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Mike D’Antoni can win big as Lakers coach — if they defend

Nov 12, 2012, 9:40 AM EDT

New York Knicks' head coach Mike D'Antoni watches a free throw by the Miami Heat during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Miami Reuters

Mike Brown over-thought the situation. He made the Lakers offense more complex than it needed to be — when you have the Lakers’ firepower you don’t need a hybrid-Princeton offense to score a lot of points and get guys to share the ball. Brown’s new offense had the players thinking, not reacting, the result was a lot of turnovers and a 1-4 start. And Brown getting fired.

The Lakers are 2-0 under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff in part because he stripped down the offense — Kobe Bryant called it “pick-up basketball” But in that offense the Lakers spaced the floor well, made passes and got good looks. As a team they made good decisions and Bickerstaff praised the Lakers for this after the game. (The other factor for being 2-0 was soft competition.)

For the same reason Bickerstaff had success Mike D’Antoni could work as the new head coach of the Lakers — his offense is not overly complex and is about attacking, spacing and getting easy buckets. It’s about playing on instinct. It’s an offense that is going to be hard to stop because the Lakers key players can all pass. We saw it in the Lakers win over the Kings — Dwight Howard feeling the double team in the post and whipping a pass to Metta World Peace on the weak side for a wide-open corner three. We know Steve Nash is a fit, Kobe Bryant fits in any offense and D’Antoni will love a complete player like Pau Gasol.

The Lakers are going to score a lot of points for Mike D’Antoni. I’m not one who has ever thought D’Antoni’s offense was what was holding him back from winning a ring in Phoenix (an owner not willing to spend big is a larger reason).

But will the Lakers defend well enough under D’Antoni to win a ring?

Because that’s been the real question with the Lakers all along. It doesn’t really matter what offense they run — seven seconds or less, Princeton, triangle, the stuff you junior high coach drew up — they were going to score a lot of points. They are too talented not to. But last season it was their defense that held them back and it was the main question and issue this season.

Mike D’Antoni’s teams have never been great at defense. Well, at least until his final, partial season with the Knicks, but Mike Woodson and Tyson Chandler got all the credit there. His first three seasons in New York the Knicks were never better than 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency (points given up per possession).

His Suns teams were better defensively than they got credit for — because those played at a fast pace they gave up a lot of points per game. But per possession they have up right around the league average those seasons (finishing 13th to 17th).

These Lakers need to be better than average defensively to win it all.

The biggest question for the Lakers become with a defensive force (when healthy) like Dwight Howard in the paint, can D’Anton coax enough defense out of the Lakers to win? A lot of responsibility is going to fall to Howard now, he has to be a force. Is he up to it?

After a failed stint in New York, D’Antoni should be hungry and a little bit desperate to reclaim his status as one of the NBA’s elite coaches. He’s got the team and talent to do that now. He’s got the offense that can get a stacked team a lot of points.

And he might me desperate enough to get them to defend. That is the real key.

  1. isujames - Nov 12, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    Lol, no Phil Jackson poor Lakeshow,it ain’t like they would get past my Heat with or without Phil as head.Why would Phil want to manage a group of over the hill has beens -D Howard and his history of back problems that will never go away.

  2. isujames - Nov 12, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    I wonder how this will pan out after they go a couple of years without winning with this guy as the head coach.Oh yea don’t expect D. Howard to resign.

  3. mjbulls45 - Nov 12, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    f buss

  4. musician0785 - Nov 12, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    @isujames…..u sound like an idiot….d12 is gonna turn down 30 extra million dollars and a reason to live in LA? lmaooooo nobody in they right mind would do that……

  5. hwatt - Nov 12, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    Well, if you scoring in 7 seconds or less then maybe all your players are just itching to run in transition so they’re not going to be interested in locking down on defense. It sounds like the nature of the 7 second beast. I guess you can’t have both?

