Monday, November 12, 2012

Defense Matters: Why D'Antoni is Wrong for the Lakers

Mike D'Antoni is a lot of things. Self-appointed offensive genius, finely-mustachioed man, media savvy, and most of all, someone who doesn't grasp the importance of defense. His defensive strategy is simply scoring more points than the other team can possibly score. This works fine in the regular season, but as any Suns fan (they exist right?) will tell you, his strategy hasn't been successful in the postseason.
I hate defense also, Mike

The Lakers' biggest problems aren't offensive. For all the drama surrounding the Princeton offense, they'd actually scored at a fine rate. Their problems are on defense first and foremost, which is why D'Antoni is the wrong choice. Steve Nash cannot guard point guards in this league anymore, Pau Gasol struggles against quicker power forwards, and Metta World Peace struggles against quick small forwards. Players like Darren Collison can repeatedly break down their defense, and as good as Dwight Howard is around the rim, the Lakers' defense has still been horrible. Mike Brown's successor already faced an uphill battle defensively, which is why, more than anything else, the new coach had to coax better defense out of the Lakers.

Mike D'Antoni treats defense like a necessary evil. He can benefit from talented defensive players, but the NBA is very simple: the better your defense, the better your team. Simply outscoring opponents might work great in February, but when you need to get stops in the Western Conference Finals, I don't want my defense to begin with D'Antoni and Nash. This has been the ugly truth throughout the Nash era--his defense is a huge liability and takes away from his offensive value. D'Antoni isn't the person to shepherd a defensive team capable of making Durant or Westbrook struggle or force the Spurs' efficient beast of an offense into difficult shots. Mike Brown wasn't either. Phil Jackson? Yeah, probably.

What I'm saying isn't a great discovery, it's a simple truth about the NBA. You need to play great defense to win, and this Lakers team is already lacking athleticism, so why god why would you get a coach who doesn't do defense? D'Antoni will probably guide the Lakers to a top-three Western seed. But remember this when Westbrook and Parker and Paul are knifing into the lane possession after possession in May and June: defense is how you win, not seven seconds or less.

So when the media salivates over D'Antoni and the fun Lakers, let's not lose sight of the bigger picture. Defense wins championships in the NBA and D'Antoni treats defense like he would a waiter who fumbles through a wine list -- with utter contempt. Somewhere in San Antonio, Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan are cackling at their good fortune because the Spurs are the new favorite in the West.

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