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Hoops Lab: Lakers Style Battle

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings is a Neural Engineer by day, and RotoWire's senior basketball columnist by night. He's a two-time winner of the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Style war in LA

Last week in this space I cautioned against making rash decisions five games into the season. One day later, the Lakers fired their coach. It seems that the Lakers' brass don't read my column.

That said, I can agree with their decision to let Mike Brown go. As I pointed out several times, trying to force that team to run the Princeton offense was ridiculous. The Princeton offense is designed to hide a lack of talent ... the Lakers overflow with talent. It just didn't fit. Frankly, though, if they were going to fire Brown five games into the season, that means they knew long ago that he was on thin ice ... they might as well have fired him in the offseason and started the year with the guy they wanted. But oh well.

The more important thing here is just who it is they DID want to coach the team. Everyone thought it would be Phil Jackson. Instead, they tabbed Mike D'Antoni.


This was a fascinating decision, on so many levels. Because both coaches are known commodities to a subset of the players on the team, this decision essentially chose the style that the Lakers would play. With Phil Jackson and the Triangle offense, we know we would have seen an offense in which Kobe Bryant would be the lead piece with 25-and-5 potential. Pau Gasol knows how to man one of the nodes of the triangle, giving him plenty of options to either score or pass. Nash would have presumably manned the third node, using his excellent shooting more than his court vision to make his contributions. Dwight Howard would have been the finisher, and Ron Artest the garbageman. It's a formula the Lakers used during their most recent championship runs, with Nash and Howard playing the same roles as Derek Fisher and Andrew Bynum, but with more talent.

Instead, the Lakers chose D'Antoni. And D'Antoni's offenses look a LOT different than what I just described. People focus on the fast break aspect of the offense, the "Seven Seconds or Less" part. But the biggest key to the D'Antoni offense isn't the pace, it's the point guard. Let's take a look at the Usage Rate and the PER for D'Antoni's prominent point guards through the years before, during, and after being in his system.

Steve Nash19.5 mpg, 20.5 PER22.2 mpg, 22.8 PER21.1 mpg, 19.5 PER
Raymond Felton19.2 mpg, 15.2 PER22.6 mpg, 17.3 PER18.5 mpg, 14.7 PER
Jeremy Lin15.6 mpg, 14.8 PER28.1 mpg, 19.9 PER18.3 mpg, 15.9 PER

You see the pattern? In all three cases, the point guards use more possessions (average 31.7 percent higher usage rate) and have a higher PER (average 19.8 percent higher PER) with D'Antoni than in the years before or after him. His system is heavily built around the point guard holding the ball and being the final decision maker for who gets to shoot on a given possession.

Meanwhile, look at the shooting guards on D'Antoni teams. Nash usually played with Raja Bell as his shooting guard, Felton played next to Landry Fields, and Lin played next to Iman Shumpert. D'Antoni prefers his wings to be role players and finishers, especially from behind the arc. When D'Antoni had the talented Joe Johnson playing next to Nash, Johnson was able to score, but he was clearly the subordinate player. And in the case of the most talented wing that D'Antoni has ever coached, Carmelo Anthony had lots of friction whenever D'Antoni had a point guard to run the offense through. Remember how awkward it was when Melo came back from injury last year and ran head on into Linsanity?

So, with that in mind, I'm fascinated to see how D'Antoni uses Nash and Kobe. Personality-wise I think that Nash would be more willing to subsume himself for the sake of the team than Kobe, so I think there would have been less friction had they gone the Phil Jackson root.

But for D'Antoni's system to be maximized, Nash HAS to run the ship. Can D'Antoni modify his system so that Kobe can have more responsibility? Would Kobe be willing to defer? If Nash were to lead the Lakers to the No. 1 offense in the NBA with Kobe in more of a subordinate role, would he be able to stand it? If it were 28-year-old Kobe, the answer would obviously be no. But 34-year-old Kobe? We'll see.

In fact, that's my motto for the Lakers moving forward: We'll see. Will the Lakers win the title? We'll see. Will the Lakers implode? We'll see. What is going to happen from here?

We'll see.

