Nate McMillan isn't who you think he is.
On the surface, hiring the former Seattle Sonic and Portland Trail Blazer head coach to go along with Mike D'Antoni seems like a brilliant move, and according to CBS' Ken Berg, it appears that's exactly what the Los Angeles Lakers are thinking:
Mike D'Antoni expected to reach out to fellow USA assistant Nate McMillan as potential defensive assistant, league source tells @cbssports.— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) November 12, 2012
D'Antoni is a pick-and-roll genius. An offensive mastermind. But he lacks a little somethin' somethin' when it comes to, you know, not letting other teams score 110 points per game.
So why not attempt to add McMillan, who worked with D'Antoni for Team USA? His teams constantly ranked near the top of the league in points per game allowed. He's a defensive mastermind. He's the Yin to Mike's Yang.
But—just like McMillan's teams—not so fast.
It's integral to note that the points per game stat is about as useful as a fork when you're trying to eat a bowl of delicious soup.
Yes, McMillan's teams constantly gave up very few points, but a large reason for that is they played at a snail-with-iron-boots-on pace. If I told my offense to hold onto the ball for 23.7 seconds every possession, I could probably coach an NBA team to the top of the league in points per game allowed.
OK, that's a huge lie. The point is McMillan's propensity to slow games down has given him an extremely false reputation.
A better measurement for defensive effectiveness is, well, conveniently enough, defensive efficiency. Or more accurately, points allowed per 100 possessions.
And McMillan's teams don't rank quite as well in that department (via Miami Heat Internet Services Manager Couper Moorhead):
The highest a Nate McMillan coached NBA team ever finished in defensive efficiency is 14th. His teams averaged a ranking of 20 in 12 years.— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) November 12, 2012
There are a few discrepancies with those numbers when compared at different sites, but as Moorhead points out, that doesn't really matter:
Discrepancies you see in efficiency rankings differ on possession calculations, but point is at best McMillan barely has one Top-10 finish.— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) November 12, 2012
Now. It's important to remember that McMillan was often working with either extremely young teams or teams that had Saer Sene and Robert Swift on them. So, while he might not be as great defensively as people think, he's probably not nearly as mediocre as the numbers say, either.
He's just somewhere in between.
That's the problem, though. McMillan, a former high-profile head coach, is going to bring along his average resume for a hefty price. He doesn't add any special dimension that someone at a cheaper price can't provide.
The Lakers' problems currently stem more on the defensive side of the ball (fifth in offensive efficiency, 10th in defensive). Adding a "defensive coordinator" to Mike D'Antoni's staff certainly makes sense and it would be a smart idea to pursue, but Nate McMillan isn't the man for the job.