There’s never a dull moment in Lakerland. Just when everyone was almost certain that Phil Jackson was set to begin his third tour as Lakers’ head coach, we wake up to the news that former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks’ head coach Mike D’Antoni agreed to a three-year, $12 million contract with a fourth-year team option with the Lakers. No, never a dull moment.
While Phil Jackson seemed like the appropriate transition and fan favorite for moving on from the Mike Brown era, it has been reported that Jackson was simply demanding too much (i.e. salary, power of basketball decisions, not attending road games). The Buss family didn’t bite and instead chose Mike D’Antoni, who is arguably the second best choice.
There have been reports that the final decision by Jerry Buss, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak to go with Mike D’Antoni instead of Phil Jackson came down to the vision they saw with D’Antoni’s offense. Apparently, Lakers management felt that D’Antoni was a better fit for this current roster.
One of the positives in hiring D’Antoni is his experience with key players on the Lakers. First, we all know about his familiarity with Steve Nash from the four years Nash played for D’Antoni with the Phoenix Suns. The automatic connection and know-how between Nash and D’Antoni will be crucial, especially in the early stages of his debut with the Lakers. Second, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard have worked with D’Antoni during their play for Team USA, where D’Antoni served as an assistant coach.
As Steve Nash stated,
“Obviously I think everyone knows how much I love Mike. If [D’Antoni] were to coach, it would be seamless and terrific for me, and I think the team as well.”
The biggest impact that Mike D’Antoni will have on the Lakers is that they will become a high-octane, fast-paced offensive team. Assuming D’Antoni’s foundational offense would be his famous “seven seconds or less” system, D’Antoni will allow Steve Nash to push the ball, which is something that Nash was unable to do in the Princeton-style offense under Mike Brown before he got hurt.
Secondly, D’Antoni runs the pick-and-roll on a high volume in the offense. This will take advantage of the strengths that Steve Nash and Dwight Howard have with their abilities with the pick-and-roll and will lead to easy opportunities and a fast-paced offensive output. D’Antoni will also run the pick-and-roll with Pau Gasol, who is also very capable in this set play and should increase Gasol’s offensive consistency.
Let’s look at Mike D’Antoni’s statistics as a coach to determine what we may expect from the Lakers this season.
D’Antoni With Suns (2003-2008)
Winning Percentage: .650 (4th best in NBA)
50-win Seasons: 4
Playoff Appearances: 4
Playoff Wins: 26
D’Antoni With Knicks (2008-2012)
Winning Percentage: .420
50-win Seasons: 0
Playoff Appearances: 1
Playoff Wins: 0
Below are the statistics of the Suns team in 2004-2005 season (their best year) under D’Antoni. I will base my prediction of stats that the Lakers will post for the remainder of the season on D’Antoni’s 04/05 season.
D’Antoni’s 2004-2005 Season With Phoenix
Points Per Game: 110.4 (1st of 30) ▪ Opponents Points Per Game: 103.3 (30th of 30)
Simple Rating System: 7.08 (2nd of 30) ▪ Pace: 95.9 (1st of 30)
Offensive Rating: 114.5 (1st of 30) ▪ Def Rating: 107.1 (17th of 30)
Team Field Goal Percentage: .477 (2nd of 30)
Prediction for 2012-2013 Season With Lakers
Points Per Game: 106.4 ▪ Opponent Points Per Game: 98.3
Simple Rating System: 7.11 ▪ Pace: 96.2
Offensive Rating: 115.2 ▪ Defensive Rating: 105.2
Team Field Goal Percentage: .479
The three major concerns with Mike D’Antoni are defense, minutes played by the starters, and post-up plays. To be realistic, there wasn’t a real problem with the Lakers’ offense during their disappointing start to the season under Mike Brown, with the exception of the Utah Jazz game. The main culprit to their early struggles was their defense. Their defensive timing and lack of transition defense were very apparent.
The history of D’Antoni not running or preaching defense is why there is some hesitation by some fans. However, unlike his past coaching stints with Phoenix and New York, D’Antoni has a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Dwight Howard heading the Lakers defensive approach. Once Howard becomes fully healthy, his overall game will improve, especially defensively. Howard has already posted impressive numbers; the thought that he hasn’t been able to show his full abilities is amazing, at least for the Lakers.
The idea that the Lakers, who are considered one of the slowest teams in the NBA, will get much faster on offense may help them defensively. The hope is to get them running consistently, so they can be faster on defense as well. This should benefit their timing issue and their struggle in transition defense.
D”Antoni has been well-known to rely on his starters for heavy minutes by shortening rotations. This is not good news considering Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are in their seventeenth year in the league (Nash is 39 years-old) and Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol are also seasoned veterans who have already been playing too many minutes.
On top of that, Howard (back), Bryant (foot) and Nash (leg) are currently dealing with injuries. Running a fast-paced system under D’Antoni may provide huge improvements on offense, but it could hurt the wear and tear of their starters. While the Lakers’ bench has struggled in the preseason and in the the start of the regular season, they have performed better in the last two games. Ultimately, D’Antoni might be forced to extend his choice of the rotation’s minutes in order to manage the minutes of the veteran starting lineup to get the best out of them, especially as the season winds down and the playoffs begin.
The third concern is the idea of post-up plays under D’Antoni. His offense allows for little post and iso-plays to be set. Kobe Bryant has made his career with post moves. It is one of his biggest strengths, especially as his career has matured. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are also strong post-up players. However, the up-tempo offense should create other, high-opportunity shots and I’m sure Kobe will find a way to run post-up plays regardless.
All in all, D’Antoni’s offensive system will be entertaining and provides answers for notable offensive weaknesses that the Lakers have showed. We haven’t been used to a fast-paced team in Los Angeles for awhile, and with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the expectation was to get faster. While most of the fans, including myself, wanted Phil Jackson, we may be pleasantly surprised by D’Antoni. The best way to win over the fans of this decision: win games.
Stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com