Luke Walton’s defense is playing so well that he’s “100 percent” OK with the Lakers’ struggles on the other side of the ball.
For the last four years (under three different head coaches), the Lakers have ranked among the NBA’s bottom three in defensive efficiency.
But, through the first six games of this season, the team is currently 11th, allowing only 100.9 points per 100 possessions.
“Defense is what wins championships,” Walton said at Monday’s practice. “Until we get good at that, that’s the most important thing we’re going to continue to focus on.”
Jordan Clarkson — who was a member for three of those bottom-three defensive teams — said the Lakers’ early success stems from a blend of the coaches producing new schemes on defense and the players taking things personally on that side of the floor.
Plus he credited a small-ball second unit that has found success switching pick-and-rolls (especially with Julius Randle’s ability to challenge opposing guards).
Adding defensive-minded players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart and Brook Lopez to the roster has certainly helped. Yet Lonzo Ball felt that the key has been the players’ willingness to make the extra effort to help a teammate.
“We’re playing together defensively,” Ball said. “We’re not letting guys just hang out on an island. We’ve got help on both sides and the bigs coming over as well.”
Ironically, the Lakers’ offense has occupied the spot where their defense finished last year.
Los Angeles has the league’s second-lowest offensive efficiency (94.5 points per 100), though it has cranked out some extra possessions by running the NBA’s fourth-fastest pace.
Although the frantic speed has also contributed to committing the league’s second-most turnovers (18.8), Walton wants his squad to play even faster.
He feels that accelerating the pace will turn the Lakers’ youth and athleticism into even bigger advantages.
Ball, the pilot of the offense, agrees.
“I feel like we’re kind of walking the ball up too much,” Ball said. “And that’s obviously my fault because I’m a point guard. Just gotta push the pace a little bit better.”
That was tough to do in the Lakers’ last game — a Saturday loss to Utah, which thrives on slowing the game down as much as possible.
It didn’t help that L.A. was playing on the road and on a back-to-back, but Ball took responsibility for the loss after the game.
“He wants to be a leader,” Clarkson said. “I saw some of his comments that he made in the media and stuff like that. We all made mistakes throughout that whole game. He owned up to his.”