5 L.A. Lakers Who Still Must Make (Major) Adjustments in Mike D'Antoni's Offense
Can't you just picture how it all played out when a surprised Mike D'Antoni limped onto the practice gym floor for his first day as the new head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and addressed his troops:
"Ok, Lakers, everyone line up over there and prepare to fit a square peg into a round hole.
"We're calling this new system the D'Antoni Vintage Offense In Decline, or D'VOID. The goal is to run fast, spread out, go deep, cut to the basket, hit the open man and make really long distance three-point shots. My apologies if I end up messing with your heads and everything else you were taught about how to play the game.
"Some of you may turn from terminal bench warmers to perennial All-Stars, while others will look foolish and wish you were on the next plane to Memphis or Portland. Best of luck. Kobe, please pass me the ball."
And so it might have gone for D'Antoni, who seemed as surprised for getting the coaching gig as Phil Jackson did for not getting it.
While some of us will never quite understand what the Buss family was thinking when they hired D'Antoni over Jackson, the fact is that this is the guy who's in charge of getting the Lakers from point A to the NBA Finals in June. For that, he can use all our support, as well as a one-way ticket out of L.A. should he fail to deliver.
It's quite obvious from the team's herky-jerky, roller coaster, up and down, down and out style of play that the D'VOID system is giving them problems, some more than others.
Having a healthy Steve Nash on the court to direct the offense certainly will make life easier for those who seem lost (and you know who you are); but there are no guarantees that Nash will heal 100 percent from his broken foot (officially a small non-displaced fracture in the head of his fibula in his left leg), and be the same super point guard who has two league MVPs in his trophy case.
As for the other Steve (Blake), his abdominal strain is still strained and there is no timetable for his return.
In the meantime, it's up to the current roster to make adjustments and find a way to conquer D'VOID, which, to these eyes, resembles an offense devoid of any real substance.
Let's examine who needs the most help.
Pau Gasol: He Is Not Built to Run Up and Down the Court All Night
The league's best-passing seven-footer is also its most cerebral and that has not been good for Pau Gasol's game.
For new head coach Mike D'Antoni to even be questioning Gasol's abilities seems like the first salvo in a possible power play to trade the Spaniard for more "serviceable" sprinters. That would be a huge mistake.
Gasol flourished in the Phil Jackson era and was often a featured scorer in the pass-happy Triangle offense. In three successive years, the Lakers went to three straight NBA Finals, winning two world titles.
Gasol averaged close to 20 points during that time and was at his best moving the ball around to perimeter shooters or inside to Andrew Bynum for easy dunks.
The D'Antoni system of running the floor on most possessions runs counter to Gasol's penchant for the half-court game. He has said on more than occasion that he is fine running the floor and will adjust for the good of the team.
But, the bottom line is that D'Antoni doesn't want this type of player and would rather start someone quicker, like Antawn Jamison who will run, slash and rebound and not tire as quickly as Gasol.
The Lakers would have a difficult time trying to trade a player who is making $19 million this year and $19.3 million next season. Gasol and D'Antoni need to find a happy medium that works for both of them and makes the Lakers a better team. Bringing Pau off the bench as the sixth man is one option or getting Gasol more touches closer to the basket is another.
The real key for Pau Gasol is the return of a healthy Steve Nash. Their passing games were made for each other and it could very well save the Spaniard's L.A. career.
Dwight Howard: D'Antoni Must Adjust to D12's Style
Phil Jackson was adept at adjusting to the players he was given, and it didn't hurt that Shaquille O'Neal and Andrew Bynum were his centers when he led the Lakers to five world championships.
When Mitch Kupchak fielded a call from the Orlando Magic about doing a deal to acquire Dwight Howard, one would venture to guess that he envisioned D12 in purple and gold as the next great Lakers center in a long line of the game's finest (Wilt, Kareem, Shaq). He could not have been thinking about instituting an offensive scheme that marginalizes a traditional, back-to-the-basket center.
But that's exactly what happened when the Lakers fired Mike Brown and his Princeton offense and hired Mike D'Antoni over Phil Jackson just five games into the start of the regular season.
They may be dreaming of Showtime returning to Staples Center in the form of the D'VOID, but the Lakers may also have assured the departure of one Dwight Howard next summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
For now, Howard is playing the role of good soldier. But that won't last forever, especially if the current offensive numbers continue for the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
As Howard told Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. Times: "Things will start falling for us. We'll get in a rhythm, we'll get in a groove. But we can't allow this time that we're going through right now to bring us down."
To date, Howard has been a forgotten big man in the big plans of coach D'Antoni. Fifteen games into the season, Howard's numbers are strikingly dismal in comparison to his career averages: Last season he scored 20.6 points per game, this year the number is 17.9.
The number of shots taken has also fallen, from 13.4 to 10.9. And free-throw percentage is way off, all the way down to 47.8 percent this year versus 58.5 percent a year ago.
