Mike D’Antoni will get a chance to implement his system with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2013-14, and it is quite likely that it will work.
The offense was somewhat of a mess last season because the players were not an ideal fit for the spread pick-and-roll offense. The coaching staff struggled to pair up Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, which compromised the floor spacing.
By the time the 2013 postseason began, D’Antoni had a better grasp on how to utilize both centers together. Granted, this occurred with Kobe Bryant out of the lineup with an Achilles tear and Steve Nash sitting out because of hamstring issue.
Thus, Gasol was used as a point center. It was a great adjustment by the coaches, but Los Angeles will get away from that and go back to the "classic" version of the D’Antoni offense.
The system will rely on a steady dose of pick-and-rolls from multiple angles on the floor with Nash orchestrating things. He will be tasked with finding his rolling big man or hitting shooters who get loose because of rotating defenders.
The offense is quite simple for a great point guard, given that it requires the ball-handler to make a few reads, adjust to the defense and hit the open man.
ESPN.com’s Beckley Mason did a great job of breaking down the spread pick-and-roll offense over at HoopSpeak:
Depending on where Nash roams with his dribble, he can manipulate the defense into a few predictable responses. And because they ran the same look on possession-after-possession, game-after-game, they got really, really good at running it. Especially Nash, who got to make the same reads over-and-over. And because he happens to be a phenomenal shooter with great vision, he was able to run the best offense in the league.
Nash is terrific in this system by virtue of the fact he can make every pass in the book and is also quite content with being the setup man. D’Antoni was successful with this offense in his stint as the Phoenix Suns head coach because his point (Nash) consistently manufactured easy shots at the rim and three-point looks.
In Los Angeles, there will be a new wrinkle to the system as a result of Gasol’s talents. The Spaniard is quite adept at catching on the move and finishing at the rim with either hand. Also, his low-post game gives the Lakers an added dimension, which allows the offense to be successful even with Nash resting.
Things get a bit more interesting when Nash and Gasol work together on the pick-and-roll. Indeed, the two-time champion Gasol is a threat when rolling to the hoop, and he will also drift towards the free-throw line where he can connect on mid-range jumpers.
Furthermore, Gasol is great in the pick-and-pop game because he pulls away big men from the paint and opens up the floor for his teammates. The Laker center is an excellent passer and consequently teams will have trouble rotating off shooters when he moves to the top of the key after setting a screen.
Watch below as Gasol connects with Chris Kaman during the 2013-14 preseason:
This will give a player like Nick Young some room to operate and isolate defenders. Young loves showing off his ball-handling skills in setting up the man guarding him. He'll then attack the paint or settle for a jumper:
Because passes and subsequent defensive rotations will spread the floor, Young will get the opportunity to execute the plays at which he is best. Keep in mind, Young is a career 37.4 percent shooter from deep, which means that he will stretch defenses and put pressure on defenders having to close out on him.
In the event the opposition abandons him and rotates towards Gasol, the former Los Angeles Clipper will be afforded with open shots from downtown.
That Jordan Farmar can run this offense as well promises to be a fascinating aspect to the upcoming season. Obviously, the backup point guard is nowhere near the passer or shooter that Nash is, but he is a solid playmaker who is particularly good in the pick-and-roll.
He sports a healthy career average of 5.1 assists per 36 minutes, which is a really good figure for a reserve point guard. As a reference point, Howard Eisley was once upon a time one of the best backup point guards in the league and finished his career averaging 6.2 assists per 36 minutes.
Steve Blake is another candidate to spell Nash, and his numbers are quite similar to Farmar’s. The notable difference between them is that the latter is more aggressive offensively and thus is better at breaking down a defense when he turns the corner and gets into the paint.
D’Antoni can use either of them depending on the situation and even play them together at times given Blake’s three-point shooting proficiency. Moreover, things become incredibly complicated for opponents when we factor Bryant into the offense.
The shooting guard’s return to the lineup after an Achilles tear and knee procedure comes with some uncertainty, but it seems clear at this point he will rejoin his teammates eventually.
The Lakers’ all-time leading scorer is unquestionably a great setup man, although he does not always look to play that part. He is a complete scorer who will consistently feast on a single-coverage defensive scheme.
Throw a couple of defenders his way though, and the artistry will come out. Whether he is in the pick-and-roll or in isolation, Bryant will scan the defense, find the high-percentage play and execute it.
Hence, the Lakers will use the two-time Finals MVP as an off-the-ball threat, where he can catch and immediately attack his defender after an initial pick-and-roll. The offense, even in its simplest sets, will be a bit more complex and nuanced with Bryant as the primary ball-handler.
In that setting, he will attack off the bounce and manufacture a shot either for himself or a teammate depending on the game situation.
Indeed, Bryant is more likely to call his number even when completely covered late in fourth quarters, and the stats bear that out. In 2012-13, Bryant attempted 106 field goals in 139 minutes of clutch time, which is defined by NBA.com as the last five minutes of the game with the scoring margin within five points.
If we put that on a per 36-minute level, he averaged 27.3 shots. This is not an isolated pattern, though. Bryant has shot north of 25 clutch shots per 36 minutes every year since 2004-05 (the season after Shaquille O’Neal was traded away to the Miami Heat), except in the 2011-12 campaign, when he averaged 24.9 clutch shots per 36 minutes.
However, D’Antoni might be able to coax the 2-guard into surrendering the late-game offense to Nash. Because the two-time MVP is a great passer, defenses will give Nash different looks but will not always play him for the jump shot.
That is nice problem to have for the Lakers considering how great of a shooter Nash is. Granted, he will not always dictate the direction of the possessions. In a perfect world, he would split those duties with Bryant and remove some of the predictability that comes with the five-time world champion’s isolations.
The tandem of Nash and Bryant will probably have to find a common ground on this front in order to consistently produce great looks when crunch time arrives.
D’Antoni’s offense will maximize the talents of the Lakers players and continuously place them in situations where they will be successful. Hence, expect the Purple and Gold to have an elite offense in 2013-14.
The Lakers will make a bit of noise in the Western Conference and put pressure on some of the teams vying for a playoff spot. Ultimately they will miss the postseason, but it will not be because of their point totals.