Inside the NBA | D’Antoni right choice to take over as Lakers seek new direction
Los Angeles passes over former coach Phil Jackson
Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 08:11
Just five games into the season, the Los Angeles Lakers made a bold decision to relieve coach Mike Brown of his coaching duties, amid clamor from fans and pundits alike to remove the defensive−minded Brown from the NBA’s most glamorous head coaching job.
The hiring of D’Antoni’s surprised nearly everyone, as fans wanted the Lakers to bring back coaching legend Phil Jackson and his time−tested triangle offense. However, Jackson made demands the Lakers were not willing to meet, so the front office pulled the trigger and hired D’Antoni, who is an offensive mastermind in his own right. And while Lakers fans think the team will rue the day they let Jackson walk, D’Antoni is the smartest choice for the roster the Lakers currently have, primarily because of the talents and deficiencies of center Dwight Howard.
Jackson’s triangle forces the offense to play through the post, requiring a highly skilled, post−up center that is readily willing to pass out of the post and wing players making cuts depending on what defense is being played.
What made Jackson’s Lakers teams so effective in the recent past was the ability to have two post players on the court at the same time, a combination that included Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom. And although Gasol is still on the team, the addition of Howard on the team makes the Triangle very difficult to run.
Howard is an extremely skilled player, but he is not a skilled passer of the ball. His strengths are in his activity in the paint and his devastating finishing abilities. Therefore, he is more suited for the D’Antoni−style pick−and−roll.
And Howard is just one important piece to D’Antoni’s offense, with the other being the point guard who won two MVP’s under D’Antoni’s tutelage: Steve Nash. Nash, who is currently recovering from a fractured fibula, is the best pick−and−roll point guard in the league. His patience coming off the pick is second−to−none, and he shoots at an incredibly high percentage, keeping defenses wary when he comes off the screens. Though his effectiveness coming off his injury is yet to be seen, it’s easy to expect that at the very least he will now feel comfortable in this offense after the Lakers jettisoned Brown’s Princeton−style attack.
Nash’s return will also spell good news for the primary wing players on the team, Bryant and Metta World Peace, who are both shooting the ball extremely well thus far. Bryant has been shooting at an insanely efficient rate, cutting to the basket with authority and draining three pointers in front of defenders’ faces. World Peace has increased his scoring output under D’Antoni, posting his highest points per game totals since arriving at LA. His strength has been shooting the corner threes, which will become even easier once Nash gets back from injury.
Gasol will have to make the biggest adjustment, as Howard and backup Jordan Hill will be occupying the paint when they’re on the floor. Though the Gasol−Howard alley−oops, which happen nearly every game, have been fun to watch, Gasol is not an elbow player. He is too good in the post to be playing out wide, but his above−average face up jump shot has covered for the fact that he is playing out of position. Normally an above .500 shooter, his percentage is the lowest it has been his entire career, and that is due to all the outside shots he is taking. As the season progresses, look for him to get more touches in the post.
It will take more than offense, however, to win a championship, and the Lakers are well aware of that. The knock on D’Antoni is that his teams don’t play defense, but that is completely an illusion due to the rosters he had in the past. In Phoenix, he had Amar’e Stoudemire play the center position to create a huge mismatch in the pick−and−roll. Though the offensive output was stellar, D’Antoni had to sacrifice size and defense at the center position to play Stoudemire. In New York, he had Carmelo Anthony, who at that point in his career was not committed to playing defense and rebounding.