The Lakers go into the NBA restart as the third best rated defensive team according to Defensive Rating in the Association behind only the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors. Another way to look at that is the Lakers are the best defensive team in the tough Western Conference. What’s interesting about that ranking is the are doing it on the strength of steals and blocks where they rank fourth and first respectively.
The team is also in the top 10 defensively in Opponent Second Chance Points and Opponent Points in the Paint, but their bread and butter defensively has been steals and blocks. They can thank Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard for the blocks. Davis is the leagues third best shot blocker in terms of number per game, McGee is 11th and Howard, as a reserve, is 19th.
There is little reason to think that rim protection will be a problem for this squad as they return to action. But, what about steals.
We all know that Rajon Rondo is out for a while with a broken thumb and that Avery Bradley has opted out of playing in the bubble. Generally, when a team is leading the Association in steals it is the guards who have a lot to do with it. Rondo is far from the player he was, but he is still a competent defender and Bradley is behind only Anthony Davis in Defended Field Goal Percentage for players averaging over 20 mins a game.
We can’t sugar coat it, both players will be missed. But, what type of impact will their absence have on team defense? Surprisingly, less than you might think.
As mentioned earlier, the Lakers defensive claim to fame is block and steals. What may surprise you is to see who is leading the Lakers in steals. Its not the aforementioned guards, but instead Anthony Davis, Danny Green, LeBron James and Alex Caruso.
Those players make up the Lakers top four in steals and all are playing as the season restarts.
Anthony Davis health
I used to wear contact lens. I don’t anymore in large part because of what happened to me wile wearing them during a rec league five-on-five game. Our team was winning and I was awesome. Seriously, was distributing, rebounding, making shots and basically dominating in every aspect of the game.
At least, that’s how I remember it!
Then, I got hit going up for a rebound and it was as I was headed to the other end of the court that I noticed that I couldn’t see out of one eye. We spent a little time looking for my contact, which I assumed popped out during the rebound scuffle, but we couldn’t find it and we played on. With clarity in only a single eye, my game suffered. Mind you, I was still spectacular, but less so than before!
Then, maybe 30 minutes after I lost my contact, I was running down court and felt the contact slide from above my eyeball down into place. My initial reaction was, “Heck ya, I can see again!”. That was closely followed by, “Wait, where the heck as this thing all this time? Lodged up in my brain somewhere?”. We won the game and I never wore contact lenses again.
Now, I don’t claim to be the type of player Anthony Davis is. In fact, I may have embellished how good I was in the story above. But, it is undeniable that you need clear vision to play the game of basketball well. Without clear vision out of both eyes you run the risk of playing off balance. Miss timing jumps for rebounds or blocks and having your shot be off just enough to hit the rim instead of the net. Silly, but true, clear vision matters!
Every indication is that Anthony Davis will play against the Clippers tonight. The very best thing to come out of the eye injury he suffered in the final scrimmage game is that he may take the court tonight wearing goggles. Of all the things the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar left the game of basketball the goggles and skyhook are two of the ones that need to be brought back.
Tonight, Anthony Davis does his part!
The Lakers are in the position they are, first in the Western Conference, on the strength of their superstars and starters. That’s not to say their bench is weak, but it is not the reason they are where they are. The Lakers bench has proven to be a “bend but don’t break” benefit to the team. They do just enough to keep the game in hand while the starters get their rest.
Isn’t that the primary goal of a bench anyway?
In the playoffs the bench matters less because the starters get more time, but it is also true that most every NBA Champion can point to a key play by a role player that propelled them to a Championship. Think Steve Kerr or Robert Horry. Bench play matters and as the Lakers begin pursuit of Championship #17 they are a bit weak in that area.
In fact, the Lakers have only a single bench player in the top five of any key metric. Dwight Howard is the fifth best shot blocker among reserves in the Association. That’s it, the only other Lakers bench player to come close to cracking the top five is Rajon Rondo who is the sixth leading reserve in assists.
Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith may be able to fill that gap offensively, but overall, bench play will be a concern for the Purple & Gold moving forward. While we are on the subject of Waiters, whose nickname is Philly Cheese, and J.R. “Swish” Smith it is important to note that this duo will for now and forever be known as Swish Cheese.
Jose has written for Bleacher Report, Clipperholics, OC Weekly and wrote a series of articles covering the 2010 NBA Finals for the LA Times. He lives in Southern California and is excited to watch thePeachBasket grow!