How Do the L.A. Lakers' Title Chances Change with Mike D'Antoni?
Everybody has heard the news by now. Mike D'Antoni, not Phil Jackson, will be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was stunning news that dropped very early this morning (or right before midnight if you're one of those West Coasters) that nobody expected. It's not surprising that the Lakers hired D'Antoni, but it is surprising that they did it without waiting to see what Jackson's answer was.
That's all the past now, and what we need to do here is take a look at what D'Antoni brings to this Lakers team that they didn't have before.
In all honesty, from the get-go I saw D'Antoni as the obvious choice. Of course Phil would have been a spectacle and something to write about, but this team, despite the age of some of their players, is built to run a D'Antoni offense.
It's not that they're fast and spry, just that they, as a team, can go out and play basketball with little actual coaching involved. D'Antoni takes a bit of a hands-off approach at times when he knows he has smart players out on the floor, and that's exactly what he's got.
Almost everybody on the Lakers comes out of this signing a winner. The only downside I can foresee is fewer isolation plays for Kobe Bryant, but that should give him the opportunity to end up with a lot more shots on the wing and mid-range jumpers, a la Joe Johnson during his time with the Suns in D'Antoni's offense.
Obviously, the big winner here is Steve Nash. Whenever he is able to come back and play up to his ability, the keys to the offense will be his. It's time for him to pick up where he left off in Phoenix and run the pick-and-roll.
Last season, Nash was the highest scoring guard off the pick-and-roll, yet Los Angeles was fine to trivialize his use in an offense in which the ball is more spread out and the pick-and-roll is more of a sidearm, rather than a constantly firing assault rifle that it needs to be.
Because Nash will be more in control, Dwight Howard will end up succeeding as well. Ever since his days in Dallas running the pick-and-roll with Dirk Nowitzki, through to Amar'e Stoudemire, Shaquille O'Neal and Marcin Gortat, Nash has gotten the most out of his pick-and-roll partner. It's just what he's good at.
Pau Gasol and Antawn Jamison will be used more liberally in a D'Antoni offensive system that values big men who can shoot, Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw can both attest to that. Hell, we might even see Gasol take a step back from that 20-footer that he loves to take and go for a three-pointer here and there.
The biggest problem I can see offensively is the potential for his top six guys to get worn down. D'Antoni likes to rely on veteran players, something Los Angeles has plenty of, but he generally runs with them more than the rest of the bench, so we could see the likes of Jordan Hill be marginalized.
Now there's the defense. It's something we're going to hear a lot about given D'Antoni's supposed track record with bad defense.
I wouldn't exactly call D'Antoni's defenses bad, just looked at in the wrong way. He's coached throughout his career on the notion that the best way to win is to outscore your opponents, leading to an extremely high rate of play.
With more possessions come more shots for both teams, and eventually more points. It's a risk taken with the offensive system, and it's something we'll have to wait to find out more about.
So what does this do, exactly, for the Lakers' title odds? Well, after five games under Mike Brown, I wasn't exactly thinking the Lakers were destined for the lottery, but there were some obvious problems. Although the offense wasn't really the problem, they were running an offense that didn't take advantage of all the weapons they had on their team.
The D'Antoni offense, on the other hand, will get the best out of the most people. Instead of marginalizing players at times, he should keep it so everybody is of equal importance on the floor.
There's a notion out there that D'Antoni isn't a good coach because he never won a title, and that he runs a system that's not conducive to playoff basketball, something that I can't get behind. If it weren't for the Robert Horry body-check of Steve Nash in the 2007 playoffs, the Suns had every possibility of beating the Spurs and making it to the NBA Finals, probably winning a title.
D'Antoni is a very good coach, and he should be putting an offensive system in place that will end up helping the Lakers, so I can't see them at any worse odds than they were at before the season started to win the title.
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