Luke Walton has guided the Los Angeles Lakers into playing above-average defense on aggregate this season, which is no small accomplishment considering the team has ranked at or near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency over the prior five years.
The Lakers bucked that trend this year, and have posted the 13th-best defensive rating in the NBA, allowing just 105.4 points per 100 possessions while looking noticably more engaged and bought in on that end of the floor.
That improvement has flipped over the Lakers’ last two games, however, as they have given up 130 points to the Dallas Mavericks and 139 points to the New Orleans Pelicans since swapping Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. for Channing Frye and Isaiah Thomas, resulting the league’s worst defensive rating (128) since the trade deadline.
After the loss to the Pelicans, Walton called on the Lakers to again find their groove on defense, via Spectrum SportsNet:
“We’ve got to get our mojo back. We somehow lost it quickly. The last two games, offensively, we’ve been fine. We’re just not playing any defense. We’ve had breakdowns from the 3-point line, our 3-point defense, switching, simple pin-downs, simple parts of the game defensively, we’ve just stopped executing. It’s why we’ve made it such a big point of what we want to do this year. It doesn’t matter how good your offense is if you’re not going to play defense.”
However, Walton wasn’t blaming the new additions for the sluggishness on defense, as some have done. Instead, he put the onus on his entire team to begin games on the right foot:
“I think it’s the way we’re starting the games, and it’s just carrying over. The NBA is filled with very talented players. Once you let people get into a rhythm and feel good about how the game is going, it becomes much more difficult to shut it off, get your stops. … Consistently, we’ve just stopped defending, and that’s a big-time problem. But it’s something that we’ll fix.”
Thomas is of course not solely to blame for a team-wide defensive collapse, and Frye has barely played, so this would appear to be a larger problem than just the effect integrating two new players is having on the roster.
The Lakers have also been prone to defensive skids before this season, but they’ve always rebounded. Whether or not they can do so again will play a large role in whether or not the team can build any momentum heading into free agency this summer.
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