If you’re thinking that the Lakers’ defense has been somewhat lacking lately compared to their amazing start to the season, you’re not wrong. There’s been a glaring piece of the roster missing during these last 13 games, and that piece is Avery Bradley. In fact, the Lakers’ Defensive Rating with Bradley playing is 98.7 while they’ve had a DRTG of 107.1 in games without him. Many of Bradley’s teammates have talked about how much they’ve missed him on the defensive end, with Anthony Davis being the most recent. Davis talked about their defense without Bradley, even stating that the Lakers have their own personal “challenge” named after him.
(After the Lakers’ win against the Portland Trail Blazers on 12/6)
“We’ve given ourselves a challenge, we call it “the Avery challenge”. Ever since Avery (Bradley) went out, our defense has taken a hit a little bit. And the last three games, I’m not sure what it was tonight, the last three games we’ve been able to be the number one team in Defensive Rating and we want to get there every time.”
As Davis said, the defense has come back out in moments with Bradley gone, but over the entire sample size it has been lacking. As of December 10th, the best DRTG in the league belongs to the Milwaukee Bucks at 100.9. The Lakers’ DRTG with Bradley at 98.7 would obviously be the best in the league, but their DRTG of 107.1 without him would put the Lakers at 14th in the league.
There are a couple of reasons for this. One is just the fact of who has had to step up in Bradley’s absence. Those players include Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Troy Daniels, and Alex Caruso.
Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “But wait, I’ve heard that Alex Caruso is the best defending point guard in the NBA from Lakers fans!” Well, you’re right! I’m mostly talking about KCP, Rajon Rondo, and Troy Daniels.
I will say, not only has Caldwell-Pope improved his shot as of late (he’s currently averaging 38.0% from three which is third-best on the team), he has improved his defense as well since being inserted into the starting lineup for Bradley. Still, KCP currently has the worst DRTG on the team, at 106.3. However, this number may be inflated by his participation with bench lineups early in the season, being paired with Troy Daniels and Quinn Cook in lineups which are doomed to give up many points.
Rajon Rondo just so happened to come back to the Lakers right as Bradley got hurt, helping keep stability within the point guard depth for the team. And although Rondo is currently third on the team in DRTG (with players who have averaged 20 minutes per game or more), he may never near the level of defensive intensity he had with the Boston Celtics again. Just last year, Rondo had a Defensive Real Plus/Minus of -1.38, which ranked 56th out of 74 point guards.
A pairing that Rondo has been involved with since his return and Bradley’s departure is the one with him and Troy Daniels. This two-man lineup has produced a Net Rating of -0.7, with a DRTG of 108.2. It can’t be definitively said since Bradley and Rondo are yet to play with each other, but you have to imagine that the pairing of Rondo and Daniels won’t happen as much as it has (around nine minutes per game since Bradley has been out) once Bradley returns.
Other than Bradley’s replacements maybe being a tier below him on the defensive end, Bradley has also just been a flat-out baller on the defensive end this year for the Lakers. Check out some of his highlights from this year below.
Been working on a piece for @LakersOutsiders about how the Lakers have been missing Avery Bradley on the defensive end while he continues to come back from the hairline fracture in his leg. Here are some highlights of his defense from the season so far pic.twitter.com/gHQkva8lKh
— Donny McHenry (@donny_mchenry) December 10, 2019
Avery Bradley is an absolute pest on the perimeter against the opposing team’s point guards, while you can also see in certain clips above that he has a knack for providing great weak side help.
Here are some absurd statistics that show just how amazing he has been on the defensive end:
- Out of his 10 played games, Bradley has produced a personal DRTG of below 100.0 in seven of them, including an insane 60.8 in the win against the Miami Heat on November 8th.
- Players are shooting 28.6% from the field against Bradley in Isolation, good enough to put him in the 98th percentile in the league.
- Players are shooting 26.0% from the field against Bradley in Spot-Ups, putting him at the 90th percentile in the league.
There’s a pretty obviously common trait among the players you’d consider the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. Players like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Jimmy Butler are extremely long and can shuffle their feet with the best of them. These three players range in heights from 6’7” to 6’9”, while Bradley only stands at 6’2”. However, Bradley’s wingspan is at 6’7”, giving him the wingspan of a player of elite height. You can see how he uses his extremely quick feet to stay with players like Luka Doncic in the clips above, extending his long arm out to contest jump shots and cause a miss. That’s how Bradley ends up in such a good spot among the NBA’s best in regards to defending isolations and spot-ups.
The Lakers are still 21-3 following the 13 games that Bradley has missed, but who knows if their lessened defense will start to impact their record negatively. They’ve now won four in a row, but the team gave up 125 points in their most recent win against the Minnesota Timberwolves. This team prides itself on its defense as they want to be the best in the league, and that’s just not going to cut it.
Avery Bradley has been cleared for full contact as of December 7th, and will be probable for Wednesday’s game in Orlando against the Magic. If he misses that game, he has recently told Dave McMenamin/ESPN that he expected to come back Friday, December 13th against the Miami Heat. Either way, the Lakers’ defense will welcome him back with open arms as they won’t have to put up with “the Avery challenge” anymore.