Last week the Lakers hired Kurt Rambis to become a part of the coaching staff. Rambis spent many years as an assistant under Phil Jackson and his main focus was on the defensive end of the floor. In an interview with Eric Pincus, Rambis spoke about the challenge of turning the Lakers into a top defensive team.
“That’s going to be our challenge, is to make it a good defensive team,” said Rambis. “Even if you had Metta and you had Dwight on your team, you saw from last year … it still doesn’t mean the defense is any good, just because you’ve got a couple of good defensive guys out there. It all comes down to five guys who are willing to make those sacrifices.”
Not only did Rambis lose two former defensive players of the year, but he lost two guys who showed up on all of the Lakers best defensive five-man rotations.
Of the Lakers Top 10 five-man defensive rotations, either Metta World Peace or Dwight Howard were a part of eight of them and six of the top 10 — including the top three — featured both World Peace and Howard.
It’s not a secret, Rambis is going to have his work cut out for him as the Lakers exercised a plethora of bad habits on the defensive end — and were subject to flaws that weren’t correctable. The biggest problems on the defensive end were the Lakers starting backcourt of Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant.
Nash, a 39-year-old point guard playing in a league dominated by younger and quicker ball handlers, wasn’t able to stay in front of any of the NBA’s speed demons, which forced rotations every time he was blown by. Bryant tended to make matters worse by getting sucked into the paint and not closing out on shooters.
Because of these two issues at the top, the Lakers consistently surrendered either high percentage shots around the rim or open threes along the perimeter. The Lakers allowed the sixth most shots at the rim last season, and teams shot 65 percent on those shots. They also gave up the 10th most three-pointers last season. Fundamentally, those are the two shots you want to give up the least, and teams were getting the shots they wanted at high frequencies last season.
The fix won’t come easy, as gap penetration is the main culprit for many of the Lakers defensive deficiencies. However, the addition of Jordan Farmar can help cut down some of the time opposing point guards spend in the paint. Having a healthy Steve Blake can also help in this area as he, at the very least, forced opposing guards to work for their time in the paint.
While not entirely impossible, it’s hard to imagine Rambis turning this group into the 15th best defense from the 19th. If he is able to do so, it would be a tremendous improvement, and could ultimately win the Lakers a few more games during the course of the season.
(Statistical support for this was provided by NBA.com and Hoopdata.com.)
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