Steve Nash’s return is still not set, and until the two-time MVP is on the floor for the Los Angeles Lakers, judgment on Mike D’Antoni’s performance in his brief time with the team should be withheld.
Lakers.com’s Mike Trudell dismissed rumors that Nash, who has been out since Halloween with a leg injury, will return to action during Los Angeles’ upcoming road trip.
Mike D'Antoni said Nash is not likely to play on the coming trip. He said it was "possible" at shootaround, but was just being hopeful.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) December 10, 2012
Since D’Antoni made his sideline debut on November 20 against the Brooklyn Nets, the Lakers are 4-6.
There are certainly worrying signs across these 10 games. Kobe Bryant is putting up 28.4 points per game on 48.8 percent shooting while Dwight Howard is averaging 18.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks, but the Lakers have still found ways to lose.
The team’s defense has been average, ranking 15th in the league in points allowed, but the Lakers place last in bench scoring and 29th in turnovers per game.
While the stars have been productive, they have also been sloppy at times, and the bench is certainly not pulling its weight. D’Antoni has done little to fix these problems, but his coaching record suggests that everything will run significantly smoother with Nash on the floor.
Will the Lakers improve when Nash comes back?
During the four seasons D’Antoni spent coaching Nash in Phoenix, he had a winning percentage of .707. In his subsequent time with the New York Knicks, his winning percentage was just .420.
In three of his four seasons with Nash as his floor general, the Suns ranked in the top 10 in turnovers per game. The Lakers will commit significantly fewer errors when Nash has the ball in his hands.
D’Antoni’s up-tempo system requires a point guard of Nash’s caliber, and Chris Duhon simply will not be good enough as a starter.
Nash’s return will not be followed by an immediate improvement in the team’s level of play, but it should start a stretch where the team steadily gets better. All of the Lakers currently playing are trying to learn the nuances of D’Antoni’s offense, and it will make a massive difference when one of the system’s focal points is a player who can be a teacher instead of a student.
D’Antoni faces extremely high expectations in Los Angeles, but the fanbase should exercise patience and wait until the Lakers are at full strength before coming to conclusions on the coach’s competence.