The Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis are the number 1 seed in West in the NBA. The Lakers have been good, but why? #NBA #Lakers #LeBron
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The whole Lakers team revolves around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. We know the offense both of these guys are capable of producing. They are the first Lakers duo since Shaq and Kobe to each average 25+ points per game in their first 6 games. The Lakers offense involves a lot of isolation for these two. While the Lakers are the 6th highest in isolation frequency, they are shooting 33% from the field in isolations and are the 9th worst team in scoring in iso. Putting isolations aside, the team is also shooting 31.4% from 3. In fact, if you look at the Lakers offense, they are only ranked 18th in the league. The Lakers are the best defensive team in the NBA, even better than the Jazz with Rudy Gobert. The Lakers are holding opponents to 96 points per game. In 3 out of their last 6 games, they’ve held their opponents to under 100 points. Last year the Bucks were the best defensive team with a defensive rating of 104.9 so the Lakers are holding opponents to 8 points less than the best team in defense last year. A lot of this has to do with Anthony Davis who I will get into, but it starts with LeBron James.
LeBron James was bad defensively last year. Even before his groin injury, there’s been a trend of LeBron taking possessions off defensively. LeBron has become a defensive leader and not just in directing players. LeBron has stepped up the intensity. Of course the chasedown blocks are something we’ve seen for years. He is contesting 70% of attempts against him, up from 54% last season. Like on this possession, LeBron drops to the paint to prevent a lob to Gobert, but then runs back out to to get a good contest on the 3 point shooter. Those were plays last year that LeBron would give up on or not make the effort to run out for the contest. LeBron still has it on the defense side of the ball and with his size and lateral quickness, he can keep a lot of players in front of him if he tries, which he is doing more of. But more importantly than that is his help and team defense.
Anthony Davis has been a defensive player of the year candidate for years and so what he is doing on the Lakers doesn’t surprise me. That being said, we can’t overlook the impact AD is having. His unique combination of a 7’ 6” wingspan with that lateral quickness, he’s a demigod. He has always had a natural timing to contesting shots, he can guard both the ball handler and the big man in a pick and roll at the same time, he just impacts everything in the paint and even midrange area. Any mistakes or miscommunications in the Lakers defense can be fixed because AD can cover for that. He’s a luxury at the highest level in basketball and I don’t want to minimize any of his impact. It’s just that we knew that AD would do this and still didn’t have the Lakers as this defensive juggernaut.
One player that has had a resurgence is Dwight Howard. Howard has accepted his role on the team as the rebounder and rim protector. And man is he defending. The Lakers film room had this clip of what Frank Vogel wants from the defense. He wants the big men to hedge meaning step up to stop the ball handler from just having all the space, but at the same time, not step too out in front so that the ball handler can just blow by Dwight or pass over him to the roller. Dwight has been doing an amazing job at finding where he has to be on the court to defend the pick and roll. Once again, the Lakers film room did an amazing job breaking down the technicalities of this. Now let’s talk about what does show up in the stats, and that’s blocks. The Lakers lead the league in blocks right now at 8.2 per game. 3 of those come from AD, but Howard is also averaging 2.3 blocks a game in 21 minutes a game. On shots less than 6 feet from the rim, Dwight Howard is causing a drop of 14.2% field goal on those shots. For comparison, Rudy Gobert, defensive player of the year and a player known for his ability to change shots at the rim is leading to a drop of 9.6% on those same shots. What this means is that Howards is not just blocking shots, but he’s also causing the offense to have to find another way to score besides the paint. Having rim protectors like Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard mean that the Lakers guards like Danny Green and Avery Bradley who are already solid perimeter defenders can play more aggressive because even if the offense gets past them, they have the assurance of Davis and Howard protecting the paint.
But what do you think? Can the Lakers keep this up? Who’s the early favorites for the championship?
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