Court Vision: Sounding off on D’Antoni
By Rob Mahoney
• A reunion between Phil Jackson and the Lakers seemed all but certain on first report. The specifics of his contract and role needed to be hammered out, but the pundits had already begun framing a portrait of the legendary coach to hang in the Staples Center halls and started gathering Jackson’s nicknacks to be strewn about his eventual office. But a quick change of course has officially made Mike D’Antoni the new head coach of the Lakers, to Jackson’s chagrin and D’Antoni’s incredible surprise. From Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News (via BDL):
“I am so happy to be back with Steve Nash,” D’Antoni is saying late on Monday morning. “To get one more chance to have him run the thing the way he did for me before (in Phoenix), well, that’s the kind of thing you never think is going to happen. But now it has.”
I asked him if he thought Phil Jackson, with all that winning in the books in Los Angeles, was a lock to return to the bench, start to make things right at the Staples Center after the mistake the Lakers had made hiring Mike Brown.
D’Antoni laughed again, harder than the first time.
“Sure I did,” he said. “For sure I did. Didn’t everybody? When I got the call that it was me, my first reaction was, ‘Are you serious?’”
• Darius Soriano lays out the fundamental errors in assessing the play of D’Antoni’s teams over at Forum Blue and Gold:
As to the question of D’Antoni’s lack of a defensive pedigree, there’s both a reality and a disconnect to facts when evaluating him. HIs Suns teams were never as bad on that end as the existing perception. They regularly ranked in the middle of the pack on that end of the floor in terms of defensive efficiency and suffered more in terms of antiquated measurements such as points per game. In his last year with the Knicks, his defense ranked in the top 10 of defensive efficiency once he got Tyson Chandler to anchor his back end. With Howard in tow and some very good defenders in place in Los Angeles, I believe we’ll see a team that can play to that same level.
A this point, though, what matters most isn’t our perception of the past but what D’Antoni can actually do with this roster. The talent in place is the same that many believed was good enough to win a championship to start the season. Mike Brown didn’t maximize that talent and he’s now unemployed. D’Antoni will need to produce on the floor with the players he has or the criticism that haunted his predecessor will follow him in the same manner.
• D’Antoni’s offense will be forever linked to notions of pace and transition basketball, but as John Hollinger notes for ESPN.com (Insider), the more central tenets of “Seven Seconds or Less” come to fruition in the half court:
And make no mistake, this is mostly a half-court system. Seven Seconds or Less is a catchy name, but this system has more to do with drag screens for Nash and quick-hitting plays early in the shot clock than it does with players flying up and down the court in transition, especially if Leandro Barbosa and Shawn Marion aren’t involved. Every one of D’Antoni’s teams has finished in the top 10 in pace, as have every one of Nash’s teams, but it’s been a long time since either led the league or even came close. With this roster, one shouldn’t necessarily expect Showtime 2.0.
• Over the weekend, Tom Ziller of SB Nation torched the Lakers for the ridiculousness of Mike Brown’s firing and the sins of the franchise’s practices in general:
To think that any other coach would have led Kobe-Pau-Bynum to the championship last season is ridiculous. Phil Jackson himself led those Lakers straight into the caldera in 2010-11. To think any coach could seamlessly add Nash, add Dwight and excise Nash all within the span of a month is ridiculous. To think any coach unfamiliar with the moving parts could do a whole lot better at this point, or to think that 1-4 is some un-Lakery catastrophe, or to give the Princeton offense exactly five games is ridiculous. The Lakers are not so special that 1-4 isn’t allowed. Even great teams have rough spells. Even championship teams lose games. The Lakers are not so special that the rules of this Earth do not apply. The Lakers are not exceptional by their very existence.
• Zach Lowe chimes in with a needed reminder of Mike D’Antoni’s ingenuity:
D’Antoni is a very smart guy. He will adapt his offense to fit the personnel here; Phoenix remained an elite offensive team despite some pretty major roster shakeups, including the loss of Joe Johnson to free agency; the absence of Amar’e Stoudemire for essentially the entire 2005-06 season; and the presence of a paint-clogging Shaquille O’Neal in the last part of the 2007-08 season, when the Suns ranked no. 2 overall in points per possession and scored just as efficiently with O’Neal on the court as off.
