Mike D'Antoni - first day on the job with the Lakers. Despite future Hall of Fame superstars, he has his work cut out for him.
The Los Angeles Lakers just spent an entire offseason, preseason and five games of the regular season trying to learn a new offensive system of play under the guidance of former head coach Mike Brown.
The Lakers introduced Mike D'Antoni to the media in Los Angeles on Thursday and he'll get his feet wet on Sunday when L.A. takes on the Houston Rockets. Now all he needs are a few consecutive wins under his belt to quiet the deafening noise that is Laker Nation still weeping over the snub of Phil Jackson by management.
Coaches are all about adjustments and the Lakers staff is certainly not unique. Aside from hiring his brother Dan as an assistant, D'Antoni says he wants to keep Brown's staff intact. That may or may not be prudent, given that the old staff was indoctrinated to push Brown's agenda and now they'll be changing stripes in the middle of the season.
Either way, D'Antoni and staff will need to do some adjusting on the fly to make the Lakers work and get them to the NBA Finals. Given their current makeup, it won't be easy, but this coach has as much ability as any in the game.
Some say Steve Nash is best in the NBA at pick and roll.
Mike Brown and his coaching staff spent the offseason, training camp and the first few games of the regular season trying to acclimate the team to the Princeton Offense.
The Princeton was a decent idea before the Lakers traded for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Kobe Bryant endorsed it and was a vocal advocate for the motion offense that, in some ways, resembles the pass-happy Triangle that Phil Jackson and Tex Winter loved so much.
After Nash and Howard came on board, the team should have scrapped that concept right away and welcomed a set offense that allowed two of the league's best at screens to do their thing.
Bryant, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol all played under the Triangle and were quick to adjust to the Princeton, but who has time for D12, and Nash to buy textbooks, study for the exam and hope to pass before June rolls around? And, look at how the bench took to the Princeton. They didn't.
The rebuilt Lakers are primed to win it all now and/or next year. They invested heavily in a few players and hope to squeeze the maximum out of their geriatric trio that includes Bryant, Nash and Gasol.
Allowing Nash to set the tone for pick-and-rolls with Howard, MWP, Kobe and Gasol all playing integral parts should allow the Lakers to see an enormous amount of good looks. A healthy Nash who consistently hits shots from long distance will only enhance the offensive scheme.
Mike D'Antoni revolutionized an offense when he coached the Phoenix Suns from 2003-2008. His hurry-up, seven-second approach to instant offense helped turn Steve Nash into one of the game's greatest point guards of all time.
D'Antoni is smart enough to know that he's not coaching a 29-year-old Nash this time and will need to adjust his hurry-up into more of a 'hurry-up and wait-for-me' system. The Lakers under D'Antoni will still be quick, they just won't be flying down the wing on every possession.
And that's OK. From the day the Lakers traded for Nash, the key to their offense has been Nash. Mike Brown never understood that and basically took the keys, floor mats and stick shift out from under him before he ever stepped foot in the car.
Bryant can adjust to just about any offense; he certainly played well at the Summer Olympics and looked comfortable in a system that was mostly the work of D'Antoni. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol both lumber a bit, but are not slow. And Metta World Peace can still motor at times, though he needs to check his engine more often than in years past.
The Lakers bench has some speed on it: Antawn Jamison, Darius Morris, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill can all get down the court quickly. They'll enjoy this approach much more than the slow, plodding scheme of the Princeton and should see more high percentage shots as well.
"We would love to play a Showtime time of basketball," Antoni said (via ESPN.com) at his introductory press conference Thursday. "And there is no better person to talk to about it and pick his brain than Magic Johnson."
Mike D'Antoni is known for cultivating young players, especially point guards like Darius Morris.
Mike D'Antoni and staff will work to alter the minutes of their starters and give the bench more of a role in determining outcomes.
When you have Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol starting for you, the temptation is to keep them on the court as long as possible. After all, these are four future hall of fame superstars who collectively will make $56 million this season.
