Coming into the NBA season, if people thought the Los Angeles Lakers would expectations on any end of the floor, it was on offense. With promising rookies like Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart supplementing established veterans in the Golden State Warriors-inspired offense of Luke Walton, it was thought the team would at least be fun to watch on that end.
But that hasn’t exactly happened. While they’ve shown impressive flashes, the Lakers rank 22nd in NBA in offensive efficiency and have often been a slog to watch in the halfcourt.
What the team has gotten, however, is a refreshingly gritty and improved defense that has been in and out of the top-10 in the NBA throughout the season. According to Hart, that’s exactly where the Lakers want to be to close out the season and moving forward.
“We want to be a top-10 defensive team. That’s something I pride myself on, whenever I’m out there I want to help on the defensive end,” Hart said.
The Lakers started out the year there, ranking ninth in the league in defensive efficiency in October and November before slipping out in December. On the season, the team ranks 13th in defensive efficiency while giving up 105.6 points per 100 possessions.
That’s still miles ahead of Los Angeles’ bottom-of-the-league status over the last several years. Walton said the team has been refocused on climbing back up the ranks as they head down the season’s stretch run.
“We started post-All-Star (trying) to be a top-10 defensive team in those final 25 games. We have smaller goals that allow us to stay locked in, more achievable ones,” Walton said. “So even though the playoffs are not in our reach, there’s still things we’re striving for.”
Since the All-Star break, the Lakers haven’t quite met that goal, ranking 12th in defensive rating (remarkably, also 105.6) in that span. Still, just not getting laughed off for having such a goal is progress for this Lakers rebuild.
The team isn’t just taking baby steps forward, they’ve taken a massive stride, and even by just maintaining their current defense next season and taking a few little steps forward offensively, they should be in contention to meet Walton’s goal of fighting for a playoff spot next season.