Can Kobe, D12's Substance Counter Mike D'Antoni's Style?
Steve Nash is probably the happiest NBA player on the planet after the Los Angeles Lakers announced that Mike D' Antoni will be the newest coach of the Lakers. Most complaints about Mike Brown's Princeton Offense will disappear under D'Antoni's sleek, high-powered, seven seconds or less approach.
The Lakers will score more points under their new coach and they will probably win a high number of regular season games. And while their offense will resemble a well-oiled machine, one question will likely linger after the Lakers lose in the second round of the postseason for a third season in a row.
Does D' Antoni have any concept of defense?
Some pundits will argue that D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns teams were much better defensively than most people gave them credit for, and after sifting through the plethora of high-scoring games the Suns won under D'Antoni I guess a case could be made in his favor.
After all, Phoenix did win more than 50 games four seasons in a row, and in order to amass that type of record a team does have to score more points than their opponents.
But just because a team wins a contest 120-118 does not make them a sound defensive unit, especially when the merits of your offensive philosophy have been discredited under the glow of the NBA Playoffs.
Nash's favorite coach did lead the Suns to the postseason for most of his tenure in Phoenix, but even when his team was very good by league standards they were never quite good enough to make it out of the conference and into the NBA Finals.
There are numerous reasons for this dynamic and I'm sure they will be dissected once the Lakers lose in the playoffs this summer, but they will all boil down to these two conclusions.
Coach D'Antoni's system does not work in the playoffs, and defense still wins championships.
I love to see prolific offense just as much as the next person, but I've been around long enough to know that style doesn't work in the postseason because the pace of the game changes.
Every possession in the NBA's second season is critical, and the value of maximizing each offensive opportunity out-weighs the number of shot attempts.
D'Antoni has tried in previous seasons to change the tempo of postseason play and on each occasion he has failed, but he has never had a roster like the Lakers at his disposal.
In Phoenix D'Antoni's teams were filled with the youth and athleticism of players like Joe Johnson, A'mare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. The 2012-13 Lakers are not as young as those Suns, and they're not as athletic, but they are certainly more talented.
Kobe Bryant, Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol would arguably rival any starting rotation in NBA history, and their collective basketball intelligence and skill level will make D'Antoni the toast of Hollywood, until it becomes necessary to get stops.
It's easy to get lost in the Lakers' potential scoring average under D'Antoni, but at some point this team will have to stop someone on the defensive end, and right now there are only three players on the roster who seem to grasp the significance of this concept.
Bryant, Howard and Metta World Peace have shown throughout their careers that they understand the role defense plays when it comes to being a complete player. Gasol has the skill to be included in this group, but he has yet to consistently prove he has the passion.
That's still more than you can say for the Lakers point guard and their brand new coach.
Nash and D'Antoni can play lip service to the merits of good defense, but neither one of them can truly understand how much it relates to the NBA Finals because neither one of them have ever been there.
Howard and Bryant have, and defense was a major theme in their combined eight Finals trips, even though it was usually the offense that received attention.
The decision to hire D'Antoni means that Howard and Bryant will have to play an even more vocal and prominent role on the defensive end, which is a little scary since Bryant is no longer the defensive terror he once was and Howard is obviously still struggling through his recovery from back surgery.
Bryant's icy stare, scowl and instincts will compensate a little for his aging body, and once Howard is healthy, defensive dominance in the paint should follow.
But will it be enough?
How do Bryant and Howard convince their teammates about the importance of good defense when it's a message that their coach and point guard could care less to hear?
The Lakers definitely have the talent to reach the NBA Finals if fate will grant them a period of good health, but talent alone doesn't win championships, and neither does offense.
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