When the Los Angeles Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni instead of Phil Jackson, the move was met with mixed reviews from Lakers fans. They wanted Jackson back. They didn’t want him gone in the first place. Yet, for all the praise (all warranted) heaped on Jackson for the NBA titles and the coaching records, one thing has become painfully clear while watching the Lakers: Jackson would not be winning with this team. This is a flawed roster that is now paying for the sins of their general manager Mitch Kupchak, who traded draft picks like they were luxury cars to millionaires in hopes of that next Lakers championship. Jackson wasn’t the coach to lead them out of this.
That coach is Mike D’Antoni. No coach has a better track record at turning marginal players into good basketball players than D’Antoni. The fact that the Lakers have 20 wins this year is as much a testament to him as to any player on the roster, or anyone currently sitting on the sidelines. D’Antoni has taken what is essentially a D-League roster and turned them into a team that has been competitive on most nights. He’s also probably made some players very rich.
Jodie Meeks never averaged more than 10 points per game in a season; in fact, Meeks only reached 10 points per game once in his career. He is currently averaging 14.6 points per game. Nick Young averaged 10.6 points per game last year; he can thank D’Antoni for seeing his scoring average go up to 16.8 points per game. Xavier Henry was on his way to being a lottery bust before D’Antoni turned him into a 10.1 points per-game scorer when Henry never averaged more than 5.3. Kendall Marshall was waved by the Phoenix Suns when he struggled mightily to transition to the NBA, but D’Antoni has him averaging almost a double-double with 9.5 points and 9.4 assists per game. These are players who are marginal role players on good teams who D’Antoni has turned into serviceable starters.
Then, there’s Pau Gasol. After not being able to play next to Dwight Howard last year, Gasol is averaging 17 points and 10.1 rebounds per game as the starting center in D’Antoni’s system. There was talk that the Lakers should’ve traded Gasol after last season. Now? Gasol can thank D’Antoni for making it virtually impossible that the Lakers let him walk. Gasol’s value has been increased tremendously by playing under D’Antoni.
D’Antoni’s offensive brilliance was evident last night as well. The Lakers are not as talented as the Sacramento Kings. Last night, however, they were able to compete with the Kings all night before walking away with a victory. D’Antoni was able to keep the Kings off balance all night, and the Lakers took advantage of repeatedly being left wide open as they knocked down 23 three-pointers.
The Lakers now have 20 wins on the season. These 20 wins would have the Lakers six games behind the Charlotte Bobcats, a team that owns the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The 20 wins the Lakers have is one less than the New York Knicks, a team with a legitimate star in Carmelo Anthony, who ironically thrived in this same system as the aforementioned players. Maybe who D’Antoni has really helped with this job is himself; general managers will have vacancies to fill, and who better to coach your team than the guy who should be Coach of the Year?