Los Angeles Lakers Must Improve On Defensive End This Offseason

The Los Angeles Lakers have to improve on the defensive side of the ball and this offseason could provide help to fix that.

As the Los Angeles Lakers close out the 2016-17 NBA season, the most interesting part of the team is their roster construction moving forward. This year will mark a fourth straight season without making the playoffs — the longest such streak in franchise history.

Moves were made — both on the court and in the front office — to avoid making that a fifth straight season.

Head coach Luke Walton‘s development as a coach is important, but this team’s makeup has to improve for Los Angeles to have a chance to attract better players. It starts with improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

Over the last four seasons, the Lakers have been a mess on defense–28th in defensive efficiency in 2013-14, 29th in 2014-15, 30th last season and 30th this season. On Monday, Los Angeles allowed 129 points to Denver and then allowed 139 points to Houston Wednesday.

In their last 20 games, the Lakers have allowed more than 105 points 18 times. 

As players cycle in and out, the one thing that has remained is Los Angeles’ struggles on the defensive end. 

Even in the midst of tanking season after season, the Lakers haven’t found anything on either side of the ball. The Philadelphia 76ers are still a bad team, but one of the noticeable leaps they’ve made was on the defensive side of the ball.

Last season, Philadelphia was 26th in the league in defensive efficiency. This year, that number has climbed to 19th overall. 

Lakers Young Players On Defense 16-17
D’Angelo Russell -1.4 -1.29
Julius Randle +0.8 -0.62
Jordan Clarkson -2.2 -2.60
Brandon Ingram -0.8 -3.25
Larry Nance Jr. +2.3 +2.21

I declined to put Ivica Zubac in there because he’s only played 446 minutes as of Wednesday. Stats via NBA.com’s stats, 82games.com, Basketball-reference.com, and ESPN.com

And Los Angeles’ young players are a contributing factor to that. Young players often struggle on the defensive end, but some of the Lakers have noticeably struggled.

D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson are poor defenders. Julius Randle is no man’s land defensively and outside of Larry Nance Jr., Los Angeles doesn’t have a young, energetic defender on the back end, though, Tarik Black has carved out a nice role for himself as a backup center.

Though not considered a part of the “young core,” Black is a solid defender and rebounder at just 25 years old. He’s locked in next season for just $6.55 million. 

And of course, we have to discuss Brandon Ingram. Part of the allure Ingram is that defensive potential. Being 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan doesn’t just allow him to cover smaller players on the perimeter, but also help erase some mistakes of his fellow teammates.

So far, Ingram’s defense has been brutal. 

He’s shown dribs and drabs of being a fine defender, but they’ve come far and few between.

Finding better players on the defensive end will be a point of emphasis for Los Angeles.

They tried to bring in someone with a defensive mindset when they brought in Luol Deng and he showed some of that defensive ability, but he’s 31 years old with a ton of mileage on the body and shot just 38 percent from the field this season.

The Lakers will need some players who can both fit their time frame and defend–both on the perimeter and in the post.

It’s why I think Kansas’ freshman forward Josh Jackson would be an interesting fit for Los Angeles. He’s clearly the third best prospect in the NBA draft to me and the one thing he brings is a strong defensive presence.

Throughout his freshman season, Jackson has shown the ability to defend several different positions on the perimeter and even played some small-ball five and protected the rim in spurts.

In free agency, it’s a bit trickier. Otto Porter, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Nerlens Noel all fit that criteria of helping Los Angeles’ defense, especially Noel, who could serve as an elite rim protector and overall defender.

The issue is that all three have restricted free agency rights, meaning all three of their teams — Washington, Detroit, and Dallas respectively — could match whatever offer Los Angeles throws their way. 

There’s also Oklahoma CIty’s Andre Roberson, who is an All-D player, but provides little to nothing on the offensive end. 

Take a step back and there are some interesting names. The aforementioned Roberson would be an interesting look, just to have a quality perimeter defender alongside Russell or Clarkson. Memphis’ JaMychal Green is another one.

Also restricted, Green has evolved into a quality defender who can also space the floor. 

Ranking in the bottom of the league for the last four seasons and have very few players with solid to good defensive ability, the Lakers will have an eye on stars and making a quick fix this offseason, but if they’re smart, they also look to aggressively improve the defense and try to bring guys who can bring some respectability on that side of the ball.

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