LA Lakers: Can a Healthy Kobe Bryant and Mike D'Antoni Coexist?

Brad Almquist@bquist13Featured ColumnistDecember 28, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 16:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during free throws in the final mintues of their 114-100 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on December 16, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Without Kobe Bryant, the L.A. Lakers are currently devoid of any superstar, leader or commanding voice in the huddle. Essentially, there are no highlighted players in their scheme. The Lakers roster is filled with unproven young players, older role players or aging ex-stars, none of whom seem to be capable of carrying the load for a newly devised team.

The lack of well-rounded talent is evident.

But that's exactly the situation in which Mike D'Antoni thrives.

His classic system emphasizes quick pick-and-rolls and outside shots. It is often referred to as the "seven-second-and-under offense," simply because the breakneck pace of play results in a quick shot.

Less-heralded players can play their specified roles in this type of system, which is the main reason that the Lakers are overperforming.

And overperforming at 13-16 is a scary thing.

During D'Antoni's tenure in Phoenix, the system prospered because of the team's personnel. It fit the offense perfectly. With Steve Nash, one of the all-time greatest shooting point guards ever, utilizing his vision and passing skills, shooters like Jared Dudley and Raja Bell spotting up and a dominant big man in Amar'e Stoudemire rolling to the hoop, the Suns offense was difficult to contain.

Now, the current Lakers lineup has nowhere near that talent. But the players do fit the scheme.

Point guards Nash and Steve Blake are each sidelined, but when they return, they will utilize their vision and passing ability to orchestrate the offense. Both players can knock down threes at a high percentage. In the meantime, Jordan Farmar has served as a competent replacement.

At shooting guard, Jodie Meeks' repertoire fits the mold for this offensive scheme. He is a tremendous spot-up shooter, as he is scoring just under 13 points per game to go with 41.4 percent shooting from the three-point line. Meeks' career year is largely due to his fit in D'Antoni's scheme, which provides him with open looks.

Equally as surprising is Nick Young's impressive start. Young, an eight-year veteran with loads of offensive ability, has never scored at an efficient rate. While 42.9 percent from the floor isn't overly efficient, 39.2 percent from three is. Young is averaging 15.7 points per game as the sixth man who is heavily relied on to produce quick buckets.

Young and Meeks are the primary beneficiaries to D'Antoni's system. But that is primarily due to their perimeter-based style of play.

Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry are also blossoming. Johnson is a slightly better shooter than Henry, but both players have the ability to spot up or utilize their explosiveness by slashing to the hoop.

So where will Bryant fit in when he returns?

We have already seen a small sample size but received conflicting results. Even ignoring his injury, there is one alarming dynamic to consider: Bryant's offensive skill set is noticeably different from that of the aforementioned players. Therefore, we may see his production drop even more than it would have originally.

In Bryant's six games played this season, the Lakers went 2-4 and lost by an average of 14 points in those four contests. Even in their wins, Bryant and company barely slipped by Charlotte (three points) and Memphis (four points).

In those six total games, Bryant looked noticeably slower and less athletic but, more alarmingly, seemed less comfortable. He averaged a whopping 5.7 turnovers. And in three losses, Bryant failed to break double digits and shot a lowly 33.3 percent or less.

That's not Kobe-esque. Not only is he facing another prolonged recovery, but Bryant will also return to an offense that doesn't complement his talents.

Bryant is not merely a spot-up shooter. He isn't a point guard whose primary objective is to set up teammates. Bryant is a dynamic all-around scorer, and given his age, he may now be most effective in post-up situations. But post-up opportunities generally aren't readily presented in D'Antoni's system.

So that leaves the future Hall of Famer limited to two options: serve as a playmaker who creates opportunities for teammates or be a spot-up shooter. Once Nash and Blake return, Bryant will most likely serve as the latter.

Whether they eventually part ways with D'Antoni to emphasize Bryant's talents or keep D'Antoni, which would diminish Bryant's potential, the Lakers are in a conflicting situation. How could one fire a coach who is doing an impressive job with limited talent and an overload of injuries?

The two can not effectively coexist due to the differences in their approach and style. But D'Antoni probably isn't going anywhere, and Bryant certainly isn't.

The Black Mamba's waning years in the league may end in frustrating and disappointing fashion.


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