Going into training camp, what is the number one personnel item the Lakers must settle?
Heading into training camp, the Lakers must decide who their defensive captain/leader will be. Of course this isn’t a real title of any sort, but having a player (or two) take on the responsibility of making sure the effort on defense sustains throughout the full 48 minutes will be essential as the season progresses.
The Lakers are only a few days into training camp, but team defense finally seems to be more than an afterthought. The team, at least so far, is putting the majority of its energy on the defensive end, knowing that their effort on that side of the ball should easily translate into easier opportunities on the other end.
Even with Metta World Peace and Dwight Howard on the roster last year, the Lakers were in the bottom half of the league in defensive efficiency. As Dave McMenamin pointed out earlier this week – Last season, L.A. ranked 22nd in the league in opponents’ field goal percentage inside of five feet, and were 26th in the league with 7.0 steals per game.
Coach D’Antoni, maybe tired of local critics forgetting to pronounce the ‘D’ in his name, is finally easing away from the notion that “defense comes from within”. Seeing a shift in D’Antoni’s philosophy, Shawne Williams told ESPN Los Angeles, “everything starts with defense and then we let that dictate the offense.”
What more can be done to reinforce this newfound emphasis on defense? Start Jordan Hill at the PF spot next to Pau Gasol. While Hill won’t be much of a threat on offense, his energy is exactly what the team needs in a lineup filled with offensive potential. As Drew Garrison outlined in his post for SB Nation NBA, Hill’s mobility on defense alone will make him indispensable to the team, let alone the starting lineup.
What happens when Hill isn’t on the floor? The second unit’s defensive prowess, or lack thereof, will be determined by Jordan Farmar’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll. Assuming Hill gets the starting spot, Farmar will spend much of his time on the floor with C Chris Kaman. My Synergy Sports ranked Kaman 110th in the league last season in points per possession against pick-and-rolls. Simply put, teams will attack the Lakers’ second unit with a variety of pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop options – watching Kaman defend such plays will make us all question our existence. Farmar’s on-ball defense will hopefully counteract any deficiencies Kaman has on that end of the floor. He’ll be a pest for opposing guards, and I look for the second unit to consistently force the ball handler away from Kaman’s man in pick-and-roll situations.
Hill and Farmar don’t just need to accept these defensive responsibilities, they have to. Unless Mark Madsen gets rid of the suit and returns to the hardwood, those two are the only reliable sources of defensive intensity. With no insane expectations or off-putting personalities to distract the team this year, having a sense of urgency on defense will keep them focused and motivated even when shots aren’t falling at the other end.
Written for Silver Screen and Roll – SB Nation