Mike D'antoni's system is not working for the Los Angeles Lakers this season, and nearly everyone around Laker-land, short of the coach himself, has been clamoring for the need to abandon it and go in a different direction. When asked, he was adamant that he didn't even have a system.
That's news to NBA analysts like Steve Kerr, Magic Johnson and anyone else who knows NBA offenses.
Kerr, a former player and general manager who worked with D'Antoni in Phoenix, had especially good insight into the situation when he spoke to Fox Sports LA's "Petros & Money Show":
"When you're older and you don't have great legs and you're playing a wide open style and shooting a lot of threes, now all of a sudden you're exposed in transition defensively," he said. "So you're always vulnerable. I just feel like they need to be more Pittsburgh Steelers than New England Patriots."
If the product on the floor isn't a system, whatever it is has to change. Bryant has taken steps to put matters into his own hands and facilitate the offense with some success of late, but is that enough? As a sub-.500 team, it's hard to imagine that L.A. has anything to lose by changing things up.
To be fair, D'Antoni had to come in without a training camp and a host of new players who had never played with one another. He was also missing Nash, the best conductor his offense had ever seen. But this talented group is far too skilled and intelligent from a basketball standpoint to use those issues as a crutch.
The Lakers need a change, and it starts with the system. Let's take a look at their options starting with what they're currently doing:
The D'Antoni SystemAKA: "Seven seconds or less" Overview: Once an offense deemed "Seven seconds or less", this scheme calls for perimeter players who can stretch the floor from the 3-point line and get up and down quickly. The Lakers are poor in each of those areas, shooting 35.5 percent from the 3-point line through 48 games and featuring two bigs who are most comfortable around the restricted area.
It's not a coincidence that Pau Gasol, an All-Star just a season ago, is having his worst statistical season as a professional, averaging just 13.3 points and shooting 45.6 percent from the field.
The most glaring aspect of this failed system is that the Lakers have the wrong personnel as Kerr pointed out. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are a combined 73 years old, and that's not conducive for a backcourt that is supposed to push the ball and get shots up quickly.
-- No one can run this offense like Nash.
-- The "Showtime" element in the form of fast break and transition points has potential to resurface if they could run this to perfection.
-- The Lakers lack team speed, and the average age of their starting lineup (with Earl Clark starting at the four) is 31.4. Defense also has to create that offense, and they are 25th in the NBA in opponent points allowed per game (100.8).
-- Getting up shots quickly isn't conducive to putting them in good defensive positions, leaving them open to give up easy transition baskets on the other end.
The proof is in the record (23-26 through 49 games). This system, whatever it is or isn't, is not working and needs to be adjusted. The Lakers need to acquire drastically different personnel (not likely) or will need to make a change in philosophy.
The Kobe System
AKA: "The Bickerstaff System"
Overview:This system is a product of the offense going entirely through Bryant. We saw some of it when Bernie Bickerstaff was the interim head coach and the Lakers were running a freelance style of offense. This set features Bryant as the primary ball-handler, so let's look at the numbers -- 25.6 points and 7.6 assists in the five games under Bickerstaff.
In those contests, the offense featured a lot of improvisation and allowed Bryant freedom to control the floor in the absence of Nash. It's worth noting that in terms of tangible results, this style of play has been the most successful.
-- Bryant is still one of the better offensive players in the game today and can get his shot almost any time he wants.
-- He routinely draws double teams out of isolation situations, freeing up knock-down shooters for open looks.
--Kobe has to be a master facilitator and balance his passing with scoring by making the right reads
--His teammates can easily become disengaged if they aren't getting touches and his shots aren't falling.
This system deserves another chance. Fascinatingly, the defense was also outstanding under these circumstances (92.2 ppg), largely due to the fact that there was less of a chance for long rebounds that created easy opportunities for opponents to run.
