The Los Angeles Lakers aren't built to heed Byron Scott's first demand as head coach.
Scott told ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne on Monday that his players "better be ready to play some defense."
It's not that the Lakers are unwilling to commit defensively; they're just unable to.
In 2013-14, Los Angeles ranked 28th in defensive efficiency at 107.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, as noted by NBA.com. Only the Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz afforded opponents an easier time scoring the ball.
Fingers shouldn't point at Mike D'Antoni.
D'Antoni's teams have historically allowed lots of points. But that's a product of his fast-paced style of play—not his team's lack of commitment defensively.
In his five seasons in Phoenix, D'Antoni never coached a team that ranked below 21st in defensive efficiency. The Suns ranked right in the middle of the pack in four of those five years.
Just two years ago, D'Antoni's Lakers ranked 19th in defensive efficiency—not great but not awful.
D'Antoni was not the source of Los Angeles' defensive woes.
Could lineups including Kendall Marshall and Nick Young as the backcourt ever excel defensively? How about Ryan Kelly in the frontcourt? And an old Pau Gasol?
The Lakers actually let one of their better defenders walk during free agency, as Kent Bazemore signed with Atlanta.
Even with Kobe Bryant, the Lakers won't be a much better defensive team in 2014-15. Bryant, who will turn 36 in August, has suffered a pair of lower-body injuries over the last two years. That won't affect his defensive mentality, but it's hard to imagine Bryant returning spry as ever.
Julius Randle has a high upside, but his defensive game isn't up to par with his offense. At least he's young with a high motor.
Newcomer Ed Davis could bolster the frontcourt defensively, and the return of Jordan Hill doesn't hurt. But Carlos Boozer doesn't bring anything more than a veteran presence to the Lakers' defensive efforts.
Making the outlook even bleaker, Scott's history as a defensive coach doesn't radiate success, as NBA.com's John Schuhmann wrote on Friday:
The Cavs ranked in the bottom five in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) in each of Scott’s three seasons. That’s not just bad. It’s unprecedented.
You could look at those Cleveland rosters (2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13) and note their youth and lack of talent. Indeed, Scott didn’t have much to work with. But bottom five for three straight years speaks for itself. Scott had a No. 1 defense in New Jersey and top 10 defenses twice with the Hornets, but he wasn’t able to coach the young Cavs up. Under Mike Brown last season, Cleveland jumped from 27th to 17th in defensive efficiency.
This Lakers team resembles Scott's Cavaliers squads more than his Nets and Hornets teams. The Nets had young bucks Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson and a prime Jason Kidd and Kerry Kittles. The Hornets had Chris Paul headlining the defensive effort.
The Lakers don't have those pieces.
Bad defensive teams can make the playoffs. Dallas did this year, despite ranking 22nd in defensive efficiency. But the Mavericks' 109.0 points per 100 possessions ranked second in offensive efficiency.
A poor defensive team generally needs a trade-off like that to make the playoffs.
Bryant, if capable of staying healthy, will improve the Lakers' offensive efficiency (21st at 101.9 points per 100 possessions). How much? That depends on how well he healed from his injuries.
But one thing is certain: Los Angeles is not poised for a leap in defensive efficiency. Not yet. Not with this roster.
And Byron Scott has to work with what he's been given.
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