In both Los Angeles and New York, Mike D’Antoni’s offense hasn’t produced what it did in Phoenix. The former Suns head coach enters his first full season with the Lakers with a rebuilt coaching crew. Only brother Dan D’Antoni returns after a hybrid staff made of Mike Brown’s selections left after last season.
So it’s finally time for D’Antoni to show his stuff.
Another coaching addition, development coach Larry Lewis, took some time to discuss D’Antoni’s offensive system with Lakers.com reporter Mike Trudell, and he got mighty specific about learning it. Ironically after the Suns recently bought the domain Beat.La to promote the rivalry, it’s the Lakers using old footage of Phoenix to learn D’Antoni’s system.
MT: How does that process go from you talking to D’Antoni and his staff, and implementing things for the players to work on?
Lewis: You have to study, previously, what’s going on in that system and how certain players get theirs in that system. Mike’s been running this system for a while now, and you can go back and look at how players got their shots, for example, in Phoenix or New York, or in certain actions last season in L.A.
MT: So you can pull up Joe Johnson or Raja Bell film from the Suns to see where they got their three-point looks, and use that to inform Nick Young or Wesley Johnson?
Lewis: Exactly. That type of preparation has to happen first so that when we get on the court with a player, we have a clear understanding of the system and the language of that system.
How has Mike D’Antoni’s offense failed? His Suns made the most of that very offense, and no matter if it was the original Seven Seconds or Less squad or the later versions with Boris Diaw and Kurt Thomas, Steve Nash was leading it. Maybe that’s the simple, obvious reason to explain why D’Antoni’s offenses in New York and Los Angeles have struggled.
Or maybe that small ball lent itself better for SSOL to establish itself quickly.
SSOL is not exactly the right term either. In Phoenix, we’ve dubbed it so because of the speed, but the speed only helped out the true philosophies of D’Antoni’s offense, which are more about spacing and spreading — the speed helped those two things happen against a scrambling defense.
In New York, the Knicks didn’t find much success until Mike Woodson took over for D’Antoni in the midseason. Last year, that small ball spread offense with some D’Antoni philosophies and a better roster flourished for at least the regular season. The experiment in Los Angeles isn’t a year old yet, which is why the Lakers could be in alright shape without Dwight Howard (though being without Kobe Bryant, who is recovering from an Achilles tear, is a whole other worry considering the lack of talent outside Nash and Pau Gasol).
Speaking with Trudell, Lewis simplified the basic teachings of the D’Antoni offense.
MT: How do you understand D’Antoni’s system in the simplest of terms?
Lewis: Spots. There are spots on the court that guys have to get to, especially in the beginning of each possession. And then, players sometimes have a habit of creeping out of spots – there’s a time to do that, and a time not to. There are rules in this system, and I’d like to commend Mike on it, because once people start to copy what you’re doing and have success at it, I think it speaks volumes about your approach to the sport and where basketball has evolved to today. Here’s another thing: it’s a system where each player is sort of demanded to know everyone’s spot. That’s the interesting thing about it. It flows, evolves and lives.
MT: Once that baseline is established, what can you specifically help guys with?
Lewis: To trim down. You can talk about crossover dribbles and all of that, but you’d better have a pretty good reason if you’re going to do that. In this system, there isn’t a lot of room for four or five dribbles to get to a move. If you don’t have the shot or a quick path to the lane, you’d better find someone that does. What I learned from playing overseas, where there is no illegal defense, is that you have to make your move and get your shot off immediately. Trim down. You’re trimming down the time that the help defense can get to you, and the time it takes to get to your shot. We work a lot on how to get to a shot, and to give the close out defense less time to get to you or to adjust to what you’re doing. Mike D’Antoni played in Italy for years, and understands this better than most. You just don’t have the leeway to play with the ball, because you may have a seven-footer just staying in the paint all night long without the illegal defense.
You can train a guy to play 1-on-1 in player development, of course, but in this system, I don’t know how conducive that would be. You really want the players to buy into the system at hand here.
The point regarding the lack of room for dribble-drives is important for anyone not named Steve Nash. That’s why a player with limited skill, like Raja Bell, succeeded as an offensive player. He could shoot, and he could play the system; that’s all that was important.
And that’s why the fit could make sense for another former Suns player, Wesley Johnson. It was no secret the former No. 4 overall pick struggled to put the ball on the deck and rarely did much more than use his length to get shots off over defenders.
If the Lakers surprise next season, it wouldn’t be completely shocking, and health is probably their biggest concern.
But how painful would it be in Phoenix for the Lakers to find success with those players, in that offense?
If you stay away from pop culture news, disregard. On Monday, rapper Big Sean released a track called “Control,” which featured Kendrick Lamar. The internet reacted kindly to a very aggressive, call-out by Lamar of pretty much every other iconic MC. Knicks guard Iman Shumpert apparently released a response here, and at the 20-second mark included a Kevin Johnson reference. Great.
“Kevin Johnson smash smash trick, ooh he so vintage.”