Next season the Los Angeles Lakers are expected to field one of the best defensive teams of the Phil Jackson era. But, despite the optimism surrounding the franchise, questions remain on the defensive end.
Of course, the most obvious defensive question is the Lakers' inability to defend the pick-and-roll, but that flaw seems to be more embedded in the team's culture, and is lessened by superior post players.
The Lakers have not been able to defend the pick-and-roll since Magic Johnson manned the point, and it's unlikely that dynamic will change despite the Lakers' overall improvement on defense.
That said, with players like Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and Pau Gasol protecting the basket it's easier to challenge an offensive player at the rim without giving up an advantage somewhere else on the court.
However, the Lakers' inability to defend the point guard position has resulted in some tense moments in the past, and has been viewed as the Lakers biggest weakness on the defensive end.
The Lakers have always been vulnerable to penetration from smaller, quick point guards, but they have also struggled to defend bigger, stronger lead guards as well.
A player like Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook is capable of causing the Lakers multiple troubles because he can exploit them with his quickness or strength, as he showed in last season' playoffs.
Westbrook, not Kevin Durant was the Thunder's best player in last season' loss to the Lakers, and, if Westbrook had a reliable mid range jump shot, the series could have possibly swung a different way.
Two seasons ago Houston Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks stretched the eventual NBA champion Lakers to the brink of elimination with his relentless, fearless penetration, and Los Angeles possibly benefitted in the Finals that year against an Orlando Magic team with a less-than-healthy Jameer Nelson.
Los Angeles took steps to correct their defensive short-comings by signing Steve Blake in the off-season, and parting ways with the talented, but inconsistent, Jordan Farmar.
But did that correct the Lakers' issues, or merely place a band-aid on the wound?
Farmar's problem was never a matter of talent or athleticism since he was one of the Lakers' quickest players and best athletes, but he never developed the discipline to be a consistent defensive player.
Starter Derek Fisher has great defensive discipline and technique, but his skills have have began to show the wear of 14 professsional seasons, and he is no longer as effective on the defensive end as he once was.
Newly re-signed guard Shannon Brown is every bit the athlete as Farmar was, and bigger as well, but he suffers from the same lack of defensive discipline.
Brown is more valuable because his size allows him to occassionally defend shooting guards in addition to being a secondary ball-handler.
Blake will bear the majority of the defensive burden at point guard for the Lakers, and although he is not as gifted physically as Brown, he brings much more discipline in his efforts.
Although Blake is a steady defensive player with good size at 6'3, I'm not convinced that he has the ability to stay in front of the quicker guards the Lakers will face.
Blake's size will definitely make him less susceptible to being muscled out of position, but it's doubtful he has the foot-speed to prevent the same type of penetration the Lakers have been haunted by.
Luckily, Kobe Bryant has proved to be a capable defender when asked to defend point guards who have abused Los Angeles in the past.
Blake's signing was supposed to signal an end to that.
Considering the Lakers are the NBA's two-time defending champions and did improve their roster, this may seem like grasping at straws to some, but could this problem come back to haunt them?
Other contenders around the NBA are aware that the best way to attack the Lakers is from the point guard position, so you can expect for teams to try and exploit that at every turn.
The Lakers have shown the ability to persevere without great defensive play from their point guards, but can Fisher, Blake, and Brown answer the call if great defensive play is needed?