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Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant hated Mike D’Antoni. Hated him. Absolutely despised what they saw as his opposition to bootstrap-pullin’, all out old school basketball, what with his runnin’ and gunnin’ and attempting to do whatever he could to pry a competitive unit out of a lacking Los Angeles Lakers roster. D’Antoni was not the best coach for the Los Angeles Lakers’ roster over the last two seasons, but no coach could have done significantly better with those rotations.
New Lakers coach Byron Scott was a teammate of Magic’s in his prime, and a teammate of Kobe’s during Dr. Bryant’s rookie year, and in a lot of ways (in his fourth coaching spot) his new gig could be classified as a legacy hire. Several NBA teams have made coaching switches since Scott was let go in Cleveland in the spring of 2013, and while Byron is a former NBA Coach of the Year, franchises weren’t exactly banging down his door to bring him in for an interview.
So while Scott would do well to ingratiate himself with his two former teammates, and Laker legends, it’s probably more likely that he thinks along their lines when it comes to anti-D’Antoni fanaticism. This is why Scott, in a move that would fly in the face of modern NBA thinking, had this to say about his team’s 2014-15 use of the three-point shot:
"Our game plan is really to get to that basket," said Scott after practice Tuesday. "I like the fact that we only shot 10 threes. If we shoot between 10 and 15, I think that's a good mixture of getting to that basket and shooting threes.
"I don't want us to be coming down, forcing up a bunch of threes. I really want us to attack the basket."
OK, you’re the anti-D’Antoni. That’s the talking point, here. We get it.
It’s true that the common October trope in the NBA from coaches and executives alike has to do with the same tired optimistic take – “we want to defend and rebound, and push the ball on the other end.” Yes, everyone wants to be like the 1984 Lakers, the 1986 Celtics, and the 1992 Bulls. And of course, by the time the snow starts falling, everyone’s back to running pick and roll sets and letting the coach call plays out of a defensive rebound.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with relentlessly attacking the basket, because as former Lakers assistant coach Tex Winter will tell you, good things come from penetrating the defense – whether that be in the preferable form of a pass, or a drive, or shot. If you’re talented at getting to the rim, you will get both high percentage looks at the rim, and free throw attempts. Those are two of the three acknowledged facets to sound offensive basketball, at this level.
You know what the third is? Three-point shooting. And your team will get fantastic three-point looks if you attack the basket, and look for three point shooters.
And lest we forget …
… three points are more than two points.
Now, the Lakers aren’t rife with shooters, but they’re not full of devastating drivers either. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash’s games just aren’t at that level some 18 years after those two were drafted, and Jeremy Lin sometimes has his troubles finishing in the paint. Though the Lakers were third in three-point shooting last season, the team’s two best three-point shooters from 2013-14, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Farmar, have moved on to the Pistons and Clippers. Lin is a downgrade in the three-point shooting department in comparison to the departed Kendall Marshall.
Even with D’Antoni’s urging and offense-first characteristics, the Lakers still finished 21st in offensive efficiency last season. This was not a good team, despite its playing to its lone strength – three-point shooting. The disparity between the team’s high-ranking three-point percentage and low-ranked offense (don’t pay attention to raw points per game, the Lakers had the second-fastest pace of any NBA team last season) might drive some to conclude that all this long-range stuff is overrated. After all, few teams come more analytics-driven than the Memphis Grizzlies, and they limited themselves to a league-low in three-point attempts last season.
Still … no.
It was just a throwaway comment, but Scott’s message (and the actual ranking of how many treys he wants his team to shoot) is telling. There’s a reason Larry Brown and Doug Collins were far from successful in their last NBA turns as head coaches, and Gregg Popovich is thriving in spite of his repeatedly-stated distaste for the shot. Coach Pop draws up endless plays for three-pointers in both transition and the half-court, mindful of the fact that the league is evolving, and that he has to move with it.
The Lakers should shoot fewer three-pointers this year, and with Nash and Kobe (hopefully) in the backcourt fold they should dive way down in the possessions per game standings. Kobe needs to work from the post, Nash needs to run a drawn-out pick and roll. This should appropriately knock fewer three-point attempts in both raw and per-minute numbers off the team’s ledger, and because of the absence of Meeks and Farmar, the percentages will drop. That’s just fine, in what figures to be a rough season.
Posturing like this from Scott makes him look out of touch, though. When the Lakers eventually do get a new cast of contributors, if Byron is around, we hope he adapts to their talents. There’s a reason why Gregg Popovich has all those championships as coach, and Magic Johnson is currently just rooting at baseball games.
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