Building a defense around Lonzo!
Why an aggressive, attacking approach to defense is the best fit for Lonzo Ball and the Lakers’ run-and-gun offense
The Lakers should build a defense around Lonzo Ball that complements and mirrors Luke Walton’s modern analytics-driven pace-and-space offense. That means building a defense that has an aggressive and attacking mentality, is more proactive than reactive, and turns the game into a full court sprint.
Luke has already made defense the Lakers’ top training camp priority by emphasizing the need to create stops and turnovers to power fast breaks. I would like to see Luke take that approach to another level and go all in on a defense that forces offenses to react by pressing and trapping the ball in half and full court with the goal of speeding the game up and forcing other teams to play at a pace they’re not conditioned for or comfortable with.
Building a defense that forces opposing teams to play fast is the perfect complement to an offense looking to relentlessly push the pace. Why allow the other team to rest by allowing them to walk the ball up the court? Why not surprise them and make them work hard. Why not turn the game into a full court sprint rather than a half court grind? If we’re building a team to play fast, it just makes sense to deploy a defense that plays the same way.
Playing fast on defense by trapping and pressing in full and half court is also how Lonzo was trained to play and when he plays his best. Turning the game into a track meet allows him to use his transcendent court vision to create steals and blocks. His Chino Hills high school team played a full court zone press, allowing Lonzo to average 5.1 steals and 1.9 blocked shots per game. Chino Hills was an offensive juggernaut powered by an attacking defense
Although the Bruins rarely pressed or trapped, Lonzo’s defense at UCLA was at its best when the game was at its fastest and most chaotic, averaging 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. Lonzo’s court vision works just as well on defense as it does on offense. I could envision him playing free safety in a full court zone press that could stifle teams defensively and give the Lakers’ transition offense an explosiveness not seen since the days of Showtime.
I’m not recommending the Lakers hire Shaka Smart as their new defensive coordinator and deploy his full court ‘Havoc’ defense but I would love see Luke incorporate a lot of the traps and presses that make Shaka’s defense so lethal and unpredictable. Why let teams setup their half court offenses? Pressing and trapping forces them to play full court and at our pace. That’s the kind of defense to deploy if you really want opponents to ‘fear’ you.
I also think the Lakers’ roster this year is well suited to play an aggressive full court trapping and pressing defense. It was built to play fast with speed to outrun the opposition at every position. If we can outrun them on offense, we can do it on defense too. The Lakers also have two centers in Lopez and Bogut who will be last men down court on offense and can easily transition to rim protectors or goalies on defense whenever we decide to full court press.
One Lakers player I’m interested to see play in preseason is Briante Weber, the former G-League point guard who played for VCU in college and won several defensive player of the year awards as the key protagonist in Shaka Smart’s ‘Havoc’ defense. Weber is a long shot to earn a two-way deal with the Lakers and signing him could signal that the Lakers were going to implement a defense that is going to be more aggressive and attacking than last year.
There haven’t been any successful attempts to press full court in the NBA for good reason. The point guards of today are so quick and handle the ball so well that it’s hard to stop them in full court. But a strategy of deploying full court presses and traps to surprise teams and take advantage of matchups would allows our defenders to be attackers and force the other team to react to us rather than the other way around. Proactive rather than reactive.
Bottom line, even if teams beat the Lakers full court press, the Lakers have won the war by speeding up the pace of the game. Lonzo will run the ball right back at them before they can get back and setup their defense. It’s all about the fourth quarter and speeding up the defense could be the straw that breaks the back of a lot of teams who won’t be able to keep up with a speed assault at both ends of the court. It’ll stop teams from slowing the pace.
The Lakers also need to synchronize their offensive and defensive analytics. If our goal offensively is to increase 3-point scoring, then our defensive priority should be to decrease 3-point scoring, which should translate into strategies like not helping drives from the paint when you’re covering a corner shooter. With improved paint protection from Lopez and Bogut, Lakers’ perimeter defenders need to prioritize chasing and challenging all 3-point shooters.
The other defensive adjustment that will be the most difficult will be learning to defend without fouling. I noticed one of the drills the Lakers worked on yesterday was how to close out on 3-point shooters without fouling. You could see the players practicing taking several steps and ]jumping straight up. The NBA’s new rules on what constitutes a shooting foul should help but challenging shots without fouling must be a top defensive priority.
It will be interesting to see how far Luke will go towards implementing an aggressive, attacking defense designed to speed up the game and power an explosive transition offense. Frankly, deploying a pressing, trapping full court team defense could be a smarter defensive strategy for this Lakers team than allowing teams to attack them individually in isolation or pick-and-roll in the half court. It would also be the best way to optimize Lonzo Ball’s impact.