L.A. Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni's Smartest Moves of the Season
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It's not easy being Mike D'Antoni.
The head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers has had his tactics and philosophy more meticulously scrutinized than any other head man in the league.
He's had to bear the brunt of the blame for the Lakers' shocking underachievement this season, especially after being anointed the savior when he was hired less than 10 games into the season.
While he has justifiably taken a lot of heat (the Lakers still don't defend with enough vigor or even common sense), D'Antoni has gotten some things right.
What are those things? Let's take a look at his five best moves this year.
5. Reinsert Antawn Jamison into the Rotation
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In the middle of December, Antawn Jamison fell out of favor with Coach D'Antoni. Between Dec. 13 and Jan. 8 he hardly saw the floor, getting held out of six games altogether and amassing just 27 minutes over those four weeks.
Since then, though, Jamison has gotten a steady diet of minutes. He's played 20-plus minutes in 19 of the last 25 games and has rewarded his coach's faith by providing a nice scoring punch off the bench—something the Lakers have sorely lacked.
Jamison's versatility fits nicely as a complementary piece in the Lakers' offense. In fact, L.A.'s best five-man lineup (that has seen at least 50 minutes together) features Jamison.
That unit scores a bonkers 124.9 points per 100 possessions—light-years ahead of every NBA offense in that category—and outscores opponents by a staggering 22.3 points every 100 possessions.
4. Play Steve Nash off the Ball More
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Steve Nash simply has not looked like the same player he was even a year ago.
Being 39 years old and coming off of a fractured leg may have something to do with that, but Nash has not had the impact with this team that everyone thought he would when he was acquired last summer.
What was assumed to be the league's most fearsome pick-and-roll combo of Nash and Dwight Howard never materialized, and Nash has struggled just to fend off quicker point guards pressuring him all the way up the floor.
Mike D'Antoni has countered by moving Nash off the ball more when he shares the court with Kobe Bryant.
Deliberately keeping the ball out of Nash's hands seems counterintuitive, but it has worked to the Lakers advantage. Nash is L.A.'s only reliable three-point threat and his long-range shooting prowess opens up the floor, a key to D'Antoni's offense.
Working away from the ball also means that Nash himself has more space when he makes a catch. Instead of having a defender in his face for the length of the court, he has some wiggle room to penetrate and cause havoc in the paint.
3. Shorten the Rotation
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One of the things I was harping on about Mike D'Antoni earlier in the season was his lack of a steady rotation.
Obviously injuries were a major factor, but sticking to a firm rotation and substitution pattern is vital to building chemistry; it allows role players to get comfortable in their roles.
Over the last month, D'Antoni has finally solidified his rotation, cutting it down to eight players. That's about the same number of guys he played in Phoenix, where he enjoyed his greatest success.
The results were immediate. Since implementing the current rotation, the Lakers have gone 11-5 and moved into ninth place in the Western Conference standings.
2. Give Earl Clark a Job
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Earl Clark was just a throw-in in the trade that brought Dwight Howard to L.A.
But since injuries forced Clark into the lineup, he has been a revelation.
Kudos to Mike D'Antoni for sticking with Clark and giving him big minutes even after the return of those injured players. Clark's skill set and versatility fit well with this team, and he has injected the Lakers with a much-needed dose of youth and athleticism.
After Clark's breakout game in early January, I advocated for an increased role for him, saying he had the potential to be a poor man's Shawn Marion for D'Antoni.
That's pretty much what Clark has been so far, averaging 13 points, 10 rebounds, a steal and a block per 36 minutes this season. By comparison, Marion averaged 16 and 10 with two steals and a 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes in his final season under D'Antoni with the Phoenix Suns.
1. Adapt His System
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Mike D'Antoni is known for his spread pick-and-roll attack that races up the floor and takes the first available shot.
Much has been made of his system and how it doesn't align with his current personnel, but he hasn't gotten enough credit for adapting and molding it around his players.
While the Lakers do rank third in the league in pace and still jack a ton of threes, this isn't the Seven-Seconds-or-Less Suns.
For starters, D'Antoni has definitely scaled back his dependency on the screen-and-roll. According to MySynergySports, the Lakers run pick-and-rolls only 17.7 percent of the time, less than each of the top five offenses in the NBA.
Instead, D'Antoni has smartly run much more of his offense through the post, where the Lakers excel. Just about 14 percent of the plays they finish are post-ups and many more of their good looks come as spot-ups and cuts off of passes out of the post.
Working inside out is not a philosophy typically associated with D'Antoni, but he has tailored his system to his personnel, and it's resulted in one of the top-10 offenses in the league.