Dime Drop: The Lakers are back, but not as we know them

There is something different about these Lakers. Historically famed for the offensive prowess (think Kobe, Shaq, Magic, Kareem, Wilt, Jerry, Elgin), these new-look Purple and Gold are becoming a defensive juggernaut.

Having finished a middling 14th in points per defensive possession last season (per Cleaning The Glass). So far this campaign, the Lakers rank second in the same stat behind only Utah. Such a turnaround is the result of team cohesion, spearheaded by one man. A man who seems totally out of place in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Frank Vogel. 

Vogel’s appointment this summer was received with little to no fanfare and a smattering of questioning looks. Vogel had never coached a star of Antony Davis’s magnitude, let alone LeBron’s – the closest being his time with Pacers, during Paul George’s ascension. Questions were asked as to whether he could control the locker room egos, after all, he doesn’t have the big personality of a Pat Riley nor the resume of a Mike D’Antoni, let alone the combination of both, a la Phil Jackson. Albeit early days, where he is quietly leading the Lakers to the same start as their 1999-2000 championship-winning team.

Stylistically, the 46-year-old head coach is the antithesis of “Show Time”. Known for a defensive focused system in both his six seasons in Indiana and two in Orlando. Ultimately, it would be his inability to get sufficient offensive production that would be his downfall in both of those roles.

Now, despite lacking depth and consistent scoring talent outside of their “big two”, he doesn’t need to worry about the offensive end. He has LeBron James – a basketball savant and one of the games all-time greatest passers, “quarterbacking” the Lakers offence. James currently leads the league with 11.1 assists per game, two per game more than both his career-high and his closest current challenger (Luka Doncic).

Sure, their 8th ranked offence could be better, but their SRS (Simple Rating System, which factors in average point differential and strength of schedule) is a huge 10.2.

His system is reviving the career of Dwight Howard (who despite winning three back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards early in his career, has been washed in recent seasons), Avery Bradley. Danny Green looks an ideal fit and even LeBron James often chastised for inconsistent efforts of the defensive end of the floor in recent seasons, is active and engaged.

Still, it’s early days yet and by the time Paul George and Kawhi have got some reps together, the Lakers may not even be the best defence in LA. 

Weekend Watchables

Friday 15 November, 1 am (Saturday morning) – Philadelphia 76ers @ Oklahoma City Thunder

Philly (7-4) head into Oklahoma City (4-7), hoping to keep themselves hot on the tails of the surprising Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and streaking Boston Celtics in the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference. Despite being written off in preseason predictions, OKC is no pushovers having forged themselves as a scrappy, physical team. Look out for the match-ups between Joel Embiid and Steven Adams, as well as Ben Simmons and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Saturday 2 November, 1 am (Sunday morning) Houston Rockets @ Minnesota Timberwolves

Two potential Player of the Week candidates faces off in this one, as Andrew Wiggins (wow) plays host to James Harden. Houston (8-3) boast the second-fastest pace in the league and a top-six offence. Minnesota (7-4) have the fourth-best pace so this should be a run and gun showdown. With Houston expecting to miss Clint Capela (and four others), Minnesota should look to break their opponents preference for small-ball lineups through Karl Anthony-Towns. It could fall to 37-year-old, former Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler to wind the clock back and try to contain him.

Sunday 3 November, 2:30 am (Monday morning) – Atlanta Hawks @ LA Lakers

One of the league’s best defences will host one of the league’s most lethal offensive individuals as Trae Young and his Hawks (4-7) visit the Lakers (9-2). Young is averaging a huge 27.3 points per game alongside 9.1 assists and, in just his second year, is looking to cement himself as an All-Star. Expectations aren’t high for the Hawks, particularly in the absence of John Collins, but this team is a fun watch.

All games are available live and on-demand through NBA League Pass.

You can hear more from Mike weekly on the Double Clutch Podcast, the UK’s leading NBA podcast.

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