  6. aboogy123456 - Nov 12, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    As a lakers fan, reasons I like this hiring:

    not mike brown

    Reasons I am very skeptical on this move:

    D’antoni’s offense has been predicated around steve nash and a bunch of finishers like amare. I’m worried this is going to turn kobe and pau into finishers, and that’s not taking full advantage of their skills. In my opinion the lakers need an offense that takes advantage of their size and skill, and slows the game down to also help their defense. Something like the triangle, not this bs seven seconds or less offense. Lakers are competing with the heat and this plays to the heat’s strengths. Steve nash has done well in this offense but he’s not the best player on the lakers and to reach the full potential they need to play to their strengths.

    Defense – with their size, the lakers have the potential to be a top 3 defense. D’Antoni is perhaps the worst defensive coach in the league and I don’t think he will teach them anything. Orlando was a top 5 defense last year with dwight and a bunch of scrubs, lakers have more than that magic team.

    Effect on Dwight howard – Dwight is great but his head isn’t in the game all the time, and he’s often more concerned about his image than simply going out and playing hard and shutting up. Phil won’t take that crap and he knows how to motivate a player like this, but D’Antoni might just let Dwight do whatever he wants. As good as Dwight is, he can still improve a lot, but we’ll see if D’Antoni knows how to manage his ego. Plus he runs practice like a joke apparently, so that doesn’t help.

    • bougin89 - Nov 12, 2012 at 2:39 PM

      I agreed with your post up until you said Dwight Howard’s head isn’t always in the game. You can say a lot of negative things about how he handled himself in Orlando last year and you would be right that he was a HUGE distraction off the court but on the court he played really well until he was injured. If there is one thing that you can count on from Dwight Howard it’s effort.

  7. LPad - Nov 12, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    D’Antoni’s approach to practice is to explain his offense once (at the beginning of training camp) and then let the players figure it out. His in-game adjustments are to let the players figure it out. His approach to defense is to switch everything and then let the players figure it out.

    One thing you forgot in your comment is Pau. Expect him to be on trading block come February. In D’Antoni’s offense he’s going to be taking at least 5 3 pt a game and never posting up.

    • aboogy123456 - Nov 12, 2012 at 10:37 AM

      Yes and that’s another reason this sucks. Pau is a great player, you don’t trade a player like that when you are contending for a championship. I think they will probably keep him because he runs the floor so well and they don’t need depth. Ugh, another season of Pau’s skills going to waste. Just give him the ball in the post, wait for the double team and then let him use his great passing skills. It’s so easy.

  8. blueintown - Nov 12, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    “His Suns teams were better defensively than they got credit for — because those played at a fast pace they gave up a lot of points per game.”

    I know sentence structure isn’t your strong suit (along with grammar and the English language in general), but was is this statement supposed to mean? They didn’t get credit for their defensive acumen because they…gave up a lot of points? An up-tempo style of play is not the cause of giving up a lot of points, a lack of defense is. Their efficiency rankings are only ranked so “high” because the opponent has so many more possessions when playing them. Giving up 105(ish) points per game is still 105 points per game, regardless of the manner in which efficiency is calculated.

    • eventhorizon04 - Nov 12, 2012 at 11:27 AM

      …Actually, not at all.

      Team A gives up 105 points per game in an average of 100 possessions.
      Team B gives up 105 points per game in an average of 80 possessions.

      According to you, “105 points is 105 points, so they’re both equally good defenses.’

      And that is flat out incorrect. Team A is getting far more defensive stops than Team B.

      • blueintown - Nov 12, 2012 at 11:51 AM

        That’s not my point. I’m saying it is disingenuous to characterize the Suns defense as better than advertised based on efficiency rankings. The Suns efficiency is average only because of the increased number of possessions by the opponent. Giving up 105 points per game is bad regardless of the number of possessions those points occurred in.

    • davidly - Nov 12, 2012 at 12:17 PM

      “Giving up 105 points per game is bad regardless of the number of possessions those points occurred in.”
      If you’re scoring more than 105 a game it doesn’t matter. That’s the point. He’s not saying that their defense was stellar, he’s saying that they did a better job than usually claimed.

