Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Pro's and Con's of Mike D'Antoni on the Lakers

After two days of preparations for the Phil Jackson reunion parade, with widespread reporting that he was the overwhelming favorite to replace Mike Brown, in came Mike D'Antoni. The notion of anyone but Jackson taking over this star-studded roster received scoffs from the Los Angeles Lakers community, and seemed extremely remote.

In the wake of Mike D’Antoni being hired by the Los Angeles Lakers, many Laker fans are extremely disappointed by the signing of the former Phoenix Suns coach. D’Antoni is a coach who, at first glance, looks like an odd choice by Los Angeles. If Phil Jackson’s asking price was indeed too high, why not take a little bit longer in your search for a coach (especially with D’Antoni not being able to join the team immediately because of knee replacement surgery) and really take a hard look at Jackson’s former assistant (and known user of the Triangle offense) Brian Shaw or defensive minded, but not one dimensional Nate McMillan? At the very least, give legendary former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan an opportunity to meet with Mitch Kupchak and then make your decision in a manner that doesn’t look rushed. Ultimately, Mitch decided the sooner the better, and pulled the trigger on a 3 year deal with an option for the 4th year.

While D'Antoni has about as much post season success as Mike Brown does, in other words falling short of the Larry O’Brien trophy his whole career, he is innovative and bold in ways that Brown was never known to be. His vaunted seven-seconds-or-less offense led to a 232-96 regular season mark (70.7%) from 2005 to 2008 as the Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire-led Suns fell in two Western Conference Finals, a semifinal and a quarterfinal. His three seasons in New York (103-143 record, swept in his only playoff appearance) were extremely disappointing but I do not see this as deficiency from his part since he was given a patched together roster of players who could never and will never fit with each other. In other words, New York surrounded him with a dysfunctional team and a mismatched roster that hardly ever fit his point guard-reliant system.

I’m not sold on D’Antoni. At first glance, his offense system doesn’t seem to fit with the large amount of veteran players on the court, although he did work with Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant in the 2008 Olympic Games as an assistant coach, and again with Bryant this past summer.  His system in Phoenix was so successful because the personnel he had with those teams were perfect for it; of course, I expect Steve Nash to thrive once again with D’Antoni, but the rest of the team is truly a question mark, save for Howard. D’Antoni’s system is a mesh of the pick and roll combined with pushing the tempo to the maximum and looking a shot before the defense has a chance to set. Howard and Nash running the pick and roll should be a devastating duo, no doubt about it; however the rest of the team isn’t poised to be sprinting all game long. In Phoenix, D’Antoni had speed demons and three point specialists, something the Lakers have lacked since the days of Magic Johnson. The mid 2000’s Suns had prototypical “stretch-4’s”; Power Forwards with speed and/or mobility and outside shooting ability. The Lakers have Pau Gasol, who has excellent mobility for a 7 footer, but his shot only extends to about 17 feet and that’s pushing it. Meanwhile, Antawn Jamison has excellent shooting range, but he lacks the speed to truly run with Nash.

Still, this is the least of my worries when it comes to D’Antoni’s coaching philosophy; what I’m truly concerned about is D’Antoni’s complete lack of defensive coaching. D’Antoni’s philosophy is to simply outscore the opponent, defense or not. A sound strategy if you have a team full of Leandro Barbosas and Steve Nashes, players who lack defensive ability, but this team has 3 time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, 12 time All-Defensive team member Kobe Bryant, and one time Defensive Player of the Year Metta World Peace, obviously this team is worlds different from the mid-2000’s Suns. This, coupled with personnel that doesn’t quite fit his offensive system, is why I believe D’Antoni will work with Bryant, Gasol and Nash to tweak his system to fit the style of play of his star players; this is what any good coach would do, and I truly believe D’Antoni is a very good coach.

The obvious dilemma lies in the players Los Angeles has, however I believe that D’Antoni will likely make his offense into a primarily pick and roll based offense, while adding some isolations in the post for Gasol, Bryant and Howard.

It certainly appears that Mitch was attempting to create something similar to the Showtime Magic Johnson Lakers, with minimal defense and a spectacular transitional offense leading to multiple championships and the consistently leading the league in points scored. And while certainly a spectacular style of play, this type of offense hasn’t had much success in the NBA since those Magic-led Lakers were running teams off of the court.

I seriously doubt we see the Phoenix Suns version 2.0, the players simply don’t fit into that style of play, but I do expect to see something between what the Lakers are now and what the Suns were then; an improved offense once Nash makes his way back to the court, as well as a major improvement from the bench since it appears running a simplified offense with one star player on the court has done wonders for the second unit under Bernie Bickerstaff (the bench has averaged 29.5 points per game without the Princeton Offense), but enough defense from Bryant, World Peace, Howard and Gasol to be ranked about 10th in total defense. That sounds wonderful on paper, but can the Lakers make the transition? We will find out soon enough, for now Los Angeles must focus on the San Antonio Spurs tonight with Bernie Bickerstaff still coaching until D’Antoni can report to practice.

Steve Blake will not play in tonight’s game against the Spurs (6-1) with an abdominal sprain. He is listed as day-to-day. A few interesting stats for tonight’s game: the Lakers and Spurs are nearly identical when it comes to points per game (98.6 PPG for Los Angeles, 98.4 for San Antonio) as well as average points allowed (94.4 for L.A, 94.1 for San Antonio), yet their records are vastly different, as the Spurs have jumped out to an extremely good start.

Starting Lineups:
Point Guard
Tony Parker
Darius Morris
Shooting Guard
Danny Green
Kobe Bryant
Small Forward
Kawhi Leonard
Metta World Peace
Power Forward
Tim Duncan
Pau Gasol
Boris Diaw
Dwight Howard