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Los Angeles Lakers: Each Player's Role in Mike D'Antoni's Run-and-Gun Offense

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2017

Los Angeles Lakers: Each Player's Role in Mike D'Antoni's Run-and-Gun Offense

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    Mike D'Antoni is the new head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, a move hardly any saw coming, shaking up Purple and Gold's dynamic significantly.

    According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Phil Jackson was "asking for the moon" and the Lakers weren't prepared to give it to him, opting for D'Antoni instead.

    What does this mean for Los Angeles' offense?

    Everything, and then some.

    While D'Antoni's defensive schemes remain widely discredited or non-existent, his offensive blueprint—known as the "seven seconds or less system"—is borderline worshipped. Steve Nash won two NBA MVP awards within it and Kobe Bryant traipsed his way to a gold medal at the Olympics with it this past summer.

    But that was then, with the Phoenix Suns and Team USA. This is now, with a Lakers team still searching for a dominant identity.

    A dominant identity that cannot be established until each player's role within D'Antoni's offense is sufficiently understood.

Steve Nash, Point Guard: Primary Catalyst

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    No one should be more thrilled about Mike D'Antoni's hiring than Steve Nash.

    It's not just that Nash won two MVP awards under his former coach nor is it that he opened up the season averaging a measly 4.5 points and four assists. More important than that is with D'Antoni at the helm, the ball will be finally put back in Nash's hands.

    Under Mike Brown's Princeton offense–and what would have become Phil Jackson's triangle offense—Nash was expected to play off the ball more, and that's hardly his strength.

    Nash' best skill is creating for his teammates within a free-flowing system that encourages ball movement and being active in transition. In the seven seconds or less system, that begins and ends with the point guard.

    Nash never averaged less than 10.5 assists alongside D'Antoni in their four years together and even averaged a career best 18.8 points per game with him in 2005-06.

    So yeah, when Nash returns from injury, he's going to be active.

    Much more active—and expected to do a lot more—than he ever would have been in the Princeton or Triangle offenses.

Kobe Bryant, Shooting Guard: Three-Point Extraordinaire

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    Surprisingly enough, Kobe Bryant's current role isn't going to change under Mike D'Antoni's offensive rule.

    Not that much, anyway.

    Plenty of people will be worried that Bryant will struggle the same way Carmelo Anthony did with the seven seconds or less system. But Kobe isn't 'Melo.

    Not only did D'Antoni prove he was willing to vary his offensive sets to incorporate Anthony's iso-oriented play style on occasion, Bryant has been playing off the ball all year thus far.

    Over 40 percent of the Black Mamba's shot attempts are coming outside of 16 feet and he's connecting on more than 50 percent of them while also shooting a career best 43.3 percent from beyond the arc.

    Bryant will now be encouraged to jack up more attempts from long range, including transition threes. After all, D'Antoni loves to see his 2-guards spot-up. In fact, during his final season in Phoenix, LeAndro Barbosa and Raja Bell—the two most used shooting guards—attempted a combined 11 deep balls per game.

    Kobe will be expected to do the same, while maintaining the freedom to attack the basket when he sees fit.

    In other words, this is anything but a disconcerting offense for Bryant.

Metta World Peace, Small Forward: Kobe Bryant's Favorite Target

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    The seven seconds or less system is predicated on constant ball movement and the notion that the shooting guards are going to be perpetually featured.

    This will hold especially true in Los Angeles because of, well, Kobe Bryant. 

    That said, since the ball moves so quickly, defenses will be forced to swarm the first featured shooter—the shooting guard—in fear of a quick jumper.

    What this essentially means is the small forward's defender will, quite often, become a help defender, leaving a small forward, like Metta World Peace, to be the benefactor of that extra pass.

    Simply put, World Peace is Bryant's primary support when he's forced to give up the ball, leaving him to jack up even more threes per game, not unlike the way Shawn Marion did with the Suns. 

    To an extent, this is a good thing, because open shots are never bad.

    However, World Peace is currently shooting just 32.5 percent from behind the rainbow, rendering his ability to enhance his efficiency from there crucial to Los Angeles' success moving forward.

Pau Gasol, Power Forward: Stretch Forward Amar'e Stoudemire Style

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    Some people don't believe Pau Gasol is a good fit for Mike D'Antoni's system.

    Those people are wrong.

    Gasol will be used as a stretch forward, which isn't a bad thing. Not only did Gasol shoot 43 percent between 16 and 23 feet from the basket last season, but being a stretch forward doesn't necessarily mean he'll have to jack up threes.

    Take Amar'e Stoudemire for example. In his last year with D'Antoni in Phoenix, he started alongside Shaquille O'Neal, yet wasn't expected to shoot threes. He attempted 0.3 per contest.

    What he needed to do was stretch the floor with his mid-range jumper, which Gasol already does. Plus, half of his offense came from inside of 16 feet that year, courtesy of pick-and-rolls, a circumstance Gasol himself has always thrived under.

