After Mike Brown was unceremoniously let go just five games into the season, many expected Phil Jackson to take over as the Lakers' new coach, but Mike D'Antoni has surprisingly been given the title instead. While any change would likely be an upgrade over Brown, it's unclear if this is the right fit in NBA terms, as Los Angeles' real problem so far this season has been on defense. Nevertheless, in fantasy circles, this move could have a real impact and likely for the better.
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Kobe Bryant openly lobbied for Jackson to replace Brown, so it was interesting to see the franchise go in a different direction. D'Antoni didn't exactly have a great relationship with Carmelo Anthony, whose ISO-dominant game isn't dissimilar to Bryant's. Still, the new system will be uptempo, which is obviously good news for fantasy owners. From 2004-08, D'Antoni's Suns ranked No. 1 in Offensive Efficiency, also leading the league in PPG and FG% over that span. The "Seven Seconds or Less" offense leads to many more possessions, which leads to more stats, although this Lakers squad lacks the athleticism of those Suns teams.
Bryant led the NBA by a comfortable margin in Usage Rate last season (and is top-10 so far this year) and is currently shooting a career-best 53.8 percent from the field, making him the fifth-most valuable fantasy player in the early going, so it's not like his fantasy owners are exactly clamoring for change. However, digging a bit deeper, Bryant is actually attempting just 16.7 field goals per game, well down from last season (23.0) and his fewest since 1998-99, so while his efficiency may come down with the new SSOL offense, volume will increase. It should be a net gain for Bryant's fantasy owners, even if the ball is in his hands a little bit less than normal once Steve Nash returns.
Speaking of Nash, who was a terrible fit for the Princeton offense, he's the big winner here. The Lakers lack outside shooters, which isn't ideal, but teaming with Dwight Howard in a D'Antoni offense could lead to big things. Howard has scored the most points-per-possession on pick-and-rolls in each of the past three seasons, while Phoenix led the NBA in the category three separate times when D'Antoni was coaching. At least on paper, it sure seems like a perfect match. The return of a healthy Nash will be pivotal, and if you think you can get him at a slight discount in your fantasy league thanks to his sluggish start and subsequent injury, by all means do so.
Pau Gasol and Howard's numbers have been down so far (particularly in the scoring and rebounding categories), and while them sharing the same frontcourt almost certainly has something to do with it, the Lakers currently rank 21st in the league in PACE, a number that will assuredly go up with the D'Antoni hiring. D'Antoni's offensive system might not be quite as successful as it was back in Phoenix with defenses catching up after many teams have since copied its essential philosophies, and Los Angeles' lack of shooters and athleticism isn't a perfect fit, but the increase in tempo should ultimately be a positive for fantasy owners of Bryant, Nash, Gasol and Howard.
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