The Lakers were a strong defensive team last season, but were riddled at times by their pick-and-roll defense, particularly by quick guards intent on turning the corner and getting into the paint.
Under new head coach and defensive guru Mike Brown, the Lakers have adjusted their pick-and-roll defense to stave off penetration, hedging strongly and allowing opponents spot up opportunities from outside if necessary.
“It’s different from what we used to do,” said Pau Gasol. “We’re showing more on pick-and-rolls, trying to attack the ball.
“Coach preaches aggressiveness -- not being on your heels and preventing the opposing team from attacking you. We’re trying to attack them defensively.”
As a result, according to Synergy Sports Technologies, Los Angeles is surrendering a modest 0.76 points per possession to pick-and-roll ballhandlers, and is third-best in reducing other teams' efficiency on spot-up situations.
Echoing what Gasol said about playing aggressively, Matt Barnes leaves no doubt that the priority is defense, and more specifically, pick-and-roll defense.
“It’s more attention to detail,” Barnes said when asked to compare Brown’s defensive philosophy to that of former coach Phil Jackson. “He’s holding everyone accountable. We all have to control the ball, but our bigs are more active now on the pick-and-rolls. Whether they’re showing or in a drop, everything is more aggressive.”
The Lakers change up their tactics when Andrew Bynum is defending the screener, opting to leave Bynum back in containment.
“That’s by design,” said Josh McRoberts. “Drew early in the season did a pretty good job at showing out on screens, but we want to keep him closer to the basket, so that he can protect the paint.”
Among the many things scribbled on the whiteboard inside the Lakers’ locker room before their game against the Nuggets on Friday, pick-and-roll defense was listed as a top priority, with coverage instruction varying on screen location. Bynum was the only Laker big tagged to “drop,” or lay back, on each of the five listed alignments.
Bynum has improved in the area of containing ball screens as well, using his massive wingspan to slow down the dribbler and contest shots without being foul prone.
After struggling to contain opponents early in the season, the Lakers have been clamping down recently, moving into the top-10 in defensive efficiency (100.4), just a tenth of a percentage point behind ninth ranked Miami. The Lakers also rank first in field goal percentage defense, with opponents converting only 41.6 percent from the floor.
“Defensively, we’re making strides,” said Derek Fisher. “We still have some work to do in terms of our execution on the other end.
“We’re having some bad offensive possessions at times, which makes it harder to play really good defense. If we can straighten out some execution things on the offensive end, I think our defense can get even better.”