Mike D’Antoni: The Uncertainty Mounts

with: Columnist Sunny Chan @mahjjek

Under Mike D’Antoni, the Lakers have defeated the Brooklyn Nets 95-90, lost to Sacramento 97-113 and then to Memphis 98-106, won a Nowitzki-less Dallas 115-89, lost to Indiana 77-79, lost to Orlando 103-113 and Houston 105-107, won the low-ranking Hornets 103-87 and lost to Oklahoma City (as predicted) 108-114.

6 Losses, 4 Wins…the wins only coming at the expense of lower division teams.

Against the top tier, however?

Fuggetaboutit.

We all can agree that Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard should bring total offensive and defensive prowess on both ends of the NBA court like Zeus like dropping the lighting and thunder on ancient Greece.

Simply put: these four are super talented and ultra conditioned, with strengths that have  proven they can win…and they can win consistently. Just take a look at their record during their freestyle 5 game 4-1 winning record with the hands-off Coach Bernie Bickerstaff. By just letting the ballers play basketball, the Lakers won ballgames. And they even looked like they had fun doing it.

Under Bernie Bickerstaff, the Mike Brown overthinking handcuffs came off. And like Redbull, it seemed to give the Laker’s wings fly up with a 4-1 record; the one loss was to San Antonio by a scant 2 points. During this time Coach Bernie Bickerstaff simplified the game, allowing the players to use their high basketball intelligence to play to their potential. This was the only time during this season that the Lakers showed some consistency by winning more than 1 game in a row. Jordan Hill was averaging double doubles. And there there were no complaints about Pau Gasol’s knees.

Previously, under Mike Brown, the Lakers were an underperforming team whose play lagged and did not utilize the skills of 4 hall of fame super star players on the court. Mike Brown’s system produced losses. Offensively the Lakers played ugly; defensively they were not committed. The team was apathetic about losses and Mike Brown always had a poor excuse for losing, at times he would blame the opposing team’s crowd. And the players themselves looked lost and confused trying to figure out Coach Brown’s system, all the awhile frustration mounting with their consistent losses.

Now we are in the era of  Mike DAntoni and his “7 seconds or less run and gun.” But while great in theory, the actual reality seems to be a poor fit for the aging Lakers team. Admitting that his system needs faster players, Mike D’Antoni has gone on record saying that if “this Lakers roster can’t play up to the speed of his game, he will have to find other players who can.”

Like Brown’s system, Coach D’Antoni’s system has yet to take advantage of the strengths of the Lakers post players: Dwight Howard, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol. The one bright spot is that D’Antoni’s tenure has seem has seen improved bench play from Antawne Jamison and Jodie Meeks.

But, dependable as clockwork, Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace are still having monster years, adapting and dealing with the system as best as they can. The “run and gun” system seems to add higher pressure on the Lakers defense because of less post play and more shooting misses, creating long rebounds that allow the opponents to push the ball faster. The Lakers perimeter defense is porous, with weak interior defense which allows opponents to beat the Lakers in the paint.

We have Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill; our interior defense should be solid. We have Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace; our perimeter defense should be good. Morris is not the point guard for the team, and I’ll give Coach D that but he has got to not be a Mike Brown and hinder the strengths of the players he’s given. Coach D’Antoni has to find a way to adapt his system to the strengths of each of his players. Rigidity is what killed Mike Brown…and will do in any coach who tries to impose “his” game without taking into account the game of each of the players. But so far we have seen an inability to use Gasol, Hill, and Howard even. (What happened to make Jordan Hill, once averaging double double, and  defensive presence in the paint, a DNP in the Orlando game?)

Kobe Bryant says Pau Gasol should adapt his game to keep up. Well, Coach D has to adapt his strategy to start winning, with some Defensive prowess and Offensive efficiency. Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol have similar style games–they are Hall of Famer’s best utilized because of their impressive post play and interior defense. Coach D has got to implement a post game to his offensive rhythm. He has to balance the game out so the Lakers can focus some energy on defense not just offense. Defense will win the championship at the end, and win the games now. It was a steal to get Pau Gasol on the Lakers; it would be a loss to lose him when he could help bring two more rings to Los Angeles.

When Nash gets back, Lakers should look better but defense will still be a key.  Nash is not a defensive specialist–his game is offense–and the Lakers will still struggle here…with or without D’Antoni’s Phoenix protege. Coach DAntoni must be careful not to dampen the greatness of the team by forcing his way and not adapting his scheme to the strengths of his players. While Pau Gasol, like the rest of the Lakers, needs to adapt to the faster rhythm of Coach’s style, the balance goes both ways.  We have to stop the other teams, and defensively shut them out from winning. We have to take our wins with  focus, energy and intensity. We have to play ball with the strengths we have, not overthink the game.

About Hope Wabuke

writer, artist, thinker, teacher, yogi, lakers blogger *T:@HopeWabuke* www.hopewabuke.com* www.thisgirlslakersblog.com* www.hopeafteryoga.com* www.drivingwhenblack.com*
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