Los Angeles Lakers

How Frank Vogel's defensive-minded approach can make the Los Angeles Lakers a title contender

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Can Vogel make an impact during his first year in LA? (NBA.com Illustration)

After parting ways with Luke Walton on April 12, a month-long process eventually led to the Los Angeles Lakers hiring Frank Vogel to become the team's head coach.

Like most decisions surrounding this franchise, the hiring was viewed under a microscope and met with plenty of analysis - both positive and negative.

Could Vogel, who spent the last season out of coaching after two rough seasons in Orlando, right the ship in Los Angeles after Year 1 of the LeBron James era went just about as poorly as anyone could have fathomed?

A month later, those questions were seemingly answered when the Lakers motioned to acquire superstar Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans on June 15. By July 7, LA had completely retooled its roster into one of the most talented in the league.

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Suddenly, questions surrounded how the newly-hired head coach could get the most out of this team.

For an idea, look no further than Vogel's best years in Indiana, where he led the Pacers to back-to-back Central Division titles and Eastern Conference Finals appearances, falling one win shy of the NBA Finals in 2013. In each of those seasons, Indiana boasted the league's top defence, with a DRtg of 99.0 in the 2012-13 season and 98.9 in the 2013-14 season.

Based on the numbers, it's evident that defence is Vogel's calling card, and his immediate impact as a head coach will be made on that end of the floor as he inherits a Lakers team that ranked at a respectable 13th last season with a DRtg of 108.9 .

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While last year's rating was positively impacted by players who are no longer Lakers including Lonzo Ball, Vogel is in a great position to make this team a top-10 or even top-five defence in the league.

LeBron might not be the All-NBA defender that he once was, but his basketball IQ allows him to make up for what Father Time has taken away from him. It helps that he now has Davis, who is one of the league's premier defenders and rim protectors, as well as Danny Green, who was a few votes shy of earning the second All-Defensive Team nod of his career last season in Toronto.

LA re-signed another rim protector in JaVale McGee, who averaged 2.0 blocks per game last season, and savvy veterans in Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who bring different tools as perimeter defenders. Add in two-time All-Defensive team selection Avery Bradley, who looks to return to the peak defensive form he exhibited in Boston, and Jared Dudley, whose defensive impact can come with him on or off the floor solely based on his innate understanding of the game, and Vogel has the components to shape this defence into an elite power.

In Indiana, the defence was anchored by big man Roy Hibbert, who averaged 2.4 blocks over the Pacers' successful two-season span and earned All-Defensive Second Team honours in 2014. Davis, a three-time blocks champion, will likely anchor the Lakers defence and while the league looks much different than it did during Vogel's Indiana years, AD represents the ideal evolution of a defender from that time.

As evidenced by the numbers, Davis and Hibbert are similar in that they are shot blockers by trade. What the numbers don't show is how much more versatile of a defender Davis is, which only increases his switchability on that end of the floor.

Green has the ability to key in on multiple wing positions, providing the team with the flexibility to try different lineups, including those that feature LeBron at the 1 on offence while Green, Bradley, Caldwell-Pope or even Rondo can play off the ball while guarding opposing point guards on defence.

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Having McGee and DeMarcus Cousins allows AD to play his preferred position at the 4, giving him an opportunity to put his versatility on full display while providing a scary second line of defence once teams penetrate to get into the lane. Cousins even averaged 1.5 blocks over 30 regular-season games during his time with the Warriors.

Last season, each of the league's top-three rated defences (Milwaukee, Utah and Indiana) had shot-blocking big men to muddle things up and make things more difficult for teams to have success through dribble penetration. This bodes well for LA, as six of the last 10 NBA champions have a top-five defence. To take it a step further, the 2018 Warriors are the only team with a Defensive Rating that fell outside of the top-10 (11th) , but even they posted a DRtg of 102.0 in the postseason , good for the best in the league.

Season Champion Defensive Rating Rank
2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers 102.7 3rd
2010-11 Dallas Mavericks 104.1 8th
2011-12 Miami Heat 99.2 4th
2012-13 Miami Heat 103.2 9th
2013-14 San Antonio Spurs 101.4 4th
2014-15 Golden State Warriors 100.4 1st
2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers 103.9 10th
2016-17 Golden State Warriors 103.4 2nd
2017-18 Golden State Warriors 106.8 11th
2018-19 Toronto Raptors 106.8 5th

Clearly, the old saying continues to hold true: Defence wins championships.

With LeBron in championship mode and the Lakers looking to bounce back from the worst stretch in franchise history, having a coach capable of establishing a championship-calibre culture on the defensive end was - and is - crucial.

AD: Retiring without a ring would be 'one of my biggest failures'

With the amount of talent present on the Lakers roster and a coaching staff featuring the likes of Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins and Phil Handy, the offence will be just fine. It's defence that is the key to hanging yet another banner in the Staples Center.

For that reason, Vogel could prove to be one of the team's biggest pickups in a busy offseason.

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