      Anyway, a team cannot run an offense at that tempo and keep its opponent in the nineties or less. It sounds like you’re just looking for a reason to moan about Helin’s posts, which brings me to…

      …give the grammar slammin’ a rest. It’s a friggin’ blog, not the Daily Standard. Kurt writes to many posts, and without an editor.

      • davidly - Nov 12, 2012 at 12:19 PM

        davidly’s editor –
        CORRECTION: too many posts

    • davidly - Nov 12, 2012 at 12:24 PM

      None of this is to say that I think D-Tone’s approach is good. But this team is gonna lose either way.

      • blueintown - Nov 12, 2012 at 12:40 PM

        Davidly :

        I take issue with the statement because it’s not the proper barometer to measure the effectiveness of that defense. To say the Suns defense wasn’t as bad as people think and cite their efficiency rankings doesn’t paint an accurate picture. It’s easy to take efficiency rankings with inflated sample sizes and use them to try and change the common perception, but look at it from the most basic perspective. If Kurt had pulled out the stat sheet and said “The Suns defense was underrated. They gave up 105 points per game, which was last in the league”, everyone would laugh. Rightfully so. They were a bad defense. Statistically and simply based on the eyeball test of anyone who watched them.

        Regarding the grammar: No. He’s a paid employee of one of the largest media conglomerates on planet earth. If they are not going to hold him accountable(for whatever reason), then at least have a little pride in what you’re doing. You corrected yourself above for free, he should do the same.

        Sidenote: I am guilty of all of the things I criticize Kurt for. But this isn’t my livelihood. Also, I’m a cynical, hypocritical anus.

  9. mazblast - Nov 12, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    “if they defend”

    D’Antoni’s teams have never defended yet, so expecting his new team to defend kind of goes against ALL previous history. Plus, do you really expect this bunch of self-proclaimed HOFers to bother with something so common, so ordinary, so, well, done by mere mortals?

    “D’Antoni will love a complete player like Pau Gasol”

    Gasol is a fine player, but “complete”? The guy plays matador defense most of the time, and when His Kobeness starts keeping the ball, Gasol disappears on offense.

  10. AlohaMrHand - Nov 12, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    D’Antonis system is a joke.Bad decision

    Paul Westhead

  11. rickeydynamite25 - Nov 12, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    I posted over the weekend that I wanted Phil I’d take Mike D as a consolation prize so I’m Kool with it. To Mike D’s defense he never had a player who was a defensive force other than Raja Bell. Amari was never great on D, Melo doesn’t play D, and let’s not even talk about J-Lin. Chandler is a force on D no matter who the coach is so if he wasn’t ran outa NY, HIS team wouldve been better statistically,,, that being said that team wasn’t going anywhere anyway because they’re not a great team, and when Amari comes back they’ll fall like trees. Oh by the way Phil’s team wasn’t that great on defense either except when Shaq was there. I believe defense is more effort than anything and Mike Browns Lakers didn’t look impressive on D either and we have defensive forces who I believe will give a better effort with Mike D than they did with Mike B.
    We good.

  12. omniusprime - Nov 12, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    Great joke Kurt Helin – Clueless Clown Brown over thought the situation on offense. problem was Clueless Clown Brown didn’t do any thinking regarding the Laker’s offense because his only clueless thought on offense has been to give the best player the ball and let him shoot too much.

    D’Antoni has never coached defense well, none of his teams ever played a lick of defense. I’m totally disappointed in this choice by the little idiot buss boy. D’Antoni will have to prove to me he’s worthy of the Laker coaching position and the only way he’ll ever do that is to win a title this year, the way Phil Jackson would have.

    Phil Jackson was the Correct Choice!

  13. canehouse - Nov 12, 2012 at 12:21 PM

    His team are not long on defense… although he does have Dwight. Should be much better than any defense he has ever rolled out. Looking forward tl watching this unfold.

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