• This one isn’t for the faint of heart: In David Aldridge’s weekly column for NBA.com, Keyon Dooling and his wife, Natosha, recount and relive the horrifying details of Dooling’s “nervous breakdown,” stemming from a history of sexual abuse. Small warning signs begat more concerning behavior and a call to the police, and Dooling — one of the league’s true statesmen — ultimately wound up in a mental hospital:
As Dooling was deciding whether or not to return this season — he had an open invite, basically, from the Celtics — his behavior began to deteriorate. The week before the family moved back up north to Boston to get ready for the season, Natosha began noticing her husband acting erratically. He began having hallucinations.
“I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it wasn’t good,” she said. “Just weird stuff that he would say, or do. I was just like, ‘Hmm, what’s going on? Is he OK?’ I even called his momma at one point, but she really couldn’t give me any answers. I knew something was wrong. Actually, I just stayed on my knees. I was just praying. That’s all I know to do, just go before the Lord.”
Dooling was exhibiting behaviors familiar to soldiers returning from war zones. But Post Traumatic Stress Disorders aren’t limited to those who fight in wars. Police officers, firefighters, anyone subject to a severe emotional episode can suffer from PTSD. Dooling’s problems came to a head in August.
He was at home, playing in the street in front of his home with his kids. A neighbor thought he was playing too roughly with the kids and called the police. There is uncertainty about how many officers showed up — 10? 12? 20? — but it was more than one. The Doolings were new to the neighborhood. They know the police were just doing their job, responding to a call. But a bunch of cops showing up, unannounced, banging on your door is a little disconcerting.
“So I ran to the door to see what was going on,” Keyon Dooling said. “I was like, ‘Who is this knocking like they’re the damn police?’ That’s what I said to myself. So when I got to the door, it was really the police. They was like, ‘Get on the ground, get on the ground, get on the ground!’ So I got on the ground.”
Natosha didn’t know what to do, what to tell her kids. She was scared. Keyon had always been the strong one, able to handle whatever. And now he was being taken away.
His usage rate is below 20 for the first time in his career. His number of free throws attempted has been cut in half since his first season, from 6.5 to 3.0. And he’s attempting two and a half fewer shots at the rim, per Hoopdata.com, despite shooting over 50 percent from there for a fourth consecutive season. A ragged jump shot that has dogged him since his earliest days is also the worst it has ever been: Evans is shooting 18 percent from 16 feet and out, making those forays to the rim more predictable than ever.
The shifty and quick 6-foot-6, 220-pound wing has always been at his best with the ball in his hands and crashing to the hoop, like a tailback that runs downhill. But whether it’s by design or desire as he willingly attempts to fit into the role the Kings have laid out for him this season, Evans has struggled to pick up the necessary head of steam. These days, that 20-year-old 20-point scorer seems more like a specter.
Verrier also notes that a programmed Evans used the word “aggressive” 13 times in a pregame chat.
• What would have happened if Jay-Z had shown up to the Nets’ meeting with Dwyane Wade in the summer of 2010? Among other things, per Seth Rosenthal: “Paris falls to an army of 150,000 undead sheep led by Johan Petro, who has now grown to over 9 feet tall and cannot feel pain.”
• On the odd couple of Nick Young and Sixers coach Doug Collins.
• FIBA — the organization responsible for dictating the rules and regulations of international basketball competition — has implemented some notable changes to its qualifying and championship formats. Some of the changes (like a qualification system that takes place during the NBA season) seem unfinished, while others (like Oceania’s joint qualification with Asia, thus making Australia actually work for a qualifying berth) are long overdue.
• Rather quietly, Jrue Holiday has been killing it.
• At HoopSpeak, Brett Koremenos doles out some unexpected credit for Memphis’ strong start.