Playing defense in the NBA isn’t easy, as the Los Angeles Lakers have found out this preseason. After suffering the indignity of having one of the worst defenses in the league last season, the team, along with new head coach Luke Walton, is hoping to right that wrong this year.
While intensity is certainly part of the equation, it can’t account for everything. In the NBA, where players are experts at drawing fouls (and others downright wizards, like Lou Williams), defending without having the whistle blow can be tricky. So far in the preseason the Lakers have worked on ramping up their defense, but have also been called for the third-most fouls in the league, which is making a negative impact by giving opponents extra trips to the free throw line.
Walton spoke with Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times about how he hopes to get the Lakers to play defense without fouling:
“Simple answer, which I know isn’t the way it ever plays out, is get to where you’re supposed to be on time,” Walton said. “You’re at a deficit in this league when you’re trying to chase someone down or slide to somebody. It’s natural to want to try to swipe at the ball or do something where you shell them a little bit. But what we encourage is you get your chest on them, hands out, and then know that we’re gonna have weakside help coming over and they’ll take care of the layup or whatever type of shot it turns into.”
For the Lakers, finding the balance between playing tight defense and fouling will be a must. Still, for as much emphasis has been placed on the kind of offense that Walton would bring to Los Angeles, we have already seen defensive improvements from players like Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, and Nick Young.
It’s still early, and no one knows exactly what this Lakers team will become, but for the time being it does appear that they are headed in the right direction–on both ends of the floor.