LA Lakers preview: The Mike D'Antoni experiment

Jeff Gross

Less than a month after the Mavs opened the season with a win in LA, the Lakers are bringing a new coach and a new philosophy into Dallas on Saturday night.

Darius Soriano blogs about all things Lakers at the excellent TrueHoop network site Forum Blue & Gold. Check his site later today for my answers to his questions about the Mavs. You can follow him on Twitter @forumbluegold.

How crazy was that whole coaching search from the inside? Do you think the Lakers made the right moves?

Answering the second question first, I preferred Phil Jackson but was completely on board with hiring D'Antoni from the time his name was mentioned as a candidate. I felt there would be concerns with either coach and, while Jackson had the better resume and pedigree, that was no guarantee he'd win a championship. As for the craziness, yes the entire process was like nothing I'd seen before. From the public nature of the search to the leaks (from both sides) about the negotiations to the late night announcement of the choice being D'Antoni rather than Phil, the entire thing was a roller coaster that I'd just assume move past as quickly as possible.

Lakers' fans can often dwell on things that don't go the way they like (the Chris Paul vetoed trade is a prime example) and at this point there's no point in crying over spilled milk. If Phil was never in the mix, D'Antoni is likely seen as a savior after Mike Brown and I tend to look at this as him being a very good hire for this specific roster. So, in that sense, I'd say that a good destination was reached even the path getting there was rocky.

How much of D'Antoni's system are they running at this point? And what type of changes to it do you think he will make to it in LA?

They look to be running only a fraction of it so far. They're running a lot of pick and rolls, simple post ups, and getting spot up chances via penetration but that's about it. I think as the players get more comfortable with what D'Antoni wants to do on offense we'll see more wrinkles that get Gasol and Howard more shots out of actions that aren't related to the P&R and also finding ways to get Kobe the ball in space and on the move so he can continue to be effective. I'd imagine we'll see the system really progress when Nash gets back with players being properly slotted and rotations can be normalized.

How's Dwight Howard health-wise? He clearly wasn't 100% on Opening Night.

He's still not 100% right now. He says he's around 75% - 80% and I take him at his word on that. He still doesn't have the same explosion as a leaper, his timing is off, and his stamina still isn't at peak level as of yet. This has led to late rotations, missed opportunities to challenge shots, and board work that has not been up to his typical standards.

He is making strides, however. In recent games he's been taking better angles and been quicker to react on his rotations, has run the floor better (both from offense to defense and vice versa), and has shown that unique ability to be a multiple jumper on defense where he can challenge a shot and then, upon landing, elevate again to grab a rebound. Plays like those are becoming more common and, to my eyes, show he's getting closer to being the player everyone remembers before his injury and subsequent surgery.

Kobe's shooting percentages this season (53/40/89) are absolutely insane. That can't be sustainable ... right?

I don't expect him to shoot this well the entire season, no. Those numbers would represent career highs (at least in FG% and 3 point FG%) and to expect him to have a career year in shooting efficiency in his 17th campaign would be expecting too much. That said, I do expect him to maintain some semblance of his efficient play simply because he's making better choices on offense and is seeing good results by doing so. In that respect, if his decision making stays relatively the same for the remainder of the season and he continues to take fewer long two pointers, attack the paint aggressively, and hit the open man regularly enough to keep defenses honest, he'll be in good shape.

Remember, Kobe remains one of the better isolation players in the league and can still hurt defenses when playing in space against single coverage. On this team, in this system, with the talent he has around him, those opportunities will continue to be there and, health permitting, he can continue to excel.

Four of the Lakers top five reserves are shooting under 40%. Is this fixable or does LA need to find at least some semblance of a bench if they're going to win a title this year?

Fixable is an interesting choice of words because I think they can improve but, as constructed, will never be the type of difference makers as reserves that other teams possess. The Lakers don't have a Jamal Crawford type to bring off their bench that can impact a game with his scoring (the hope was Jamison could be similar to that but that hope appears misguided so far).

However, they all have the ability to be very good role players and I think this is where Mike D'Antoni's rotations and personnel groupings will matter. When Nash is back I think the ideal solution is to have at least two of the big four on the floor at all times. More specifically, I think one of Kobe/Nash should always be on the floor with one of Pau/Howard. Any combination of one (star) wing and one (star) big man can anchor a bench unit and allow the reserves to be properly slotted, playing off of their star teammates rather than having to create on their own.

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