The magic pill here is not Bickerstaff, but the Lakers being allowed to play within their comfort zone. Sometimes a highly intelligent, veteran team can accomplish a lot on both ends if given a little bit of freedom, and that's precisely what they had here.
The Brown System
AKA: "The Princeton Offense"Overview: The Princeton offense caught a lot of flack under Mike Brown, but it didn't necessarily deserve it. The defense was the real problem when they ran this set, and the offense averaged 97.4 points per game during the Lakers' 1-4 start. The defense, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Sound familiar?
The offense is largely half-court based and is a read-and-react scheme. It's methodical and places an emphasis on proper execution and reacting to what the defense gives up. Ball movement and spacing are crucial in order to initiate it, and when the ball stops or gets stagnant, the players tend to force shots and create easy offense for the other team. It also has a tendency to go at a slower pace and operate in the half-court.
-- The offense requires making correct reads on defensive roations and requries players with a high basketball I.Q., which the Lakers have.
-- Ball movement is critical here, and the Lakers have several terrific passers.
-- It's similar to the triangle offense, which guided the Lakers to their last two NBA titles.
-- It slows the game down considerably, and requires a strong defensive effort to supplement it.
-- It requires a lot of symmetry and cohesiveness among players, which the Lakers have lacked this year.
The Verdict:The Lakers pulled the plug on this system early, but it was the catalyst they felt would turn things around. Analysts were exceptionally critical of this early on, but it still never got a shot with the team at full strength. An 0-8 preseason was a bad omen, however.
Use whatever cliche -- "the grass isn't always greener", "hindsight is 20-20", etc. But now more than ever, it appears that Brown wasn't given enough time to make adjustments. Things don't look all that much better under D'Antoni at this point.
The Jackson System
AKA: "The Triangle"Overview:
First off, Lakers fans need to undestand that Phil Jackson is not coming back. Let's just get that out of the way right now.
But the triangle offense is like old faithful in Hollywood as the instrument of five title banners hanging in Staples Center's rafters. It's difficult to say that the Lakers would be sure-fire playoff contenders under this system this year, but one thing is almost certain at this point -- they'd probably be more cohesive since it's what they ran during title runs of 2009 and 2010. Jackson believes in playing through big men and slowing the game down, two areas where the Lakers are strong with two All-Star-caliber 7-footers at their disposal.
The system uses spacing to create opportuities from different areas of the floor and is designed to make reads off what the defense gives up. It makes particularly good use of big men who are good passers.
Who could run it if the Zen Master isn't around? NBA veteran Brian Shaw played and coached the system and has been successful as the Indiana Pacers' top assistant.
It would take a near miracle for this scenario to play out, though, as the Lakers' front office has taken steps to separate themselves from the Jackson regime entirely.
-- The Lakers have two bigs who can score inside and one in Gasol who is a great passer.
-- L.A. has familiarity and continuity within the framework of this offense, and the veterans have a strong comfort level with it.
-- Who would run this and install it in time for it to make a difference?
-- It would take a major change of heart on management's part to bring in any coach who could employ it.
-- Could Nash thrive or be himself in this style of offense?
There was a conscious decision at the top to abandon this offense when Mike Brown was initially hired, and they have not looked back, even after entertaining the idea of bringing back Jackson. The triangle as we know it is dead in Los Angeles.
The Final Word:
The Lakers have too many issues to be able to pinpoint just one key area or offensive set. Injuries to key players like Gasol and Howard have further complicated things. For now, the Lakers would continue to do well to modify D'Antoni's system on the fly, just as Bryant has been doing as the de facto floor general for the past several weeks.
The Lakers need wins, and any significant change in personnel or coaching would disrupt what little continuity they've built. As long as everyone's engaged, "The Kobe System" is the way to go.
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as Southern California-based sports journalist. In addition to being an award-winning Yahoo! Contributor, he writes regularly for SB Nation and Examiner.com and is also the Editor of Sports Out West.
Catch up with him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets
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