About the only thing that I am confident in is that, fantasy-wise, the swap from Mike Brown to Mike D'Antoni is golden for owners of Lakers. The pace will pick up, there will be more offense to go around, and if Kobe and Nash can co-exist, everyone could really work out. Upon the news that D'Antoni had been hired, I immediately moved all four of the main Lakers up in the RotoWire cheat sheet. Hiring Phil Jackson might have been the smarter thing for the team to do ... but hiring D'Antoni is certainly more fun to watch, especially as a fantasy owner. Let the show begin!

Around the League

Duncan on top: I've been tracking the Yahoo! player rankings, and a familiar face has been up near the top of the rankings for awhile now: Groundhog Day Tim Duncan. Duncan may be 36 years old, but he's flirting with 20 and 10 with four combined steals and blocks and even shooting a very respectable 75 percent from the line on the season. Will that continue? I have to guess ‘no', because the season is so long and the Spurs are so good at getting their older players to pace themselves. Nevertheless, it's been fun watching the old man prove that he's still got it.

Bynum out even longer: I've had debates for years about whether Andrew Bynum was on the verge of superstardom. His talent has been evident for a long time, and he just keeps getting better on the court ... when he's on the court. Therein lies the problem. Before last season, Bynum showed a knack for missing significant chunks of time every year, and his first act upon becoming the franchise player in Philly was to reprise that old injured role. It is now projected that he's out until at least January while his knee recovers, but even that isn't a sure thing in my eyes. I'm putting Bynum in Eric Gordon territory right now ... if I have him, I'm hoping for the best, but I'm quietly hoping that someone else will fall in love with his talent and make me a good offer for him because I just don't trust him to be there when I need him.

Varejao the superstar?: Anderson Varejao has to be addressed, because he just won't stop pushing the "video game button". I mentioned him in this space after he went for 23 boards and 9 assists in the season opener. I didn't mention him in the next week, despite him putting up back-to-back 20-and-17 and 15-and-15 double-doubles. But after the 35 and 18 that he dropped on Brooklyn the other night the question has to be asked: Is he for real this year? I had a discussion on the radio today (RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210 ) about Varejao, and pointed out that while he's always been an NBA role player, he has been a star for his Brazillian team for the past decade. Perhaps he always had some semblance of these skills but just never had the opportunity to show it before? I don't know. I'm not willing to commit to him maintaining his top-10 overall slot in the Yahoo! player rankings that he currently occupies, but I do think that he could average a REAL double-double this year ... not just 10 and 10, but teen and teen. I could see him averaging, say, 14 and 13 on the season with an excellent field goal percentage and sneaky contributions to steals and assists. I think this makes him a roto mainstay, but I'm not willing to go superstar yet. Of course, if he pushes the video game button a few more times in the next few weeks, I reserve the right to change my mind.

LeBron/Wade roles permanent?: Last season in the playoffs, Dwyane Wade was hobbling a bit so LeBron James stepped to the forefront and turned the Heat's Big Three into LeBron's Gang. This led to a championship. There was some thought that once Wade recovered this season that they would revert back to their roles from years past. Instead, with the caveat that Wade has still been limping a bit, it appears that the new roles from last year's playoffs have become permanent. LeBron is the one at the forefront now, pushing Wade back into more of a secondary role. While good for LeBron and the Heat team, if these new roles stick all year, it could spell the end of Wade's run as a top-20 roto option.

Jazz playing 3 bigs at once: I was watching the Celtics and Jazz play the other night, and at some point it struck me that somehow Paul Pierce kept ending up guarding Paul Millsap. I couldn't figure it out at first, as I though they must be running some kind of pick action that was causing the defensive switch. Then it hit me: the Jazz had three bigs on the court at the same time. Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors were playing center and power forward, which left Millsap running at small forward. And the kicker was that it was effective, as Millsap was able to operate comfortably from the face up and also did a solid defensive job on Pierce and Jeff Green. If this three-bigs arrangement sticks, it could be the answer to the logjam of bigs in Utah. Jefferson, Millsap, Favors, and even Enes Kanter are all good enough to start on most teams ... putting three of them on the court at once for stretches might yield enough minutes for Big Al and Millsap to stay elite while Favors and Kanter edge further into relevance.