But D'Antoni knows the Lakers do not win a title without a strong bench and right now the bench is their weakest link. Expect that to change under the new regime.
A successful NBA coach like Phil Jackson was able to mesh together a small, but highly talented group of six or seven players that helped him win 11 championships. Others, like D'Antoni (still searching for his first ring) have been instrumental in building teams that feature more players and rotations, and are able to develop talent along the way.
Young players, such as Jodie Meeks, Darius Morris and Jordan Hill, should see significant minutes under D'Antoni's watch. Hill, who briefly played for D'Antoni in New York, has been a pleasantly consistent bench player for the Lakers this season and will have more opportunities to score in the D'Antoni system.
Veteran forward Antawn Jamison has been averaging 16 minutes a game for the Lakers and will get more if he can pick up his three point shot (20 percent to date). He seems like an ideal candidate to play in the up-tempo game the new coach brings to L.A. It should make him more comfortable.
Morris has been getting extra minutes the past few games as he subs for the injured Steves (Blake and Nash). He could flourish under D'Antoni—this is a coach who knows how to handle young, talented point guards (Nash, Jeremy Lin).
"He gave me confidence in running the offense," Lin told USA Today. "He's a coach that empowers his players. He gives his players the confidence and freedom to go out and play to the best of their abilities. That's what he did for me last year."
Coaches Will Allow Dwight Howard to Anchor Defense - not a big adjustment
Mike Brown was known for defensive acumen. It didn't come across all that well in L.A., but under Mike D'Antoni the team may actually improve in that area.
D'Antoni teams have been known for their explosive offense and are overlooked on the defensive side. In reality, those teams (primarily, the Suns and the Knicks) were not too bad on that end. The key in Los Angeles will be utilizing the team's size to control the glass and, with Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, the Lakers should be able to adjust to any type of offense being thrown at them.
The Knicks finished 10th in the NBA in team defense under D'Antoni, a testament to both coaching and personnel. Tyson Chandler is one of the best defensive big men in the game—last year he was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year while playing for D'Antoni.
That bodes well for Howard, already a three-time winner of the award, and the Lakers.
"Maybe he can put the 'D' back in my name," D'Antoni told reporters at his press conference (via ESPN.com). "That would be nice. Some people have been taking that out."
Steve Nash said he expects to be back in one to two weeks, so the Lakers coaching staff will rely on strong defense from Howard, MWP, Bryant and Gasol to keep them in games.
Pau Gasol is at his best as facilitator and short range shooter
Age is not the reason for Pau Gasol's terrible start to the 2012-13 season. As tough as last season was under Mike Brown, it has started off even worse this year and most of that can be attributed to bad coaching.
Laker coaches need to utilize one of the game's best power forwards or trade him to a team that will and get some quality players in return. Gasol is off to a career low 13.8 points per game, which is 3.6 less than a year ago and almost five full points lower than his career mark.
One of the main problems has been spacing and figuring out where Gasol should be on offensive possessions. He's not a great pick-and-roll player, but often ventures out to the perimeter and ends up taking long jump shots that mostly fall out of his range.
Gasol needs to play closer in to the basket, acting as facilitator for Dwight Howard dunks or kicking out to open guards for jump shots. In or around 10-12 feet is a sweet spot for Gasol and coaches will need to stress that in an up-tempo game that Mike D'Antoni wants to play.
With D'Antoni's passing offense, Gasol should find more opportunities to put the ball in the hole. He may be 32 but he's not over the hill.
ESPN's five-on-five crew mostly thinks Gasol will improve under the new system, though it won't be easy.
Says Brett Koremenos of HoopSpeak (via ESPN.com): "This is the million-dollar question. D'Antoni's system typically calls for the 4 man to stretch the floor and that is certainly not what Gasol does best. But through double drags or roll-replace actions, D'Antoni can find creative ways to put him in good spots and create precious space."