Antawn Jamison believes he will overcome his defensive deficiencies. (Mark Duncan / Associated…)
One by one, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak rattled off all the platitudes that made signing Antawn Jamison so great.
Kupchak raved about how such a signing came at such an affordable price. Jamison, who earned $15.1 million last season with Cleveland, hardly forced the Lakers to dig deep in their pocketbooks, signing for the veteran's minimum ($1.4 million) all in the name of possibly winning an NBA championship.
Kupchak lauded his scoring. Jamison's 17.2 ppg average last year nearly mirrors his career average (19.5), which should instantly bolster a bench that finished last in the league this past season in scoring (30.5).
Kupchak credited Jamison's experience. He'll enter his 15th season next year, which should mesh well with the Lakers' veteran-laden locker room.
And then Kupchak couldn't resist taking a dig.
With a smirk, Kupchak then lauded Jamison's defense, turning toward him and hoping that Jamison took the jab with good humor. That's because Jamison's defense is his biggest weakness.
"We have a couple of guys in the back that will help you just in case," Kupchak said.
To Jamison's credit, he took the ribbing in stride. He didn't shy away from questions about his defensive struggles either. Jamison mentioned multiple times that he'll try to avoid being a liability by ensuring he stays in shape, provides maximum effort and communicates enough with his teammates.
"You understand how to put yourself in better positions not to get blown by defensively or be reliable on the defensive end," Jamison said. "But I'll tell you one thing, I’m going to work hard and I’m going to give you my all and you won’t be able to say, 'He is the weak link to this defensive team.'"
Below are five ways Jamison and his teammates can help keep that from happening.
1. The Lakers need to stay organized as a unit. All the criticism Derek Fisher received for his inability to stop fast point guards mostly seemed overblown. Ramon Session's arrival didn't solve that issue. Steve Nash's presence likely won't either. Actually, there's pretty much no one out there who can stop Russell Westbrook or Tony Parker on a consistent basis.
It's a different story with frontcourt players considering there's loads of bruising forwards and centers that clog the lanes and physically limit the opposition with their post presence. But Jamison's teammates must be ready and willing to help him out should he get beat. Part of that responsibility falls on Jamison to call out for help. The rest of it falls on his teammates to stay alert and ready.
2. Lakers Coach Mike Brown could pair Jamison with Metta World Peace or Jordan Hill. Should the roster currently stand, both World Peace and Hill remain their most physically imposing defensive players. World Peace thrives on guarding wing players both in the perimeter and the post. Hill was a surprise last year in the way he scooped up defensive rebounds and fronted post players.
So it'd only be natural for Jamison to pair with those players when he comes off the bench. Considering his ability to play both small forward and power forward, it appears seamless. The move would also allow Jamison to exert most of his focus on scoring while World Peace and Hill concentrate on defense.
3. Jamison's offensive production could indirectly improve the Lakers' defensive performance. Considering how poorly the Lakers bench played last season, their defense wasn't all that bad. The team allowed their opponent's reserve units to score 32.9 points per game, ninth worst in the NBA, but it would've been a non-issue had the Lakers featured consistent bench-scoring production.
Jamison's scoring presence will widen that margin for error. But the Lakers can't fall into the trap of believing they can simply outscore teams now. They still need to retain defensive discipline. Jamison's scoring will address that issue. It lessens the likelihood the Lakers have to sprint back in transition after a miss. They have also shown in past seasons that a productive offense will spur the players into putting more effort defensively since they feel more engaged.
4. Slow the pace down. The Lakers may have instantly bolstered their offense with Nash and Jamison on board, but because they boast five players over 30 in age, they remain old enough to apply for an NBA version of the AARP card. The Lakers can't afford to adopt Nash's "Seven Seconds or Less" offense that he played with at times in Phoenix.
The Lakers will have to rely more on half-court sets, efficient ball movement and controlling the tempo. They will have to generate most of their easy baskets off defensive stops. This strategy decreases the likelihood that Jamison would even be put in a position to be a defensive liability.
5. Jamison can put in the extra work to improve his defense. He contends that he has improved to a degree since the beginning of his career. Jamison painted his offseason regimen as constant considering he has taken only nine days of vacation. And he conceded that the motivation behind winning his first NBA championship could subconsciously spur him into showing more on defense.
Jamison has a reputation as a hard-working scorer with a positive locker room presence. So these defensive weaknesses mostly reflect his ability. Still, such a determined attitude could help shave off a few baskets per game.
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