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On Defense, the Lakers Are Setting a Low Bar

Upon arriving in LA, Lakers coach Luke Walton singled out two areas where the team needed to improve immediately: transitions and defensive rebounding. His young team has not show much progress on either front.

by ​Jared Dubin
Feb 8 2017, 5:50pm

When Luke Walton was hired as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2016, he inherited a roster that, while lacking a true foundational piece, was nonetheless sprinkled with young, talented players. It was easy to spot the appeal for Walton, a former Laker himself, who got to waltz into one of the most prestigious coaching jobs in the NBA without even a mandate to win immediately—nudging along the development of the youngsters would be just fine in Year 1.

On that front, Walton has for the most part held up his end of the bargain. Holdovers D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. have all progressed to varying degrees, while rookies Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac have both shown flashes of the talent that led the Lakers to draft them in the first place.

Where the Lakers' young core has yet to develop together, though, is on defense. The team currently sits a mere tenth of a point per 100 possessions ahead of the last-place Denver Nuggets in defensive efficiency. On a certain level, that shouldn't be surprising. Youth typically has a reverse correlation with point prevention, and even while giving fairly heavy minutes to (relative) olds like Luol Deng (31), Nick Young (31), Lou Williams (30), and Timofey Mozgov (30), the Lakers still check in with a minutes-weighted age about a year younger than the league average. Their kids factor in heavily, just as they did on the teams that finished 29th (2014-15) and 30th (2015-16) in defensive efficiency under former coach Byron Scott.

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