Last week, amid a 1-4 start to the season, Los Angeles Lakers’ coach Mike Brown was fired. Many speculated that they would turn to the “Zen Master” himself, Phil Jackson to replace him, but in an unprecedented turn of events, former New York Knicks’ head coach Mike D’Antoni was given a three- year, $12 million contract with a club option for a fourth year.
Clearly this is a good move for the organization as the players loyalty to Brown has grown tenuous. His “Princeton” style offense did not seem to be a good fit for the Lakers last year and it wasn’t meshing well with the new and incumbent players this year.
Not only was Brown’s sluggish scheme bad for fantasy basketball owners who have many of LA’s players, but D’Antoni’s “seven seconds-or-less” approach to the offensive side of ball should do the complete opposite. I expect bigger numbers from most of their players in terms of scoring, assists and shooting. The Lakers’ big men, as well as spot-up shooters, will get a nice boost in numbers due to the fondness D’Antoni has for the pick-and-roll.
So will their defensive numbers be hurt from the drastic reversal of coaching styles?
According to Dwight Howard they won’t. I agree with his theory that the Lakers already have guys in place who like to play defense, so that will make up for D’Antoni’s shortcomings on coaching the defensive end of things. D’Antoni has vowed that the Lakers will at least “contend for an NBA title” and I think that he’s correct in assuming that possibility will be there come June.
Here is my fantasy outlook on the Lakers “Big Four” players in the post-Mike Brown Era:
Kobe Bryant (G): So far in 2012 Kobe’s numbers have pretty much been in line with what his previous three seasons have looked like (26 PPG/5 RPG/4.5 APG). The one category that has notably taken a rise is his 3-pointers made per game. He’s making 0.6 more a game now, but that will soon change once D’Antoni begins coaching. Kobe is one of the best players of all time and he will continue to post Hall of Fame numbers regardless of who is manning the sidelines, but I actually expect his scoring to drop a tad with more emphasis on the pick-and-roll and less isolation plays. As long as he keeps playing through his numerous aches and pains, Kobe Bean is as safe a bet as any to lead your fantasy team to the promise land.
Dwight Howard (C): I believe Dwight Howard is going to benefit the most from the coaching switch. This offense is perfect for his game. Howard was brought to LA with an expiring contract and management had high hopes of them winning a championship and cementing a long-term deal with him in the offseason. But with their terrible start and with Kobe sticking with his impending retirement plans, they needed to change things quick. After all, he will be a huge building block for them in the future.
Sure, he is one of the worst free-throw shooters in the league, but he is also shooting less of them this year. This new offense will give him many more looks inside and while his percentages may still hover in the 50-60% range, owners that have him in leagues that count “free throws made” as a category will reap the benefits. D’Antoni was praised for the way he helped Amar’e Stoudemire out offensively and should do the same with Howard. Slowly but surely I think the Lakers’ offense will start to revolve more around Dwight than Kobe. He can still be a “category” league nightmare, where he’ll almost guarantee you a loss in FT% every week, but trade for him in “points” or “roto” leagues while his stock is still low.
Pau Gasol (F/C): Gasol has gotten a bad rap the past couple of seasons. He’s been called “soft”, among other characteristics we might attribute to a bunny or a pillow, but he prime statistics (points, rebounds, assists, blocks) have remained constant. The calls of “softness” may have resulted in the fact that he got to the line way less last season that he had throughout his career as well as some pretty dismal performance in the playoffs.
But alas this is fantasy, not life, and on paper his numbers are at the top of the list for power forwards. He has always been one of the premier passing big men in the league and should continue to rack up assists when drawing double teams. He is another great “buy low” guy right now, as his season hasn’t exactly started with a bang and there may be some owners willing to part ways with him.
Steve Nash (PG): Between 2004 and 2008 when he was on the D’Antoni –coached Suns, Nash won two MVP Awards (’05, ’06) and established himself as one of the top point guards of all time. Nash had to be the happiest of all the Lakers when he heard of the coaching change in LA. In his last season in Dallas he recorded 14.5 point and 8.8 assists per game. The following year, his first in Phoenix and first with D’Antoni, he upped that to 15.5 points and 11.5 assists per game.
This run-and-gun style of offense is perfect for a ball handler of his caliber. While he is up there in age (38 years-old), he won’t have much of a scoring burden, which will allow him to dish the ball to any of the multi-talented players on the roster. His rapport with Howard and Gasol in the pick-and-roll could end up being one of the deadliest combinations ever. He has missed all but two games this year because of a non-displaced fracture in his left leg, but when he comes back to the court expect the Lakers’ offense to go off with a bang.