The Los Angeles Lakers have done their best work on the defensive side of the ball all season. What was expected to be a roster that stayed afloat with its offense while doing just enough to get by on defense has flipped those predictions on their head, faring far better defensively to prop up one of the worst offenses in the league.
After their dominating, end-to-end victory over the Denver Nuggets Sunday night, the Lakers rank fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency. They are allowing 100.6 points per 100 possesions while sitting 28th in offensive rating, scoring just 98.9 points per 100 possessions.
And while the Lakers offense was far better than normal against Denver, their defense held steady, holding the Nuggets to an offensive rating of 104.9, a significant drop from their sixth-best in the NBA average of 107.3.
The Lakers’ defense was good enough that it did something that it hasn’t in (seemingly) several years – earn a compliment from an opposing head coach via Greg Beacham of the Associated Press:
Denver coach Mike Malone praised the Lakers' defense: "They just took us out of everything. Give them credit. They're a good defensive team. Luke has them playing really well on the defensive end, and that second group was very disruptive."
— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) November 20, 2017
Seventeen games in, the Lakers’ growth on defense has been nothing short of incredible. After ranking last in the league in defensive efficiency for the last two years and setting a franchise-low in the metric last season, the Lakers have suddenly morphed into a defensive juggernaut that strangles opponents’ best actions and forces them into bad looks.
The Lakers’ defensive transformation is a feather in the cap for head coach Luke Walton, who appears to finally be making progress on getting the young Lakers to take pride in both ends of the floor, a positive sign for his ability to develop players moving forward.
Eventually the Lakers will get better shooters and their young players will improve, and if Walton can keep them playing this hard on defense, then the franchise appears to be in a good spot moving forward, and Malone will be far from the last coach to lament it.
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