Moore: Lakers’ Defense Flat-Out Bad; Market Hasn’t Adjusted Yet on Betting Landscape
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Los Angeles Lakers won a title on the back of their defense. Since the move was made to trade the Lakers’ adored and — at the time — overhyped young core for Anthony Davis, Los Angeles reconfigured its identity.
Frank Vogel was brought in as head coach with a sterling reputation on the defensive side. In 2020, the Lakers finished as the third-best adjusted defensive rating team in the league factoring for strength of schedule. In 2021, they overhauled the roster and despite losing LeBron James and Davis for most of the season, the Lakers finished No. 1 in adjusted defensive rating.
Their title run was spurred by certain players (i.e. Davis) seeing their jumpers get hot at the right moment and a lot of transition offense carrying the load. It was always the defense that was the core; the Lakers were bullies with their physicality and swarming mentality.
When the team made the roster overhaul again this season, a primary question was whether the team’s intended identity would shine through with different players. Gone are Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma, replaced by players like Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Malik Monk in the rotation.
The answer has been pretty clear so far: that identity is gone for now.
The Lakers rank 25th in adjusted defensive rating this season factoring for strength of schedule per DunksAndThrees.com. Los Angeles is 25th in opponent points per possession at the rim on non-post-ups, per Synergy Sports. And Second Spectrum data has the Lakers giving up the second-highest expected eFG% on jumpers and layups this season.
They have just gotten flat-out beat defensively.
Yes, even Anthony Davis.
In fact, the Lakers’ defense has been eight points worse per 100 possessions with Davis on-court versus off this season, the worst differential on the team.
“They’re just not engaged at trying to stop layups, at all,” one scout told Action Network. “You can see them just thinking their reputation is going to carry them.
Another scout added: “They’ll play harder when spring rolls around, but it’s kind of shocking to see a (Vogel) team play like this at the rim.”
This has led to an interesting trend with Los Angeles.
The Lakers have the highest rate of over this season in their games at 11-7. This coming in a season where under has hit at a 58% rate and only five teams league wide have seen overs hit in their games at better than 50 percent.
And more specifically, it’s the opposing teams who have beaten the market. Opponent team totals have gone over in 12 of the Los Angeles’ 18 games. That’s 67% on the season.
The only unders have come vs. teams with an average adjusted offensive rating of 19.3: the Cavaliers, Spurs, Blazers, Rockets, Bucks and Timberwolves. Cleveland and Milwaukee are badly banged up, plus Houston and Minnesota have been offensively feeble.
When the total is less than 220 points this season, the opponent team total has gone over in six of eight games The Lakers are still getting considerable respect in the marketplace defensively.
The total for Tuesday’s Lakers vs. Knicks game is set at 214.5, with the Knicks’ team total projected at 109. Los Angeles’ opponents have hit 109 or more in 12 of the 18 games for the club this season.
The Lakers are hoping their comeback win Sunday against the Pistons after LeBron James was ejected was the start of a turning point. They held the Pistons to just 17 points in the fourth quarter to pull off the comeback, even as they gave up 116 all the same.
It should be noted Detroit is 28th in opponent-adjusted offensive rating, with the worst effective field goal percentage in the league.
Until the Lakers show they can consistently and persistently get stops, this isn’t the same team that had title hopes the past two seasons. They’re a team bettors should take advantage of a relatively soft market in totals against.