    This means there's no reason Gasol can't play the part of a stretch forward—because he already is one.

Dwight Howard, Center: Amar'e Stoudemire Part Two

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    Again, we turn to Amar'e Stoudemire for direction.

    While playing under Mike D'Antoni for the New York Knicks—before Tyson Chandler—Stoudemire played the 5 in the same demeanor with which Dwight Howard will be expected to.

    No, Iron Man does not have the ability to hit a 16-foot jump shot, but he won't have to. More than half of Stoudemire's offense that year came inside of 16 feet, courtesy, once again, of pick-and-rolls.

    Howard will be doing much of the same. He'll be asked to set high screens and then make quick strides toward the basket. Considering how agile he is and how big his strides are, that should be no problem.

    Furthermore, he'll also be expected to draw double-teams in, consciously. 

    This system requires constant ball-movement but it also encourages a center to put his head down like he will make a move toward the basket. That brings in a help defender, leaving the center—in this case Howard—to pass the ball out to the only open man on the floor. It essentially takes the guesswork out of passing for big men.

    The ultimate result?

    Expect Howard's field-goal percentage to rise while averaging a career high in assists without the lofty amount of turnovers.

Antawn Jamison, Sixth Man: Boris Diaw 2.0

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    Antawn Jamison is about to get a whole lot more valuable.

    Mike Brown didn't utilize Jamison all that much. The highly touted sixth man is averaging just over 16 minutes per game and struggling on both ends of the floor.

    Enter Mike D'Antoni.

    Coach D loves to utilize scorers like Jamison. During the 2007-08 campaign, he took the perpetually underachieving Boris Diaw and turned him into a lethal offensive threat off the bench.

    Jamison will be used in a similar capacity. Though he is not the defender Diaw had the potential to be, he has the size to guard multiple positions.

    Toss his high-scoring tendencies and limitless range into the mix and you've got a guy whose playing time will increase by 10 minutes per game almost immediately.

Steve Blake, Point Guard: A Sparingly Used Stopgap

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    Until Steve Nash returns, he will continue to receive ample playing time. After that, don't expect see him all that much.

    Not only does Mike D'Antoni prefer to use ball-handling shooting guards like a Leandro Barbosa—and now Kobe Bryant—to run the offense when his point man is on the bench, but Darius Morris is a much better fit for the system in general.

    Blake is a supbar athlete who shoots the three-ball at a wildly inconsistent rate. His playmaking abilities are near non-existent as well.

    Which means...

Darius Morris, Point Guard: Nash's New Backup

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    ...Darius Morris is about to get some serious burn.

    Though the sophomore point man remains an unproven commodity, he's a much better playmaker than Steve Blake ever was. His jump shot still needs some tweaking, but he's shown some improvement in his mechanics through the early games of this season.

    Mike D'Antoni's offense was built to run, all the time. 

    Blake isn't built to run, nor is he a capable facilitator, and D'Antoni isn't about to shy away from using a transitional gem like Morris.

    Yes, Blake will continue to start—thanks to his experience—until Nash is healthy, but he'll likely be phased out of the rotation in favor of Morris before long.

Jodie Meeks, SG: Leandro Barbosa's Stepbrother

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    Jodie Meeks wasn't being used properly by Mike Brown.

    Bernie Bickerstaff has begun to use him with more frequency and his usage rate will only increase with Mike D'Antoni entering the fold.

    Why?

    Because D'Antoni loves combo guards.

    Leandro Barbosa thrived during his time in Phoenix as someone who was both given an unconditional green light whether it was as a starter or off the bench.

    Meeks will be given a similar green light while also being asked to handle the point guard responsibilities on plenty of occasions. 

    While he has underperformed in Los Angeles thus far, his limited usage has not helped him prove his case. He's a dangerous shooter who excels in transition and can be used to back up Steve Nash—even more than Steve Blake and Darius Morris.

    In other words, one coach's benchwarmer is another one's secret weapon.

Jordan Hill, Center: Pick-and-Roll Guru

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    Jordan Hill is valued for his defense and rebounding, and that won't change under Mike D'Antoni.

    What will change is his role on offense.

    The seldom featured backup center has never been what you would consider a legitimate weapon on offense. Expect D'Antoni to take advantage of his athleticism and willingness to absorb contact.

    Regardless of who's running the point, the Lakers will need a formidable pick-and-roll big within the second-unit. Antawn Jamison is a solid option, but Hill is more intriguing.

    While Dwight Howard is on the bench Hill will become the one who setting high screens and cutting to the basket. From there, not only will his points per contest increase, but he's liable to attempt a few free throws per game as well.

    Don't neglect to acknowledge his ability to hit the baby jumper either. He's a player who can help stretch defenses even as a center, which won't go unnoticed by D'Antoni.

    It's about to get a lot more interesting on both ends of the floor for Hill.

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