Mike D'Antoni, Not Pau Gasol Is LA Lakers' Biggest Problem

Eric EdelmanCorrespondent IDecember 25, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Head Coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a poor play by his team against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on December 13, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Basketball is a game of adjustments. Some adjustments occur within the 48 minutes of action in an NBA game, but sometimes, adjustments have to be made within the 82-game NBA season.

For the Los Angeles Lakers and their new head coach, Mike D’Antoni, adjustments have to be made. Sure, the Lakers are on an encouraging four-game win streak, but aside from the upstart Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers, they faced the lowly likes of the Charlotte Bobcats (and barely won in a 101-100 thriller at home despite being 12.5-point chalk) and Washington Wizards.

The Lakers are sitting 11th in the West with a 13-14 record, and despite the recent stretch of wins, their defense is still a point of concern. The Lakers are still 22nd in the league as far as opponents points allowed, 20th in opponents points in the paint per game and, most glaringly, they are the worst team in the league as far as stopping the break with over 16 points allowed per game.

Although the latter of which is mostly a product of turnovers (L.A. has the second-most turnovers per game in the NBA with 16.1) and slower personnel, it’s still a huge point of concern for the Lakers.

Before the D’Antoni hire, former head coach Mike Brown and his oft-criticized Princeton offense were the source of frustration for many Lakers fans. Brown, who held a reputation for being a defensive-minded coach, was swiftly fired after disappointing losses piled up, and after a brief stint by interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, the Lakers brought in Mike D’Antoni.

D’Antoni has a reputation for being one of the most brilliant offensive minds in basketball. Back during his days as head coach for the Phoenix Suns, his small-ball approach to the game combined with the brilliance of Steve Nash made for high scoring and plenty of highlights, but the glory days for both are but distant memories at this point.

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For D’Antoni, the pressure that comes with sitting on the hottest coaching seat under the limelight of Hollywood isn’t easy, and a completely different set of personnel under his command means he has to adjust his traditional approach. Because D’Antoni is used to coaching faster athletic teams, his offensive approach favors more pick-and-rolls and quicker decisions without burning up the shot clock.

Because faster possessions lead to quicker shots, a missed shot or turnover means the opposing team can easily trigger a break in the opposite direction, and considering the team’s strengths lie in size and length rather than speed and athleticism, it’s not a shock the Lakers are getting burned on fast breaks every game.

Among the Lakers personnel, talented big man Pau Gasol found himself playing a different role than he was used to when D’Antoni came in. Considering D’Antoni’s offense is a more perimeter-oriented offense, it was apparent D’Antoni wanted Gasol to utilize his versatility to spread the floor as a shooter rather than post up in areas he was traditionally used to. There was also awkward tension over being benched in key situations, but after talking over dinner, both assured the media there is no cause for concern.

It should also be noted that Gasol is averaging career lows in field-goal percentage and points per game, but despite Pau being a convenient person to blame considering his importance, it all doesn’t fall on his shoulders.

D’Antoni needs to realize that the Lakers will not run anyone out of the gym, and he also needs to realize that the defensive side of the ball has to be valued as much as the offensive side, a point that the media has brought up to the chagrin of D’Antoni.

Sure, the Lakers have missed Steve Nash and Gasol for plenty of games, but regardless, neither of them is going to address the struggling defense. Just watching Lakers games, you might witness consistent missed rotations, poor screen-and-roll defense and boneheaded missed assignments in transition—all of which are a reflection of the head coach.

D’Antoni also needs to realize that considering the personnel he has is extremely balanced, he needs to find a way to get Gasol the touches he needs and where he wants them. He also needs to figure out a way to keep the offense from lapsing into stagnancy—despite Kobe Bryant’s ability, he can’t shoot them out of every game single-handedly.

If D’Antoni can put more emphasis on defense and figure out a way to reduce turnovers while still moving at an efficient pace, the Lakers could certainly be one of the league’s most imposing matchups, but it all starts with the head coach.

If D’Antoni can restructure his philosophy and help his players execute, there’s no doubt they could easily turn things around for the long haul.