Can Lakers Be Elite Defensive Team?

How the Lakers’ defensive hopes depend on DPOY candidate Anthony Davis and the ghosts of five former NBA All-Defensive teammates

In hopes of building a top-five NBA defensive team, the Los Angles Lakers have surrounded 26-year old potential DPOY candidate Anthony Davis with five veteran teammates who at one time were elite defensive players.

The good news is those six Laker players combined have won a total of three NBA DPOY awards, twelve All-Defensive 1st Team awards, and seven All-Defensive 2nd Team awards. The bad news is none of these awards were from last year and many were from five or more years ago. Anthony’s last defensive award was from 2018, Green’s from 2017, Bradley’s from 2016, James’ from 2014, Howard from 2012, and Rondo from 2012.

The challenge facing Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel is figuring out how to optimize the DPOY potential of superstar Anthony Davis while tapping into the defensive ghosts of his veteran players to construct a cohesive defense. Fortunately, Vogel has the perfect superstar around whom to build an elite defense in the 6' 10" 253 pound Davis who boasts a freakish 7' 6" wingspan and seven-year career averages of 2.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.

Anthony Davis has already announced he intends to win his first DPOY, transform the Lakers into a top-five NBA defensive team, and motivate his co-star LeBron James to join him on the NBA’s All-Defensive 1st Team. While it’s been five years since LeBron last won All-Defensive honors, he still has the talent and athleticism to be an elite defender. The question is would he be willing at 34-years old to make the effort needed to do it.

While we may not see LeBron James actually win 1st Team All-Defensive honors, he’s already said he plans to focus on being a facilitator on offense and defer to Anthony Davis as the Lakers’ primary offensive focal point. He also gifted Davis his #23 jersey so maybe he’ll defer more and accept AD’s challenge and focus some of the energy he saves on the offensive end to start playing the kind of defense we all know he is still capable of playing.

The defensive wild cards among the Lakers’ veteran players are 32-year old Danny Green, who’s still one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, 28-year old Avery Bradley, who’s finally healthy after three injury plagued years, and recently signed 33-year old Dwight Howard, who’s also finally healthy, in terrific shape, and could provide an All-Defensive quality shot blocker and paint protector to pair with Davis and anchor the defense.

If Frank Vogel and the Lakers are going to put together an elite defense, Danny Green is going to have to lead the way as, other than Anthony Davis, he’s really the only other player on the roster who’s a proven defender. Unless the Lakers luck out and the Grizzlies waive Andre Iguodala and his former agent Rob Pelinka is able to convince him to sign with the Lakers, Danny Green will have to be their primary guard and wing defender.

That’s why Avery Bradley resurrecting the defensive mojo from his days with the Celtics is so important to the Lakers building an elite defense. Green is an excellent perimeter defender against twos and threes but he doesn’t have the lateral quickness to defend quicker and smaller ones. Bradley, on the other hand, played his best defense as a Celtic against point guards and showed signs last season that he’s finally fully healthy.

The literal Joker among the Lakers’ defensive wild cards is former three-time DPOY Dwight Howard, who’s probably the most despised player to ever to wear the purple and gold after bolting for free agency in 2013. Brought back on a non-guaranteed ‘prove me’ contract to replace the injured DeMarcus Cousins, Howard has hit ‘rock bottom’ and knows the Lakers are his last chance to save and resurrect his fading NBA career.

After only playing nine games last year, Howard is finally healthy and somehow was able to convince Anthony Davis, LeBron James, and even former nemesis Kobe Bryant he can help the Lakers win a championship. While he will be on an incredibly short leash and no longer possesses superhuman athleticism, Dwight still could be an imposing rim protector and rebounder if he can finally accept his role and become a team player.

The key to the Lakers actually making this work is new head coach Frank Vogel, who wasn’t even the Lakers first choice last summer but could be the perfect mastermind to putting the pieces together to build an elite defense. Vogel has always been respected as an outstanding defensive coach and has in assistants Jason Kidd and Lionel Hollins two former defensive minded head coaches who won All-Defensive honors in their playing careers.

Great team defense is a product both of individual skill and talent as well as defensive coaching scheme and system. While the Lakers may not be able to count on resurrecting the defensive ghosts that once made LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley, and Rajon Rondo All-Defensive players, there’s a good chance that Frank Vogel can take advantage of their veteran savvy and smarts to cobble together a top-five NBA defense.

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