The Los Angeles Lakers finally have an offensive coach and the return of the “Showtime” Lakers looks to be on the horizon. They have the elite players, but they also have the age that is creeping up on the team.
The Mike D’Antoni era has begun only five games into the season after the tryout of the Princeton offense failed, leading to Mike Brown's dismissal.
Steve Nash is injured and will be out for another week or two, so his return with Coach D’Antoni will be delayed for the near future.
During that time, the top Laker talent is being taxed because the bench is relatively weak. Steve Blake, Nash’s backup, couldn’t play the last two games and was questionable for Sunday night’s matchup versus the Houston Rockets.
Los Angeles need to stagger its lineups to keep its stars fresh and limit the potential holes in the bench that might shift the tide during games.
When I talk about staggering the lineup, I mean to position each player’s breaks at specific times, so that one star is not left to carry the load while the other three are resting on the bench.
As you can see from this play, Dwight Howard is taking a breather and Jordan Hill is filling in for him.
Metta World Peace is isolated here, but he has the ability to pass the ball to Gasol near the top of the key or penetrate and kick the ball out to Bryant.
Howard's absence is not a factor as the Spurs have to key on the always-dangerous Bryant and secondary option Gasol. World Peace takes control as he wins his one-on-one matchup with the San Antonio Spurs’ Boris Diaw.
The more chances World Peace has singularly with the ball, the more confidence he has with his offensive ability. He is already leading the team with three-point attempts this season.
In this play, Gasol and World Peace are on the wing spacing out the floor as Bryant drives to the center of the lane and dishes to Darius Morris at the top of the arc.
Morris then takes the ball and drives right by Suns point guard, Goran Dragic and penetrates to the top of the key. He drives until Jared Dudley approaches for the steal and makes a beautiful no-look pass to Hill for the easy slam.
The fact that Bryant, Gasol and even World Peace are on the floor pulls the defense toward those players and opens up the floor for the unproven Morris. Morris takes complete advantage of that fact to chalk up the assist.
Morris will get his chances behind Steve Blake in the role of Steve Nash’s backup. The more opportunities that Morris gets on the floor with both Blake and Nash out, the more confidence he will have in the minutes he gets on the court.
As you can see from the highlights above, the team can produce when one or two of the Lakers' stars are sitting on the bench.
D’Antoni will need to rotate his players so that for most of the game the stars will be playing together at the end of the game, when it matters most.
The strategy they should employ is to pull Nash before the last couple minutes of the first quarter so he can rest for the final two minutes and the break between quarters. Bryant will then take the lead until Nash's return, when he can take a few minutes off.
The same strategy can be used in the front court with Howard taking some time off when Gasol is still out there. Hill can substitute for the big man and Antawn Jamison can take Gasol's place.
That said, the front court can produce when they are on the court together. As you can see from Howard’s first regular season bucket as a Laker, the offense can come together in a hurry.
This play happened in the first game against the Dallas Mavericks where the Lakers were spaced out along the perimeter. World Peace passed the ball into the post where Howard used his size advantage.
Howard drove to the hoop against Elton Brand where he put up a Kareem-like hook shot and scored the basket.
With the five out on the floor at the same time, it is a lot harder for opposing team’s defenses to double team or focus solely on one Laker since the non-challenged Laker will be open to penetrate.
Another example of the five together is here after Howard misses a contested dunk.
The rebound is tipped out to World Peace who easily tosses it to a wide-open Nash for a three-pointer.
With the D’Antoni’s system in place there will be a lot more ball movement and an emphasis put on the transition game.
However, D’Antoni will have to adapt for the age of the Lakers and slowdown from the “seven second” offense he used in his time with the Suns and the New York Knicks. The team can run but will need to conserve energy to stay healthy come playoff time.
In order to get there, the stars need to play about 30 to 35 minutes per night and learn how to co-exist with the bench. The bench will log in its time for bit parts, subbing for the stars during the game.
This strategy will pay off as long as there are no significant injuries. In that case, D’Antoni will have to rotate the bench on a more frequent basis to try and cover the holes left behind.
The Lakers will be a very competitive team and will have its chance to dethrone the Oklahoma City Thunder as the Western Conference Champions.
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