New Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has a reputation as a coach who is rather ambivalent toward the defensive end of the court.
Indeed, Jack McCallum’s book about D’Antoni’s high-flying Phoenix Suns was titled “:07 Seconds Or Less” for a reason – the coach wants his team to toss up shots with abandon, and from all corners of the court. And if the other team is going to score 100 points, so be it – his team will just have to score 110.
The result is an entertaining brand of basketball, as anyone who watched the Suns play from 2004-08 can attest. Steve Nash was the perfect point guard to run his offense, and that scheme made a lot of money for guys like Quentin Richardson, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Leandro Barbosa along the way. (And you can now add Jeremy Lin to that list as well).
But with the excitement comes criticism as well. You can’t win championships, they say, without playing defense. And they might be right. D’Antoni certainly has yet to prove the doubters wrong. He reached the postseason in each of his four full seasons with the Suns, reaching the Western Conference finals in both 2005 and 2006, but advancing no further.
D’Antoni’s defenses typically rank near the bottom of the NBA on a points-allowed-per-game basis. But that is not the best way to measure it. A team that plays at a fast pace, as D’Antoni’s teams do, is going to give up more points than one that plays slowly simply because the opponents are going to get more possessions and more shots.
The better way to look at it is points per possession, and in this statistic D’Antoni fares a bit better. During his four full seasons in Phoenix, D’Antoni’s Suns were actually an average defensive team, ranking 16th in points allowed per possession.
His Knicks teams were a bit worse, ranking 21st. Of course, those Knicks teams were also lacking in talent, and by the time D’Antoni finally did find his floor general in Lin, the Knicks sent him (and Lin) packing. Interestingly, last year’s Knicks, with Lin running the show, were D’Antoni’s best defensive team, ranking fifth in the NBA.
D’Antoni is now in possession of the most talented roster he has ever had. With Nash, he is reunited with the point guard who best fits his system. He has two very capable perimeter defenders in Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant, and when the game slows down come playoff time, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard will be guarding the paint.
Will the Lakers lock anyone down? Will they even try? Probably not. But they will be entertaining to watch, will outscore their opponents most every night, and with enough defense might even bring home a championship. What more could you want?