The Los Angeles Lakers are returning to form, and coach D’Antoni looks like he is maximizing his current five man units. However, the team is still suffering from a lack of depth, which is emphasized by key injuries to point guard Steve Nash and power forward Pau Gasol.
The pieces are coming together and with a little momentum and a complete reshaping of Gasol’s attitude toward the D’Antoni offense, the Lakers could be playing at a level that everyone thought they would be heading into this season.
Against the Philadelphia 76ers, Kobe took the role of facilitator, a role that will eventually assumed by Nash, and made the whole team look a lot more efficient. Six Lakers ended up in double figures as a result of the ball sharing.
However, in order for this team to continue its momentum, Coach D’Antoni needs to figure what rotations to use and what units give him the highest productivity.
The most widely used lineup so far this season has been Darius Morris, Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. That lineup has been average at best by coming up with a plus/minus of -14 points.
Here is a video clip of that lineup where Morris drifts off into the corner where he is wide-open. He takes the ball and nails a three pointer.
Although Gasol has been a disappointment this season by not being able to mesh with Dwight Howard, Pau currently has a +100 plus/minus ratio. Howard, on the other hand, has only a +26 plus/minus ratio.
With the return of Gasol to the lineup, he will need to provide the Lakers with evidence that he is still a productive asset, instead of playing like he is holding a grudge. Yes, he is showing his age, but he still is a very productive 32-year old veteran as shown against the Bobcats.
Gasol needs to start breaking at the beginning of a transition in order to set himself up for shots in the restricted area. When he is slow, he has to concede the key area to Howard and has to settle for a longer jumper. The results haven’t been pretty so far.
However, the two did produce a solid moment in the first half of the Bobcats game. Howard passed the ball to Gasol down at the bottom of the key, and Gasol returned the ball to Howard for an easy slam dunk.
The only big change was that MWP played more of the power forward position when they rotated Gasol and Howard in the center spot.
As you can see from the video, this is the Laker lineup that everyone expected. Barring further injury this year, most of the key moments of every game will be with the Nash, Bryant, MWP, Gasol and Howard on the court.
Howard goes up for the slam, but misses and the rebound goes out to MWP on the wing, who feeds it over to the open Nash. As you can see, the floor is wide open and MWP makes a simple pass to Nash, who cans the three-pointer.
This lineup will be their best asset because Nash is very familiar with the D’Antoni offense and he can teach his teammates as the season continues. Once Nash returns, the overall figures will return to respectability.
During Nash’s absence, the most productive lineup has been the team of Chris Duhon, Bryant, MWP, Gasol and Jordan Hill. The lineup’s productivity stems from Gasol’s comfort of playing closer to the basket and getting shots in the restricted area.
This lineup had a plus/minus of +25 and scoring 1.54 points per possession while their defense held down opponents to only a point per possession. The team played well together with this lineup and will give D’Antoni some flexibility when he needs to use his bench.
The one group that D’Antoni needs to shy away from is the lineup that employs all of the bench players with Howard. As seen from this graphic, the results have not been very pretty or even Laker-like.
With this unit, the offense disappears by converting only 0.92 points per possession, while the defense is giving up significantly more in 1.39 points. The plus/minus number of -29 further illustrates the problem with the weaker bench.
D’Antoni needs to use his best players more often than not and use the correct rotations to rest Kobe, Gasol and Howard at the correct times during games. At the maximum, D’Antoni should only be resting two of his stars unless the game is a complete blowout.
Stats used in this article were accurate as of December 19, 2012.
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