Lakers introduce Darvin Ham: Three takeaways from head coach’s first press conference

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Lakers introduce Darvin Ham: Three takeaways from head coach's first press conference

The Los Angeles Lakers are entering a new era under recently hired head coach Darvin Ham. On Monday, they formally introduced Ham with a press conference where he shared his insights into his plan for the team next season. Ham spoke about how he envisions the Lakers finding their identity on the defensive side of the ball, how he views Russell Westbrook’s suitability for the team next season, and what he expects from Anthony Davis.

Here are some highlights from Ham’s press conference.

1. Ham’s commitment to defense

If you’ve watched the Lakers last season, you know they struggled heavily on the defensive side of the ball. A year after finishing with the league’s best defense, LA stumbled to 21st in the 2021-22 season and struggled to prevent anyone from scoring. Prior to this season, the Lakers ranked in the top five in defense for two consecutive years, so this season’s complete decline was staggering to watch.

Some of that drop has to do with personnel, but that’s not enough reason for the defense to give up 138 points to an offense by the Houston Rockets, who ranked 26th in the league that year. During Monday’s press conference, Ham made it a point to speak consistently about how he plans to overhaul LA’s offense next season.

“Defensively we will make our biggest strides,” said Ham. “We have to commit to the defensive side of the ball otherwise we don’t have a chance to do anything. Offensive doesn’t matter if we don’t get stops.”

Ham also touched on responsibility on the defensive side of the ball for everyone on the list, from LeBron James to the last man on the rotation.

“My goal is to continue the development of our younger players and make those guys comfortable,” said Ham. “Everything has to be a team effort. When mistakes are made, I need to be able to coach [James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook] as I do the rest of the roster. We have a saying: “Facts over feelings”. When you see the film and realize you’ve missed your mission, you have to point that out. If I can’t point this out to one of our Big 3, the last man or someone in our rotation isn’t going to take what we do seriously. It has to be consistent across the board.”

2. Westbrook fits the team

Westbrook’s first season with the Lakers was disappointing to say the least. He’s struggled to adjust to a new role alongside LeBron, and that’s led to a lot of criticism — some deserved, some didn’t! – by almost everyone on the outside looking in. It has sparked rumors about his status on the team going into next season, but for now he’s still with the Lakers. Ham vouched for Westbrook – who attended the press conference – and his illustrious career in the league, while mentioning some small details about conversations they’d had since he was hired.

“Don’t confuse it, Russell is one of the best players our league has seen and there’s a ton left in that tank,” Ham said. “I don’t know why people tend to write him off… Russ and I had some really, really great 1-on-1s, and the biggest word that came out of those discussions was sacrifice. We’ll sacrifice whatever we have to do, and it’s not just Russ. There will be sacrifices that LeBron will have to make, that AD will have to make, right through to the rest of our roster.

Ham also addressed what kind of role he envisions for Westbrook next season. Despite being asked about the possibility of Westbrook coming off the bench, Ham did a good job of dodging that particular question.

“In terms of his role, I expect him to be the same tenacious, energetic player he’s been his entire career,” Ham said. “A lot can happen now without the ball in his hands, most of it can now happen on defence. But here, too, we must make sacrifices. There is nothing to be accomplished without all parties sharing the burden, making sacrifices and relying on one another.”

3. Focus on Anthony Davis

It’s been a bad year for the Lakers across the board, and Davis’ season was certainly part of that. It wasn’t like AD had a special one Poorly This season, he’s still been a goalscoring and rebounding force while being strong on defense. However, he only played 40 games after ending a season in which he only played 36 games. Ever since the Lakers won a championship in 2020, Davis’ health has been a concern. While Ham can’t control if Davis gets hurt, he recognized the importance of his production to LA’s success.

“We’ve all seen what can happen when he’s healthy, when he’s playing at a high level, when he’s in a good rhythm,” said Ham. “We saw it in the bubble. His skill, size, versatility, defensive acumen, relentlessness. His ability to make multiple defensive efforts is key. It will be the basis for the kind of standard we set in the ‘Darvin Ham’ era.’

“…LeBron will be LeBron, Russ will be Russ, but we need consistency from Anthony Davis. We need him to be healthy, we need him to be in good mental shape and we need him to be as consistent as possible and play that championship basketball again.

When Davis is healthy, he has the ability to play like one of the best players in the league. The problem is that AD isn’t always healthy, and sometimes when he is, he tends to be ineffective on offense. There’s also the argument over which position he should play in. Though Davis has played primarily as a power forward for most of his career, the past few seasons in LA have made it clear that he should be the team’s starting center. Not because he can’t play power forward, because he absolutely can and was an all-star at that position, but because the Lakers don’t have a quality center to stay alongside Davis for that to make sense.

He was joined on the starting lineup last season by Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan, two guys who are nowhere near starting center caliber in this league. If LA got someone this summer who could be a viable launch center, then putting AD in power makes sense. But if not, Davis should be the team’s primary center, and Ham indicated the system he plans to employ will require Davis at center.

“It starts on defense and from there we’re going to build back towards offense,” Ham said. “I think the kind of spacing, a four-out-one-in style that I’m going to implement will help all parties.”

Running this type of offense, with four players on the rim and one post-up player in the suit, gives Davis room to play down the middle and make decisions off the post. It sounds like a great plan, we just have to see if Ham and the Lakers can execute well on it next season.

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