all-around abilities as a coach should help to ease that transition.
Anthony Davis planning to start season at center
One of the things that could change what the Lakers do on defense is Anthony Davis officially making the transition to the center position. He revealed that after conversations with Vogel, he plans to start games at the center position more regularly, although nothing is completely set in stone yet.
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