Although we are only a week into the Mike D’Antoni era and have had some frustrating losses recently, including one against a subpar team in the Sacramento Kings Wednesday night, we have seen exciting glimpses and stretches that illustrate the advantages of the new up-tempo system.
“You have the best team, so why not play the most possessions you can play if you’re the best defensively and offensively? Anytime possessions are cut down, then a bad call, a missed shot then you have a chance to lose. If we keep possessions up here, then statistically, we have a lot better chance to win. That’s what we’re going to try and do. Whatever comes out, it’s going to be an efficient offensive team and an efficient defensive team,” said D’Antoni of his basketball philosophy.
D’Antoni’s overly ambitious statement about being the best defensive team could be considered a really good joke, at least for now. The Lakers backcourt of Kobe and Nash will struggle to keep up with younger, quicker guards no matter how much penetration Dwight Howard cleans up. The truth is that the Lakers defense does not have a very high potential outside of Dwight Howard’s impact in the interior and will be a huge obstacle come playoff time.
The acquisition of Mike D’Antoni and his up-tempo system is an interesting solution to this problem. Since the Lakers do not have a high ceiling on defense due to their veteran backcourt, why not maximize the potential of all the talent they have on offense? Looking at the roster, the Lakers’ key advantage is clearly offensive talent. More possessions should give the Lakers more favorable chances to win games. Also with the increase in possessions, the Lakers have more room to make mistakes on defense since they are scoring the ball so much.
In 1987, Magic Johnson’s “Showtime” Lakers scored 117.8 points while giving up 108.5 points per game that year. Even though their fast-paced style was the reason they allowed so many points, the defense that year was near the middle of the pack in the league and still just mediocre at best. While their defense wasn’t great, it certainly wasn’t poor. L.A. would often use the energy and adrenaline created through their up-tempo offense to play great defense in vital stretches. Oh yeah, the Lakers did win the championship that year.
I’m certainly not saying the 2012-13 Lakers have the same pieces as the Showtime Lakers, but who is better known to lead and flourish in a high-tempo offense in the past decade than Steve Nash? Just to remind you, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in his 18th season in the league that year, was considered by many to be a poor defender and rebounder (6.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per game) at 7 ft 2 inches in the late stages of his career. In other words, he was no Dwight Howard. Today’s Lakers have an opportunity to do something special; they may not match the tempo set by Showtime but will adjust their strategy to the variety of skill sets they have.
With the bench, led by Antawn Jamison the past two games, starting to show great promise, things are starting to shape up for the Lakers. As team chemistry and health improve as the season progresses, the sky is the limit for the Lakers under Mike D’Antoni and his offense.