Death by 3-Pointer for the Lakers?
But for other great defenses who challenge everything -- San Antonio, Boston, Orlando -- challenging every shot means you dictate the types of shots opponents take. Over the last five NBA seasons, there has been a strong correlation between defensive efficiency and the percentage of two-point jump shots taken by the opponent. In other words, a key cause (and result) of great defense is the prevention of 3s and inside shots. It's not universal, but it's substantial. (Eye-poppingly so.)
The Lakers have a strong, strong defense -- No. 6 in the league this season. But it doesn't fit the "no 3s" mold. At all. In fact, the Lakers defense allows a lot of 3s. Against the Magic in the Finals, that could spell doom.
Here's a quick breakdown of what types of shots the Lakers defense allows (or forces, depending on your perspective). The data is from 82games.com. I've slid it into a graphic. The data includes attempts resulting in foul shots. You'll notice the numbers add up to something below 100% -- this factors loose ball fouls resulting in free throws. (Those free throws count as a shot attempt, but you can't tie it to a specific shot attempt, so it's got no home here.)
The Lakers defense results in something opposite of that executed by San Antonio. Remember, L.A.'s defense ranked No. 6 in the league this season, just 0.3 points per 100 possessions worse than the Spurs. But they are completely different: the Spurs deny the 3 and the inside shot, while the Lakers rely on getting lots of turnovers and making role players take more shots.
These Laker defensive principles go hand in hand, and explain the frequency of the opponent 3-ball. It's all in the strong side zone, or strong side trap. Kurt Helin of Forum Blue & Gold has been documenting the implementation and success of L.A.'s SSZ all season. Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus has also looked at the defense in depth.
The gist is that when committed to the defense, the Lakers send a defender all the way across the lane to the strong side, providing early help to guard against penetration. This leaves two defenders for three opposing offensive players on the weak side. These defenders -- one is almost always Kobe Bryant -- roam, being in zone coverage. They end up with a grip of steals. Top to bottom, nearly everyone in the Lakers rotation gets at least a deflection over the course of a game.
But of course, this leaves you susceptible to the 3 on the weak side, especially if the opponents pass well. The Lakers, despite giving up so many 3s, have been able to mitigate the problem in two ways (beyond causing turnovers and denying penetration): L.A. has great length and speed, and the defenders leave weaker shooters. Between Bryant's intelligence and speed and Trevor Ariza's incredible athleticism, the Lakers defense has been able to hold down the third best 3-point shooting percentage defense in the league, behind only Cleveland and (ahem) Orlando.
But if you're leaving Orlando's shooters open to execute the strong side zone (or, in other cases, to double Dwight Howard on the block), you can't rely on make-up speed. Why? The Magic have great length at every spot. Pau Gasol or Ariza won't bother a Rashard Lewis 3. (I'm not sure Manute Bol on roller skates could bother a Rashard Lewis 3.) Not even long Lamar Odom will be challenging Hedo Turkoglu's shot. Looking deeper, Mickael Pietrus should be able to pull the trigger no worries. J.J. Redick (if used) has a quick trigger, so daylight before the rushing closer might be enough, even if he's 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4. The Lakers have length, but it's mostly concentrated inside. Against a team so reliant on the 3-pointer (no one took a great share of shots from deep), that's not as useful as it normally would be.
There's a lot more that will go into this series beyond the 3-ball. But anyone who thinks the Lakers defense will able to do what Philadelphia (No. 14), Boston (No. 3) or Cleveland (No. 2) could not -- to shut down the deep shooting of the Magic -- will be in for a wake-up call come Thursday.