As new Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni makes his transition to Los Angeles to become the Lakers’ 24th head coach in franchise history, the makeup of the rest of the coaching staff remains up in the air. It has since been reported by Ken Berger of CBS Sports that D’Antoni will likely try to add fellow Team USA assistant coach Nate McMillian:
This comes as no surprise considering the close relationship they have developed over the past eight years. Both D’Antoni and McMillan were assistants to coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Team USA staff en route to two Olympic gold medals. According to Berger, D’Antoni’s intention is to bring in McMillan to be the “defensive coordinator” while D’Antoni will focus more on the offensive side.
D’Antoni’s reputation as a poor defensive coach has been well documented over the years and his coaching forte is certainly not on the defensive end. Adding a head coach-caliber assistant like McMillan to focus solely on defense could be a great move. The positives and negatives of this potential move are as follows:
None of Nate McMillan’s Trail Blazers teams have ever ranked in the top ten defensively. According to the ESPN affiliated website Hoopdata, each one of McMillan’s Blazers teams was ranked near the middle in Defensive Efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) and Points Against on a per game basis.
Most notably in McMillan’s final full season as the Blazers’ coach, the team ranked 14th in defensive efficiency, 7th in points against and 21st in opponent field goal %. These rankings certainly do not look like the rankings of a championship-caliber team.
Conversely, McMillan has never had the type of players he could potentially have in Los Angeles. In the past, McMillan has had the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, among others, for most of his tenure in Portland. These are obviously not the most defensive savvy players in the league.
In Los Angeles, however, he will be able to tailor his defensive schemes around three-time defensive player of the year Dwight Howard. Along with Howard, McMillan will have defensive-minded players like Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace at his disposal who can still effectively put pressure on opposing ball handlers.
Looking back on Team USA’s defense, who McMillan greatly influenced in coordinating, having players like Howard, Bryant and World Peace will give him the same type of flexibility he had with Team USA. World Peace is still an above average defender, although to an obviously lesser degree than his younger years, and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
If coach Krzyzewski trusted McMillan with Team USA’s defense, there is no reason why McMillan can’t have similar success with this Lakers “super team.” With Mike D’Antoni handling the offense, partitioning the defensive responsibilities to a superior assistant like Nate McMillan could be vital to the Lakers success. As a result, this would be an excellent move for the Lakers and would solidify the coaching staff.