Many fans are undoubtedly disappointed that Phil Jackson won’t be coaching the Los Angeles Lakers this season, after Mike Brown's recent departure.
After all, there’s no arguing with 11 rings.
Sure, he had all-time great talent like Jordan, Pippen, Shaq and Kobe, but none of those players won anything before the immortal Phil Jackson manned their team’s sideline. Combine his coaching prowess, familiarity with the organization and the Lakers' loaded roster, and it would appear as if hiring Jackson would be a no-brainer.
The Lakers, however, surprisingly chose to bypass Jackson in favor of former Nuggets, Suns and Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. The move has faced a good deal of criticism, citing Jackson’s superior resume and D’Antoni’s poor performance during his last coaching stint with the Knicks.
There were a variety of factors that went into the team’s decision to go with D’Antoni. Regardless of what those reasons were, D'Antoni is a good fit for the team and will lead the Lakers to a deep playoff run.
Consider the main argument against D’Antoni: that he's a poor defensive coach.
Based on the numbers, especially points given up, it looks like D’Antoni has been a subpar defensive strategist. Dig deeper, and one realizes that the numbers fail to tell the entire story.
D’Antoni’s teams operate a run-and-gun style offense that puts up huge scoring numbers but gives up a lot of points as well. When a team is constantly pushing the tempo offensively and scoring at an elite level, their opponents are forced to alter their style of play to keep up.
Last season, the Denver Nuggets led the NBA in points per game. The Nuggets also gave up the second-most points against. The 1981-82 Denver Nuggets were the highest-scoring team in NBA history, averaging 126.5 points per game. The same Nuggets team gave up a league worst 126.0 points per game.
Plain and simple: Teams that score a lot of points more often than not surrender a lot of points.
D’Antoni’s offensive philosophy leads to his teams being among the league's worst in points per game. That's mainly due to the pace of their games and the pressure they put on opposing offenses, not because they’re playing poor defense.
What great defensive players has D’Antoni had? It’s hard to name any.
The last three franchise players D’Antoni has coached are Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony. All three are notorious for being superb on offense but liabilities on the defensive end.
It’s tough to be one of the league’s best defensive teams when your star players aren’t pulling their weight on that end of the floor. D'Antoni has never coached a team with the personnel to be dominant defensively.
That brings us to the Lakers. For the first time in his career, D’Antoni will be coaching an elite player whose forte is playing not only good defense, but all-time great defense.
When he was in Phoenix, D’Antoni had two major holes defensively. He had Steve Nash, who couldn’t prevent even a mediocre point guard from getting to the paint, and he lacked a rim-protecting big man who could step in and halt penetration.
D’Antoni still has Nash, who at his age is even more of a defensive hindrance, but he has also gained Dwight Howard, arguably the league’s best defensive player and without doubt the league’s premier rim protector. The coach now has a big man who can negate some of Nash’s deficiencies.
Offensively, the Lakers are a great fit for D’Antoni’s system.
Nash has obviously shown that he is the ideal point guard in the high speed, pick-and-roll style offense.
Dwight Howard is also a great player for the system because of his athleticism and ability to get to the rim off the pick-and-roll. He will basically be a bigger, stronger, faster version of Amar'e Stoudemire for D’Antoni.
Pau Gasol will have success in the offense because of his passing ability and pick-and-pop potential. Gasol is so skilled offensively that he would produce in any offensive scheme, but D’Antoni’s system will be particularly conducive to his vast skill set.
Some may be skeptical as to whether Kobe Bryant will jell with the new system. Expect Bryant to get far better looks than he did last season when he shot just 43 percent from the field and 30 percent from beyond the arc.
Remember, Joe Johnson had his breakout season under D’Antoni when he continually received open looks and shot a career-high 48 percent from the three.
If Lakers fans can get past their disappointment in not having Phil Jackson back, they will realize that Mike D’Antoni is an ideal fit who will lead the team to a great season.