Are Jerry West and Phil Jackson Right?

by Jeff Fogle 25. January 2011 01:17

ESPN ran a story Monday explaining that former GM Jerry West and current head coach Phil Jackson were concerned that age and a lack of speed was inhibiting the Los Angeles Lakers' defense.

West was quoted as saying:
"If there's a loose ball now, how often do they get to it? The reason you can't play defense is because you can't."

Jackson agreed:
"He's right. We have to do a lot of things right to be able to play defense the way we want to, and most of it is about controlling the tempo of a game. There's something about just speed. Outright speed. We're not the fastest team on the boards here in the NBA, but we can do it if we control things in the right way."

A current Lakers player disagreed. Derek Fisher, who didn't want to go on record disagreeing with a Lakers legend, said:
"I won't respond specifically to him, but anybody else that has anything to say about the way we've been playing defensively is just unfounded and not true. Statistically the numbers are there. In the last 10 or 11 games, we've seen the difference. Teams aren't shooting the ball as well. Opponents' points per game are down."

Fisher's statement surprised me, because the defense has actually gotten pretty bad in spots over the last 10-11 games...if you don't include the complete and utter shutdown of the horrible Cleveland Cavaliers!

If one of the worst teams we've seen in years (an injury-depleted lineup on an already unimpressiver roster) scores only 57 points, you're going to have some good recent stat averages. Let's look at the last 11 games that DON'T involve the Cavaliers.

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCIES (points allowed per 100 possessions)
(Lakers are currently at 101.7 for the full season)
110.2 vs. Denver
126.7 vs. Dallas
101.1 vs. Oklahoma City
107.6 vs. the LA Clippers
98.8 vs. New Jersey
118.3 vs. Golden State
85.3 vs. New York
112.8 vs. New Orleans
106.7 vs. Phoenix
91.2 vs. Detroit
110.6 vs. Memphis

Pat yourselves on the back for posting an efficiency of 63.3 vs. Cleveland (57 points allowed in 90 possessions). Why are five of the 11 games listed way up at 110 or higher?! Good defense isn't shutting down Cleveland, or Detroit, or New Jersey. It's shutting down teams who MATTER. 

Let's trim the list down to erase slumping teams from the East:

110.2 vs. Denver
126.7 vs. Dallas
101.1 vs. Oklahoma City
107.6 vs. the LA Clippers
118.3 vs. Golden State
112.8 vs. New Orleans
106.7 vs. Phoenix
110.6 vs. Memphis

Seven subpar games in eight.

It's worth noting here that the Lakers have had a recent change in tempo that might be tricking Fisher, or anyone else looking at raw totals instead of tempo adjusted tempos. It's funny, the Lakers are typically a team that plays better defense than people realize. They would push tempo in the past in a way that hid their defensive excellence.

2007-08: 19th in points allowed, 6th in efficiency
2008-09: 14th in points allowed, 5th in efficiency
2009-10: 9th in points allowed, 5th in efficiency

Once you adjusted for tempo, this was an excellent defense on a championship caliber team in those seasons. You've got Kobe on offense, AND a top six defense!

Over the hunk we're discussing today, we're seeing a reversal of that phenomenon because the Lakers have slowed way down.

Possession totals going back chronologically from the Denver game to the Memphis game from the earlier 11-game listing (with a 94.7 mark for the year right now):
88-86-93-92-89-93-102-86-89-91-94.

The 102 was vs. the run-and-gun Knicks. That's the ONLY game where the Lakers topped their full season norm. Five of the last 11 were in the 80's. The 11-game median was 91.

If you "look at the numbers" as Fisher says, but don't adjust for tempo, it can seem like the Lakers are still playing good defense. Slower paces are artificially lowering scoreboard production. Once you make that adjustment, and toss out their scrimmage against role players wearing Cleveland uniforms, it's easy to see why West and Jackson were concerned.The Lakers ARE showing their age recently when facing quality in a way that a trained eye is going to catch.

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Comments

1/25/2011 3:22:23 PM #

Greyberger

The Lakers schedule has been easy and doesn't get really hard until the last twenty games or so.  There's time to improve, or get complacent, depending on what you expect out of the Lakers.

Greyberger United States

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