When the Los Angeles Lakers opted to hire Mike D'Antoni over 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson as head coach, there was reasonable doubt amongst the NBA masses (via ESPN Los Angeles). For some, the concern was D'Antoni's lack of defensive expertise, and for others, it was concerns over his inability to win an NBA championship with Denver, Phoenix or New York.
The latest to weigh in on the issue is Lakers legend and NBA logo Jerry West. Just don't jump the gun on his comments, as D'Antoni and Steve Nash's chemistry will prove West wrong.
According to Adi Joseph of USA Today Sports, West sees flaws in the current Lakers team. Mr. Clutch is mostly concerned over their status as a championship contender, which is clearly the only acceptable thing for the Lakers to be.
But is West right in his criticism?
“A lot of people think they have a championship caliber team,” [Jerry] West said. “They may and they may not. When I look at this Lakers team I see flaws in it, but I think they are very capable and certainly injuries are going to be a part of that. But the most difficult thing to do when you have really good players is to hire the right coach.”
“Will Mike [D'Antoni] be the guy to lead them (to a championship)?” West asked. “I don’t know. But I went to bed the other night thinking Phil Jackson was going to be the coach, and it didn’t work out that way. Why?”
To be fair, the NBA logo has an undeniable point. Jackson was the better fit for this team, and selecting D'Antoni over him is a decision that we can only describe as questionable and potentially underwhelming in terms of results.
With that being said, this isn't your typical D'Antoni unit. This is one of the greatest collections of talent in NBA history being thrust into the control of an offensive mastermind.
The only real question is how do you slow down this army of scorers?
What's the main difference between the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers and Mike D'Antoni's teams of past? I'll give you a hint, it's not the obvious choice of the improvement in defensive players that one might assume.
It's the presence of Kobe Bryant.
Detractors will tell you that Bryant is past his prime as a leader, but that's nearly impossible to defend from an unbiased standpoint. Bryant has led the Lakers to two of the past four NBA titles and is presently a front-runner for 2013 NBA MVP.
It may only be 10 games, but Bryant's slash line of .528/.405/.895 is not a fluke. He trusts his teammates and is much more responsible with his shot selection than a year ago.
As for why he wasn't in 2011-12, did you really expect him to pass to Steve Blake, Ramon Sessions and Derek Fisher? If you did, you clearly didn't want this offense to thrive.
As for what this has to do with D'Antoni and Steve Nash's chemistry, Kobe's presence masks the most important deficiency in the duo's repertoire: The simple fact that the task of winning a championship is not something Nash and D'Antoni are capable of on their own.
As we all know, a point guard does not lead his team to an NBA championship. He guides the star players to achieving said feat.
Five NBA championships say Bryant is the man for the job.
Unparalleled Offensive Talent
When the Phoenix Suns were averaging 110 points per game, their core four was made up of Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson. With all due respect to that spectacular unit, they would be run off of the floor by Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.
Anyone who claims otherwise is either ridden by bias or unwilling to accept the Suns' inability to win a title.
Marion may have been a better player than Metta World Peace is right now, but MWP is in the best shape of his Lakers career. His shot selection has improved dramatically, while his intensity on defense has been met by the athletic ability to perform what his mind expects.
That, and he's shooting 46.2 percent from beyond the arc in the D'Antoni system. But I digress.
What the Lakers have that the Suns did not is a pair of elite pick-and-roll players in Howard and Gasol. Although Howard's prowess coming off of screens is well-documented, it's Gasol's ability to both dive and pop that will enable Nash to orchestrate the greatest offense in the NBA.
So, who do you attempt to stop? The unstoppable D-12 or the mid-range master in Gasol?
Clamp down on both and you can try to stop Kobe. Achieve that and you have a career 42.8-percent shooter from beyond the arc in Nash.
Not so promising for opposing defenses, now is it?
Having talent is fine and well; it's half the battle to achieving victory, as all that is left is simply making the most of the skill on your roster.
In other words, it's all about execution.
Considering the Lakers have averaged 116.5 points per game since coach D'Antoni implemented his system, it's fair to say that they're executing at an elite pace. When you weigh the fact that Kobe Bryant, and not Steve Nash, is the lead facilitator, the excitement increases.
Having the greatest facilitator of this generation running the show may even raise that number. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Nash may be 38, but he has been facilitating at an extraordinary rate despite his age. During the 2011-12 regular season, only Rajon Rondo averaged more assists than he.
As for the rest of the pack, Nash averaged 10.7 assists per game with a rather underwhelming Phoenix Suns team. Chris Paul put up 9.1 with the Los Angeles Clippers, and Deron Williams sat at 8.7 in New Jersey.
Should Nash return from a small fracture in his left leg at full strength, one can only expect the two-time league MVP to execute to perfection (via ESPN Los Angeles). While the defense must follow suit to win a championship, how exactly does one maintain the scoring pace with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol?
With Nash facilitating the way, few, if any, will be able to.
Rest easy, Mr. West, the Lakers are going to be just fine.