Now, to help illustrate the impact McMillan could have, let’s compare D’Antoni and McMillan’s teams defensively. We’ll only compare them to seasons in which both coaches were head coaches for the full 82 games:
Opponents’ Points Per Game
Now, those stats prove two things: 1. Mike D’Antoni’s teams typically give up a lot of points and 2. Nate McMillan’s teams vary between mediocre and extremely solid in terms of ranking amongst other teams.
As Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports pointed out when arguing against hiring McMillan as the team’s defensive coach shortly after D’Antoni was hired as head coach, another statistic–and possibly a more important one–is opponents’ field goal percentage.
So, let’s break down those percentages over the same span of time:
Opponents’ Field Goal %
In that sense, McMillan’s teams actually didn’t do so well overall, and half of the time D’Antoni’s teams actually held their opponents to a lower field goal percentage than McMillan’s!
For perspective, the Lakers currently give up 101.5 points per game (26th in rank), and a field goal percentage of 45.0 (or .450, which is 18th in rank).
Many would argue that McMillan’s teams were able to keep their opponents’ scoring relatively low by playing a slower-paced offense. However, the current Lakers don’t exactly play at a high pace and actually average just 81.4 field goal attempts per game (21st in the league). Therefore, it isn’t because the Lakers jack up a bunch of shots that their opponents are able to shoot 86.7 shots per game (29th in rank, meaning the Lakers give up the second most field goal attempts in the league).
Turnovers and transition defense may have a lot to do with it, but it’s not the offense.
The Case For McMillan
So, that leaves us with the defense. It’s plain and simple: The defense needs work–a lot of it.
Therefore, why not consider hiring a defensive coordinator–one that will likely be considered in the off-season anyway?
Maybe Nate McMillan isn’t exactly the defensive specialist people make him out to be or perhaps he never had the correct personnel to make it happen. Or, maybe it’s a combination of both. Regardless of that, one thing is clear: The Lakers are giving up way too many points and Mike D’Antoni’s teams historically end up giving nearly the most points in the league.
The other thing that is clear is that McMillan will always be remembered for being a defensive player, and is known as a defensive coach by many. He may not be a a defensive mastermind, but he always got his teams playing hard on that end of the floor and attempted to keep his opponents’ points down; and he even succeeded at it on a number of occasions.
The Lakers seem like they need guidance on that end of the floor, and McMillan could be that guide for them. While it’s often the players’ responsibility to communicate and call out each other when something goes wrong defensively, it seems like pointing fingers and miscommunication have been all too common this season.
How many times have you seen Dwight Howard call someone out for not rotating to his man when he helped on an opposing player penetrating into the lane? Exactly. Way too many.
Sometimes, players just need someone on the sidelines who’s paying attention to all of that stuff and will go over some X’s and O’s with them during a timeout, instead of leaving the players to point fingers at each other. A defensive coordinator can look at what’s wrong and say “Hey, he was wrong on this play,” “This one was your fault” or “Okay, this scheme isn’t working. Next time they run that play, you guys do this instead.”
In my opinion, with this team and coach, that defensive coordinator should be Nate McMillan. After all, Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo wouldn’t have selected him to help coach in the Olympics if they didn’t feel like he brought something unique to the table. As they put it, he was chosen because of his “toughness as a defensive player and coach.”
Regardless of whether his defensive philosophies are the best in the business or not, one thing is for sure: He’s passionate about defense and usually gets his team to give a full effort on that end of the floor–which is what the Lakers are most lacking this season for a full 48 minutes every game.