Making a huge assumption that health will not be an issue down the road, the one obstacle that may cause trouble along the Lakers’ path to a championship this year is defense or lack thereof.
The acquisition of Steve Nash drew applause all across Laker Nation in the offseason and was expected to help take a great deal of pressure off of Kobe on the offensive end. However, in landing the 2-time regular season MVP, the Lakers also gained a defensive liability. The 38 year-old is paired with a 34 year-old in the backcourt, and, while that is a great offensive duo, perimeter defense will be mediocre at best. Already through the first five games, Kobe, Nash, and Steve Blake have been beaten off the dribble and have closed out on perimeter shooters a half-second too late on many occasions. It’s not a question of effort on the part of these veterans; they just physically cannot move with quick guards ten to fifteen years younger than them.
The Lakers’ playoff woes the past few years began and ended with excessive penetration of the defense by quick guards such as Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and J.J. Barea.
In the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals against the Lakers, Westbrook poured in almost 26 points while dishing out nearly 5 assists and grabbing more than 5 boards per game. While these are great numbers to put up as a point guard, the box score still did not come close to portraying Westbrook’s effectiveness in getting past his defender and into the heart of the Lakers’ defense.
This upcoming postseason, the Lakers may have to face Westbrook, Chris Paul, and/or Tony Parker, not to mention the likes of Harden, Jeremy Lin, Darren Collison, rookie Damian Lilliard, and Ty Lawson.
Many Lakers fans think the lack of production by the bench is an equally significant issue, but the bench still has the potential to grow and develop during the season (SEE: Antawn Jamison’s career statistics). The lateral quickness of Kobe and Nash, however, most likely will not improve.
The good news is that the Lakers do have a three-time Defensive Player of the Year award-winner in his prime on their roster. Dwight Howard is expected to bolster the heart of the defense, blocking and altering shots with his length and athleticism. Once he is fully healthy, we may see a great improvement in L.A.’s defense, as Iron Man will cover up many defensive deficiencies of L.A.’s backcourt.
It is important to remember that we are a mere 5 games into the season. Mike Brown will spend more and more time further incorporating his defense (#FireMikeBrown tweeters—please bear with me), so rotations should start to improve significantly as the season progresses.
L.A. has plenty to make up for on defense in terms of backcourt age and athleticism, but they certainly do have the overall talent to pull it off. Have faith, Hollywood.