The best way for D12 to adapt to D'Antoni's up-tempo offense is for D'Antoni to adapt to having the best two-way center in basketball and stop trying to turn him into a track star.
Jordan Hill: Could See Minutes Drastically Cut If Jamison Continues to Soar.
Who saw this coming? Jordan Hill played under Mike D'Antoni for a brief time in New York and they apparently did not see eye to eye. After averaging just four points in 24 games during (2008-09) his rookie season for the Knicks, Hill was traded to Houston.
At the time, Hill told the Houston Chronicle (via Mark Medina at InsideSocal.com): “Coach D’Antoni, he relies on his veterans more than rookies.” To which D'Antoni replied to the New York Post: “I don’t like to play bad rookies.”
And how is that going to change now that they're both in Los Angeles? While most fans and followers were pleased to see the 6'10" center/forward re-sign with the Lakers this summer, D'Antoni has reduced Hill's minutes on the floor and doesn't mince words about where he sees him fitting in going forward.
"There'll be a spot for him but again, we're going to try to get up-tempo and to be able do that, Antawn needs to play the four. It will impact him (Hill). I'll try to get him as much as I can and be sensitive about it."
That sounds like the kiss of death for a young (25) impact, high-energy player such as Hill. The fourth-year player has provided more energy and hustle on the court than just about anyone other than Kobe Bryant and this is how his coach rewards him?
Hill realizes he must make adjustments in his game to fit D'Antoni's fast-paced, small ball concept. As he told InsideSocal: “Being spaced out keeps me away from offensive rebounds. But it’s a great offense for definitely scoring. I just have to go out there and give a lot of energy, just go out there and play.”
Let's hope that D'Antoni and the Lakers don't make the same mistake with Hill that they did with Trevor Ariza. Hill continues to improve and has young legs, something in short supply on this team.
Jodie Meeks: His Biggest Adjustment? Better Shooting.
To a lesser extent, Jodie Meeks must adjust his game to fit the D'Antoni system but it won't take all that much. For the 6'4" shooting guard, the answer lies with improved outside shooting.
After a miserable preseason and horrible start to the regular season, Meeks seems to be finding a comfort zone within the system. In other words, the shots are starting to fall.
One of the first things D'Antoni said of Meeks when he was hired (via CBSSports.com) was:
"The only time he needs to shoot is when he touches the ball. Other than that, don't shoot."
It appears that Meeks has taken D'Antoni's words to heart—he's kept shooting even when there were more bricks than baskets. Shooters like Meeks can more easily fit into a D'Antoni-run offense, especially if they can spread the floor and get open looks from the outside.
Against Sacramento (loss) and Dallas (win), Meeks saw extended playing time and was able to finally knock down some shots for L.A. He scored a season-high 15 points on 5-9 shooting in the loss to the Kings and then added 11 in 20 minutes against the Mavericks last Saturday.
Meeks knows he has a grand opportunity to be the solid backup to Kobe Bryant—that is why the Lakers acquired him in the first place. He's had to learn the slow-down Princeton offense, only to have its coach, Mike Brown, fired after five games. Now Meeks, like the rest of the team, is on a crash course to learn the D'Antoni way.
The Lakers head coach is giving Meeks the green light. If he can increase his confidence level to the point where he's shooting over 35 percent from beyond the arc, that will be enough to keep D'Antoni happy.
Devin Ebanks: The Invisible Man Can Still Prove His Worth
Devin Ebanks is the Lakers' invisible man.
Once thought to have sixth man of the year potential, Ebanks all but disappeared in the preseason and then got off on the wrong foot when he was arrested on a misdemeanor DUI charge Nov. 9 after just three games of the regular season.
The 6'9", 215-pound small forward did not play again until finally getting into a game last Saturday (five minutes at Dallas), where he scored five points on 2-3 shooting in a blowout win over the Mavericks.
Ebanks is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 7 and the Lakers are keeping a tight-lipped on the case, as expected. In the meantime, the third-year pro is trying to work his way back into a meaningful role under a new coach.
D'Antoni did not play Ebanks at all until that Dallas game and that was in a mop-up role. He failed to see action Tuesday when the Lakers lost 79-77 to Indiana. Still, Ebanks knows he needs to make the most of any opportunity that D'Antoni may give him.
Ebanks told Janis Carr of the Orange County Register: "It's always frustrating not to play, but I have to remain professional and support my teammates. I do a good job at that. But as far as me, I'm just going to keep working and when my number is called I'm going to be ready."
Ebanks is quick and, at 23, one of the few young players on the Lakers who can bring energy and hustle to a veteran lineup. Still, he is playing behind Metta World Peace, off to an excellent start, and Antawn Jamison, who seems to have found his rhythm in D'Antoni's fast-paced offense.
Ebanks will be hard-pressed to stay with L.A. if he's unable to get more minutes soon and make the most of them. He could find himself part of a trade that brings in one or two perimeter shooters, something the Lakers sorely lack.
Or, he could be an answer to the team's current problems, which include lack of depth, lack of speed and an overall lack of hustle.