|How will Mike D'Antoni fit in with the Lakers? (Getty Images)|
People have been hoping Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni reunite like they hoped Ross and Rachel would end up together on Friends. It's a timely reference, I know.
With the news that Mike D'Antoni has been named the new coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, those people finally get their wish. They also get to see how Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol fit into the "Seven Seconds Or Less" offensive philosophy. Between the new stars and the woeful bench, there are plenty of questions that need answered as the Lakers begin their newest coaching era.
On the surface, it makes a lot of sense to bring D'Antoni in. Nash had one of the greatest stretches in point guard history under D'Antoni, winning back-to-back MVP awards and putting the Phoenix Suns at the top of everyone's League Pass viewing schedule. Howard could be Amar'e Stoudemire in this system, only with some of the best defensive credentials we've seen in the past decade. And picturing Gasol in the Boris Diaw role (remember, Diaw was really good under D'Antoni) is enough to make any Lakers fan start counting rings again.
But there are a few questions that arise now that D'Antoni has the job.
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Can Kobe Bryant work in D'Antoni's system?
This is the big question. We know the big men can fill in nicely, and Nash is still capable of playing like himself in a system like D'Antoni's. But how does Bryant work into the idea of a pick-and-roll heavy version of controlled chaos? Is there any way he slides into this system nicely?
Bryant is one of the better scorers while running a pick and roll. He has been for the past three seasons, before the five games of Mike Brown's second season as coach. According to mySynergy Sports, Kobe has been ranked in the top 82 for pick-and-roll scoring in each of the last three seasons.
In the 2009-10 season, Bryant was ranked 72nd in the NBA, scoring 0.83 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ball handler. He made 42.1 percent of his shots in those possessions. The next season, Bryant dropped off a bit, scoring 0.81 PPP (ranked 82nd) on just 39.6 percent from the field.
However, last season he shined in the pick and roll. He ranked 41st in the league, scoring 0.86 PPP and made 46 percent of his shots out of a pick and roll. Bryant wasn't just more efficient than less efficient players in the pick and roll; he was deadly. In very limited data for this season, he has scored one full point per possession on 50 percent from the field.
Nash recently said he can't run the pick and roll as much as he used to because his body wouldn't hold up. If you split the duty between Nash and Bryant, you'd take the toll off both while maximizing a skill set both clearly have. Bryant's underrated passing ability also makes it something that potentially can work, but more questions still persist.
Is D'Antoni a capable defensive coach?
One misnomer about D'Antoni's Suns is that they were a bad defensive team. They were actually pretty decent-to-average. From the 2004-05 season through D'Antoni's exit, the Suns ranked 16th, 16th, 13th and 16th, respectively. These are not monster performances. But considering the stigma attached to those teams and the knowledge that Stoudemire was their main big man, those rankings are a bit eye-popping.
When D'Antoni finally got a defensive center and an assistant coach teaching defense in New York, the defense vastly improved. Before D'Antoni's firing in New York, the Knicks were ranked 10th in defensive rating last season. Granted, much of that was a result of Tyson Chandler and Mike Woodson's coaching. But there isn't a reason to think Howard and an assistant coach directing the defense couldn't have a similar effect.
If the Lakers bring in Nate McMillan to teach the defensive system, I'm not sure it's quite the same as adding Woodson. From 2005 through when McMillan was fired in 2012, his Blazers teams ranked 28th, 26th, 17th, 10th, 13th, 14th and 22nd. The one "full season" that Greg Oden gave Portland in 2008-09 (61 games) was when the Blazers were ranked 10th in defense.
Say what you want about Oden, but his defensive presence was significant at times. Even then, the Blazers were better defensively with Oden on the bench, which could be a result of the lineups he played with. Howard replacing Oden in the defensive system is a significant upgrade, so it's possible McMillan could alter things.
With Howard and Gasol playing together, you have plenty of rebounding strength. Metta World Peace is still a good defender, even if he's not what he used to be. World Peace would be in the role of Shawn Marion, except he's not as versatile of a defender. But with Howard behind him instead of Amar'e, does he even have to be? The potential for having a passable defense is certainly there.
Will D'Antoni's system work with mediocre role players?
This is the biggest piece of the puzzle that doesn't quite fit with D'Antoni. The bench stinks and hasn't shown much in terms of potential to be good through the first five games. D'Antoni's teams in Phoenix and New York had shooters surrounding the stars. There isn't a young Joe Johnson or Eddie House or JR Smith or Steve Novak to be found on this Lakers roster.
There is Antawn Jamison. There is Devin Ebanks. There is Darius Morris. You're not finding “capable” shooters, outside of Bryant, Jodie Meeks and Nash. The Lakers are currently 18th in 3-point accuracy. Can the Lakers be a team in the top half of the league in outside shooting?
Can Jamison and Jordan Hill give them productive minutes off the bench in a scoring role with this system? Can Steve Blake be good enough to spell Nash when he returns and run this controlled chaos? Will World Peace still take more than 10 shots per game?
Do the Lakers have enough shooters?
In D'Antoni's four years with the Suns and Nash, Phoenix finished first in 3-point percentage every season. They also took the most 3-point attempts during that period. Those Suns teams had at least three players taking more than 100 3-pointers every season while making more than 40 percent of those shots in the first three seasons. In the fourth season, they had two players over 40 percent with at least 380 attempts.
Looking at the Lakers' roster; there are only a few candidates to even thinking about approaching this kind of accuracy. Considering Nash is a career 42.6 percent 3-point shooter, he should be fine -- and probably a lock -- for long-range accuracy. Meeks is only shooting 21.4 percent this season, but he's a career 36.8 percent shooter from downtown. He should improve and has the potential to approach 40 percent.
If Bryant is able to shoot a career-high from 3-point range this season (he's currently at 43.3 percent with a career-high of 38.3 percent), would his high number of attempts be enough to turn the Lakers into a legitimate long-range monster? Let's check out Kobe's spot-up shooting over the previous three seasons.
In 2009-10, Kobe shot 143 3-pointers on spot-up possessions and made 40.3 percent of those. The next season, his attempts fell to 101 and he made just 32.7 percent. The downward trend continued last season with just 76 spot-up attempts and a 31.6 percent success rate.
Granted, he wasn't getting the looks that he'll be getting whenever D'Antoni's system gets fully implemented, but he's not showing this trend is easily reversible. So far this season, he's 6-of-11 on spot-up 3s. But that's too small of a sample size.
Finding another shooter on the trade market or in free agency (Eddie House comeback?) would be ideal, unless they think Blake or Morris can be that extra shooter the offense craves. I'm not sure you can count on Kobe's 3-point shooting to keep going like this, but it's also possible the system allows him to have better and more comfortable looks.
The Lakers weren't a bad offensive team to start the season, so it's easy to say D'Antoni isn't going to fix that. You also need more than a couple of practices to get D'Antoni's system implemented, although Nash's presence can certainly help direct traffic and explain where guys need to be. It might not take as long as it would with an unfamiliar point guard.
Aside from D'Antoni being a very good coach, I like this hire by the Lakers because they'll finally have an identity. An identity has been missing so far this season.