Can Lopez & Bogut fix Lakers’ defense?
How 48 minutes of rim protection per game from Brook Lopez and Andrew Bogut could transform the Lakers defense
Building a modern analytics driven defense starts with protecting the rim, which is why the Lakers signed veteran centers Brook Lopez and Andrew Bogut to provide the shot blocking they needed to anchor their defense.
The preseason so far has been a quiet disappointment for the Lakers, losing all three games and showing little inclination to play better defense than last year, when they finished dead last in the league in defensive efficiency. I’m hoping we’ll see that change Sunday night when Lopez and Bogut finally see their first preseason action against the Kings. The Lakers desperately need to fix their moribund defense and Lopez and Bogut may provide the solution.
In the first three preseason games, the Lakers allowed a league worst 116.3 points per game. Their 47.2% opponent field goal percentage was 5th worst in the league and their 46.0% opponent 3-point percentage 3rd worst in the league. The Lakers also allowed a 3rd worst 26 free throws per game and 2nd worst 28.3 assists per game and their 4.0 blocked shots per game ranked 19th in the league, a signal their rim protection definitely needed to be upgraded.
What these stats do show is the Lakers’ defense being abused analytically. The points they’re giving up are from the three primary ways every modern progressive NBA offense prefers to score: layups, free throws, and treys.
In other words, opposing teams were having their way with the Lakers.
Fortunately, help is on the way in the form of two veteran centers who could theoretically give the Lakers 48 minutes of quality rim protection per game. The first step in fixing the Lakers’ defense is protecting the paint and rim.
While Lopez or Bogut aren’t modern NBA defensive centers who can switch and defend players on the perimeter, both are accomplished shot blockers capable of providing the rim protection to anchor an effective team defense. Lopez averaged 1.7 blocks and 0.6 steals per game last season while Bogut has career averages of 1.6 blocks and 0.6 steals per game. Assuming they can stay healthy, Lopez and Bogut are the keys to fixing the Lakers’ defense.
Capable rim protection should allow the Lakers’ perimeter defenders to be more aggressive in preventing paint penetration or open 3-point shots. The defensive strategy is simple and sound. Prevent layups and 3-point shots and force opponents to take low percentage midrange jumpers. The strategy needs to be supported with simple rules like never help off a shooter in the corner or never go under a screen when defending an elite 3-point shooter.
Over-helping has been a big defensive issue this preseason that resulted in too many wide open 3-point shots allowed. Lakers’ perimeter defenders need to stay with the player they’re guarding and trust Lopez or Bogut to protect the rim. Teams attack the paint today to force defenses to over-help just so they can free up 3-point shooters. If the Lakers want to prevent 3-point shots, they have to trust their rim protection and stick with opposing shooters.
The Lakers also need to learn to defend without fouling. Fouling not only allows the opposing team to score easy points but also stops momentum and slows down the game, which is exactly what the Lakers don’t want to do. What they do want and need to do is to reduce fouls and free throws by playing good position defense and moving their feet rather than their hands. Not over-helping will also eliminate a lot of silly fouls trying to reach in.
The key major defensive decisions every team has to make are how to defend the pick-and-roll and when to switch on screens. How teams address these issues depends on their defensive philosophy and personnel strengths.
I’m a big believer in switching everything if you have the personnel to do it effectively, which I believe the Lakers do. The danger of switching everything is ending up with a bad matchup the opposing team takes advantage of. For the Lakers, that means ending up with Lopez or Bogut defending a guard on the perimeter. Rather than staying back and conceding a wide open 3-point shot, the correct analytics strategy should be to challenge the 3-point shot.
Defending pick-and-rolls when Lopez or Bogut are involved is one situation where I would not switch but have the player guarding the ball handler fight through the pick or follow the ball handler around the pick. Lonzo and KCP are both excellent in blocking midrange jumpers after following the shooter around a screen. Again, the strategy is to prevent the 3-point shot by going over the screen and then trusting rim protection to force a 2-point shot.
Finally, the Lakers need to deploy some strategic defensive strategies like traps and presses to disrupt or take teams out of their offense and speed up the game. The specific strategies used in any game would depend on the situation and matchup with a goal to make the defense unpredictable.
The initial catalyst that jump started the Warriors remarkable transformation from a team that didn’t care about defense to the best defensive team in the NBA was the trade for center Andrew Bogut to anchor their defense. The Lakers are looking to do the same with their acquisition of centers Brook Lopez and Andrew Bogut. They believe 48 minutes of quality rim protection can transform their defense enough to help them challenge for the playoffs.
Building a modern analytics driven defense starts with preventing shots at the rim and extends to preventing shots from the free throw or 3-point line. Adding Lopez and Bogut was an key first step to fixing the Lakers defense.