Mike D’Antoni came to fame in Phoenix for speeding up the game, putting together unique player combinations, running ingenious sets that lead consistently to open looks, and provided confidence to players with lesser reputations, allowing them to thrive. His Suns team rejuvenated the NBA and brought significance and entertainment back to the regular season. He never had the pieces in New York or in his first year in Los Angeles to coach the way he wanted.
No longer. The Lakers organization has begun the process of rebuilding itself in D’Antoni’s image. Jim Buss’ vision of returning to “Showtime” is moving forward. That carries the reward of an entertaining brand of basketball, but there is significant risk involved.
As quickly as they can score is also how quickly they can be scored upon and run out of a building. The Warriors surged in the third quarter to blow past the Lakers 115-89.
The Lakers will have the opportunity to be good this year. The organization deserves credit for cobbling together a roster with youth, athleticism, and options. The flip side of that is without Kobe Bryant this team will be challenged to develop a tough minded identity. Will they be a halfcourt team centered around their two capable bigs? Or will they run out with a fast paced small ball lineup. Tonight’s game against the Warriors showed glimpses of what the Lakers can be this season both positively and negatively.
D’Antoni opened up the game with a different lineup, starting Steve Blake and Steve Nash together and replacing Chris Kaman with Shawne Williams. Late in the season last year the Nash – Blake backcourt worked well, taking the pressure off Nash defensively and with ball handling responsibilities, while also providing more opportunities for spot ups for Nash.
Tonight Nash showed quickness and decisiveness, getting great looks for his shooters early in the first. He still hasn’t perfected his pick and roll chemistry with Gasol, but increasingly he is probing more like the player Lakers fans thought they were getting. A more domineering Nash keeps Nick Young less wild and more efficient.
Offensively during the first half, the Lakers showed increasing comfort with the system, using backdoor cuts to get free, finding teammates in the corners off of flares, and using quick passing to distort the defense. Pau Gasol was able to show off his versatility hitting standstill jumpers, posting up and unfurling a running left handed hook shot. The team stayed with its core players most of the half and for the first time showed a defensive identity, making 5 consecutive stops to take a lead at halftime 54-52.
To start the third quarter the Lakers completely changed up the lineup, benching Nash and Shawne Williams for the rest of the game and going with Wesley Johnson at the power forward position and Jodie Meeks at shooting guard. The game quickly got away from them and they were down by 14 at the end of the third.
The game was lost in the coaching staff’s desire to tinker with its rotations, so the score itself isn’t indicative of how the Lakers’ likely rotation played. There are, however, some significant concerns.
The sloppiness with the ball has continued. In addition to the actual turnovers, the Lakers are having their passes deflected continuously.In one sequence, during the first half, the Warriors Andre Iguodala made two consecutive steals that lead to breakaway dunks. There is little offensive rebounding presence and if they aren’t careful they could fall into the one dimensional laziness of being a jumpshooting team. So far this preseason they aren’t shooting well from outside, but offense won’t be their issue this season.
Defensively the Lakers showed some improvement and cohesiveness with its concepts, doing a better job of staying in front of players in the first, but the lack of rim protection is going to be a problem. Gasol without the assistance of Kaman’s size seems incapable of altering shots. When the Lakers went to the second unit,they were late on rotations, were unable to secure defensive rebounds and generally appeared lost. When Kent Bazemore and Draymond Green are torching you, your defense is terrible.
Even with the disappointing second half, there are building blocks for a successful season. The Warriors are a top 5 team in the Western Conference and through three games the Lakers’s best units have performed well against them. As D’Antoni irons out his rotation and as Bryant returns to the fold, the Lakers will continue to improve and be a work in progress.
They may not be the second coming of the ’93 Bulls but they’ll be fun to watch.