Realistic Expectations for Mike D'Antoni's First Week with the Lakers
The Mike D'Antoni Lakers era didn't start on Sunday night against the Houston Rockets as we assumed it would, giving us some more time to contemplate just what the offensive-minded coach will do with Los Angeles.
Rather than give a grand plan as to what D'Antoni is going to do with this team all the way through to the playoffs, I'm going to take a look at what to expect in his first week as head coach.
Whenever D'Antoni decides to grace the sidelines, the Lakers will still be without Steve Nash, so what we'll see in the first week of his tenure is going to be way different in the coming weeks and months of the season.
That said, here and a handful of realistic expectations.
Kobe Bryant Plays the Point
We've seen quite a bit of Bryant at point guard over the past few games with Steve Nash and Steve Blake sidelined, and his performance as a passer has impressed to say the least.
D'Antoni's offensive system needs one player to handle the majority of the ball-handling duties and to run the pick-and-roll with the bigs down low. Who better to do that than Kobe?
The Lakers shooting guard is presumably going to defer to Nash once he returns, but the chance to run D'Antoni's offense is not one that he is going to squander.
With Bryant as the primary ball-handler, Antawn Jamison and Metta World Peace become the key perimeter shooters for the Lakers, while Jodie Meeks works as a perimeter cutter. What we'll get from those guys is up in the air, but Kobe should be just fine.
Metta World Peace Shoots Too Much
At full strength, D'Antoni's offense will feature Nash as the primary ball-handler, Dwight Howard as his main pick-and-roll partner and Metta World Peace as a spot-up shooter.
That leaves Pau Gasol as a pick-and-pop or dump off possibility and Bryant as a hybrid spot-up or isolation player, depending on how the offense is humming.
But without Nash, World Peace will continue to have an increased role in the offense, which is not a good thing. Already this season, he has shot 61 three-pointers, good for fifth in the league.
Just imagine how many more he will shoot in D'Antoni's up-tempo offense.
Dwight Howard Becomes First Option on Offense
D'Antoni's offense is centered around what nearly every NBA offense is centered around these days—the pick-and-roll. That means a lot of opportunities rolling toward the rim for Dwight Howard.
Howard probably won't see nearly as many pick-and-roll situations in the first week as he will once Nash comes back, but even with Kobe Bryant, Darius Morris and Chris Duhon sharing duties at the point, Howard will still be the focal point for the Lakers on offense.
While Howard might struggle initially, he will eventually get into the swing of things, giving the Lakers a dominant scorer around the rim.
Struggles Continue on Defense
There haven't been as many problems in the past few games as there were in the beginning of the season, but it's hard to expect the Lakers' defense to really come together until Howard gets back to his old self.
Los Angeles needs Howard to be the anchor of its defense, and if he's not dominating on any given night, the team is in a lot of trouble.
That, combined with an assumption that Antawn Jamison starts getting more minutes, is going to make for some interesting stretches on the defensive end.
It wouldn't be shocking if D'Antoni's increased pace leads to more points for opponents, but it's still important to keep an eye on what the Lakers are doing on that end of the floor.
Mike D'Antoni Finishes 3-1
D'Antoni's first week with the Los Angeles Lakers will include a game at home against the Brooklyn Nets, followed by a road trip that sends them to Sacramento, Memphis and Dallas before coming home next week.
With the high-paced offense already on display against the Rockets on Sunday night, it seems entirely possible that they come out of this week with a winning record.
It's hard to chalk up wins in advance, but we can assume that the trip to Sacramento will be a happy one for Los Angeles. Then we can take a look at Brooklyn's defense and determine that they probably won't be able to slow down Howard in the paint.
That leaves Memphis and Dallas.
As for Memphis, they seem too hot and have too well-balanced a team to lose to a relatively shallow Lakers team in their own building, but I can totally see the Lakers avenging their opening-night loss to the Mavericks on Saturday.
It's going to be an interesting experiment, but I'd be willing to bet it works out well for the Lakers, at least initially.