Inside the Los Angeles Lakers’ Historically Bad Defense

The Los Angeles Lakers are having a rough season by every metric. 

Offensively, their lack of quality ball-movers bogs down the offense and cycles in a constant flow of isolation basketball. Kobe Bryant, great passer that he is, is ultimately still a ball-stopper. Nick Young is the same, minus the passing. Jeremy Lin is more a creator for himself out of the pick-and-roll than for teammates.

But it's on the defensive end that the Lakers are struggling even more, and it's arguably a greater reason why they've sputtered to an 8-17 record. 

Their 110.5 defensive rating is dead last in the NBA, according to, whereas their 103.5 offensive rating sits at a mediocre, but not awful, 16th. 

Pick-and-roll coverage has been the root cause of their problems. Synergy Sports (subscription required) has them giving up the fourth-most points per possession to pick-and-roll ball-handlers, the most to big men rolling down the lane, and the most to shooters on the perimeter on pick-and-roll kickouts. 

The nature of the pick-and-roll is that it puts the defense at a momentary disadvantage. No matter the coverage, one defensive player is covering two players for at least a split second. Some teams simply switch all screens to avoid this lapse, but that creates unfavorable mismatches.

Some teams constantly guide the ball toward the sideline and do not let the ball-handler get to the middle of the floor. Some teams trap the ball-handler with two players, or at least provide extra pressure for a second or two to muddle up passing lanes. 

The Lakers fight through the screens and rely on weak-side defenders loading toward the ball to force difficult, cross-court passes. This is the strategy adopted by many of the league's top defensive teams—the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers, for example—because it pushes ball-handl...

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