This morning, news broke that the Lakers chose Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson as their new coach. Here’s why it’s a good choice.
1. The obvious one: it reunites Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni. As a pair between 2004 and 2008, Nash and D’Antoni ran one of the greatest offenses the league has ever seen, colloquially referred to as the “seven seconds or less” system — the idea is basically to get the ball down the court as fast as possible and take efficient shots, i.e., threes and attempts near the hoop, as soon as they become available. Nash, one of the league’s best shooting and passing point guards, is essentially the ideal point for D’Antoni’s system. It would basically be a crime not to rejoin the two and let them help each other try to win what would be their first championship, particularly after the debacle that was D’Antoni’s stay in New York.
2. It’s become very clear at this point that Kobe’s relationship with his coach is as essential to the Lakers’ success as any other factor. Kobe and D’Antoni are comfortable with each other, having won two Olympic gold medals for the U.S. national team, and they both share a background in Italian basketball (Kobe’s dad played there when he was a kid) and a generally ultra-intense on-court demeanor. (D’Antoni’s a lot more chill off the court than Kobe, but no coach’s blood pressure seems more affected by boneheaded plays and distasteful refereeing.) As an athletic wing player who can shoot the three and move the ball, Kobe fits well in D’Antoni’s system — he’s the luxury edition of the 2004–2005 Suns’ Joe Johnson, a long-limbed bomber who can also post up and handle the ball.
3. Dwight Howard’s there to play defense. Dude is one of the greatest defensive players of all time. In a D’Antoni system, his ability to dominate the paint by himself would be a huge asset. The idea that D’Antoni literally doesn’t care about defense is an irritating oversimplification, but it’s fair to say the Seven Seconds or Less system favors mobile big men and big men who are good passers (think Amar’e Stoudemire and David Lee in the former category and Boris Diaw in the latter) rather than the bangers and shot-blockers that help win bogged-down, physical playoff games. Fortunately, Howard’s a combination of both. In 2004-05 and 2005-06, the two years that the Suns lost the Western Conference finals — as close as they ever came to a championship — Phoenix scored the most points in the league but ranked a middling 16th and 17th in defensive efficiency. If Dwight can help the Lakers into the top half of the league in terms of defensive efficiency — something he can basically do on his own — then there’s a good chance that, even on a 35% shooting night for the Lakers, the opponent still might not be able to score enough to win.
4. Dwight is also a terrifying dunk-monster on the pick-and-roll. Last year in Orlando, Jameer Nelson and Dwight produced 1.36 points per play on the pick-and-roll, second-best in the league. Dwight shot 74% on those plays.
5. D’Antoni has experience in huge, voluble markets. Even if L.A. goes to hell while D’Antoni’s there — always a possibility when Kobe and Dwight are involved — it still wouldn’t be as bad as dealing with Carmelo Anthony and James Dolan.
6. Pau Gasol is like Boris Diaw but better. Diaw, a Frenchman, was great in the D’Antoni offense. Gasol has all Diaw’s skills in more abundance and is from the same continent. Book it.
7. D’Antoni likes a short bench, which is great, because the Lakers’ bench sucks. The question will essentially become whether L.A.’s starting five can handle the heavy minutes that come with playing in a D’Antoni offense — Nash is 38, Kobe is 34, and World Peace and Gasol are both 32 — but what you might see happen, and what could’ve happened under Mike Brown, anyway, would be a Spurs-esque saving of Nash and Kobe until the playoffs. I mean, D’Antoni’s the only coach in NBA history to make Chris Duhon look like an effective point guard, and Chris Duhon happens to be on the Lakers’ roster right now, so this could be an even more fateful pairing than we thought.
8. Actually, the Lakers’ bench does do one thing well: three-point shooting. Outside sniping is one of Steve Blake’s best attributes, Jodie Meeks is a superb long-range shooter, and Antawn Jamison hits threes well for a power forward. And being able to knock down the wide-open shot that some slippery point guard has just created for you is really the only thing you need to do to come off Mike D’Antoni’s bench.
9. Could Jordan Hill be turned into a pick and roll beast? Possibly — he’s an athletic power forward, and though the story of his career has been his raw offense, D’Antoni would be the right guy to push him forward. Though we admit we’re getting down to the dregs here. (And that D’Antoni didn’t make much hay with Hill the first time they worked together, when the Knicks drafted him out of Arizona.)
Taking D’Antoni over Phil Jackson is a bold move that will be second-guessed extensively if the Lakers don’t win a title, but D’Antoni’s offense is a better fit for this roster than Jackson’s triangle, while the ex-Suns coach is also better-equipped than anyone but Phil to handle the off-court aspects of the job. We’re giving the choice the much-coveted BuzzFeed Sports stamp of approval.
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