Before the Lakers opened training camp, Phil Jackson brought together his staff "and told them he was appointing a defensive coach, something he hadn't done in his previous 18 years of coaching in the NBA."
Longtime assistant Kurt Rambis (pictured here) took on the role of defensive guru as "the Lakers began working on the new defense during training camp and continue(d) to practice it almost every day."
According to the LA Times, "Jackson adjusted Rambis' coaching duties before the season in hopes of establishing this type of success. He typically gives each of his assistant coaches seven or eight teams to vigorously track throughout the season, but he reduced Rambis' workload to only three teams (Phoenix, Boston and Oklahoma City) to let Rambis concentrate primarily on the Lakers' defense.
Said Coach Rambis, who won four NBA titles as a Laker player: "I've always enjoyed new opportunities to grow as a coach and the challenges that would come with it."
With the players buying in wholeheartedly, the results have been excellent:
The Lakers (12-1) are third in the league in opponents' shooting percentage (42.2%), sixth in points given up (92.7 a game), and first in point differential (14.3 a game).The players have eaten it up, finding an appetite for steals (a league-best 10.4 a game) and blocked shots (6.2 a game, sixth-best in the league) that matches their zest for alley-oop dunks and three-on-one breaks.
Says Kobe Bryant:
"The thought process is that you want to win a championship. In order to beat a Boston, you've got to be a better defensive team than Boston. If you want to hoist that trophy at the end of the year, we've got to be a great defensive team. That's the only way to get it done."
Coach Rambis had "pestered" Coach Jackson to allow him to try something new defensively, but Coach Jackson had resisted, saying, "I come from the old school where you play man [defense], and you have that man and that's your primary goal."
According to the Times article:
"The Lakers now use a lot of zone principles and try to keep the ball on one side of the court. They put pressure on the ballhandler to try to force him to a particular side and then often overload the area by sending an extra defender to stand down near the post, essentially shifting the defense from man-to-man to zone.Skip passes to the undermanned side can hurt the Lakers, but their defense has been quick to jump into passing lanes and create turnovers. Crucial to their defensive success is extreme pressure on the ballhandler. Without that pressure, the ballhandler can see the court and find open teammates."