Smith struggling as the man: 36.8 percent from line? Josh Smith has become the offensive focal point for the Hawks with Joe Johnson now in Brooklyn, and so far, it appears that Smith is feeling the strain. His shooting from the field has fallen through the floor at 39.4 percent, but his shooting from the line has fallen off a cliff at 36.8 percent. The only saving grace is that Smith hasn't been getting to the line that often this year, but still ... 36.8 percent? Smith is obviously going to warm up a bit as the season goes along, but keep an eye on this because he's had years of shooting in the upper 50s and low 60s from the line in the past. If you factor in his increased stress and difficulty getting good shots from the field, he could legitimately average career lows in both shooting percentages this year.

Love targeting early December return: Someone tweeted me (@ProfessorDrz) last week to ask when Kevin Love was planning to return, and at the time, I told him that there was no official update but that Love himself had re-tweeted someone saying that he was out until December. A few days later, it was announced officially that Love is targeting an early-December return, with hopes to begin shooting as soon as next week. It's unlikely that you can talk whoever drafted Love into a trade since they already feel like they've been waiting on him, but if you think you can, your window to do so is probably only open for another two to three weeks.

Cousins' suspension thoughts: I've been high on DeMarcus Cousins all offseason, and he still occupies a high ranking in the RotoWire Cheat Sheet. That said ... his temper still scares me. He seemed to turn it around last season after a series of team run-ins led to his suspension (and the coach's firing), but this latest run-in in which he confronted retired Spurs player turned announcer Sean Elliott ... it re-raises red flags. I don't advocate a fire sale on Cousins just because he's a hothead, but BECAUSE he's a hot head there's always the chance that he flies off the handle one too many times or takes it just too far and ends up in a longer suspension at the wrong time. I'm not punting him because his talent is too strong, but I might quietly see if I could trade him for value once he gets back on the court.

AK47 reload?: In this space a few weeks ago, I predicted that Andrei Kirilenko would be strong for the Timberwolves early in the year, and so far so good on that front. His scoring and rebounding are great, but both are likely to drop when Love returns next month. But what gives him the chance at staying power are the combined 3.6 blocks and steals that he is currently averaging, numbers that he hasn't matched for a season since he was a roto stud in the mid 2000s. Love's presence shouldn't hinder Kirilenko's defense, so if he can maintain this pace, Kirilenko will very quickly find himself back among the regular roto starters.

New Additions

Chandler Parsons (48 percent owned in Yahoo! Leagues): For those that follow me on Twitter (@ProfessorDrz), you already heard my story about drafting Parsons in my keeper league. The moral to the story is that Parsons is the kind of jack-of-all-trades that does well in fantasy, he's considered one of the young leaders of the team in Houston, he showed signs of strength in the advanced stats last season, and my colleague Chris Liss, whom covers the Rockets for RotoWire, absolutely loves the guy.

Jason Thompson (39 percent owned): Thompson is a bit of a low-upside, high-floor player at this stage in his career. He doesn't block enough shots or score in volume enough to be a roto impact player, but he's going to give you close to a double-double in points and rebounds every game with reasonable percentages and defensive stats, and he is playing a definite role on the Kings.

Tristan Thompson (24 percent owned): Thompson was the "other" top-5 draft pick for the Cavs last year, and doesn't have nearly the star power of Kyrie Irving. Nevertheless, he's a young big man putting up close to a double-double now and still has some degree of upside just by dint of being so young.

Tayshaun Prince (23 percent owned): Blast from the past, Prince has been very solid for the young Pistons this year. He is now the wily old vet, and is still a threat to give you a 3-pointer, block, and steal per game.

Kyle Korver (20 percent owned): I often cite comedian Richard Pryor's joke about boxer Leon Spinks, that he only had one skill in life ... he knocked people out. Well, Korver is the basketball version of Spinks: his only skill is to make the 3-pointer. But he does that very well, and he seems to be slotting himself into near starter's minutes just to shoot 3-pointers in Atlanta this year.

Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.
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