Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. Everyone has them when things don't go their way. If we fail to produce the required product by the expected date, it is human nature to provide an excuse and request a little more time. Whether it is a project at work or an assignment at school, we have all done it. Mike Brown wanted nothing more from management than a few more weeks to prove that his system would work. He had many legitimate excuses to fall back on: Dwight Howard was returning from back surgery, Steve Nash got injured in the second game, the starters only played 30 minutes of preseason basketball together, they were learning a new offensive system, and it was only five games. Every one of these excuses were legit and most were out of Brown's control. One, however, was not, and it was the biggest one. Mike Brown should have had more than five games to prove himself. Blame for not being given more time should land solely at his own feet.
When news broke that Mike Brown was fired, talking heads and other players jumped in and said that he didn't get a "fair shake". Yes the Lakers had won only one of five games, but it was only five games. I won't argue whether five games was or wasn't enough to make a decision because knowledgeable minds can disagree. What is probably agreed upon by everyone is that if the Lakers' record was 2-3, or better yet 3-2, Brown would still be sitting at the head of the bench. Just one more win would likely have bought enough time to complete the upcoming stretch of home games against relatively mediocre teams. If the Lakers were to emerge with a winning record Brown would no longer be in the hot seat. The difference between 1-4 and 2-3 was the difference between still being a coach or not, and the reason the Lakers weren't 2-3 (or better) was because of Mike Brown's rotations.
Mike Brown's rotations often left fans puzzled and scratching their heads. Whether it be the insistence that Antawn Jamison is small forward (he's not) or that Metta World Peace is a shooting guard (he's never been), he seemed determine to throw together some odd line-up that every basketball pundit would consider to be a failure. When they went down in flames, the answer wasn't to try something more conventional, but instead to double down and commit to giving said line-up more time. This strategy ultimate did in Mike Brown.
Let's break the Lakers line-ups into four distinct groups: Starters, Bench, Blowouts, and Mike Brown Specialties. The "Starters" consist of Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, and any of the Lakers four point guards. "Blowouts" consist of any line-up featuring the likes of Robert Sacre, Earl Clark, or Darius Johnson-Odom as these three players should never see the floor unless the result of the game is no longer in doubt. "Mike Brown Specialties" consist of the head scratching line-ups in which either Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol is paired with Jordan Hill and two small forwards from the group of World Peace, Jamison, or Devin Ebanks, plus one of the Lakers points guards. Finally the "Bench" group consists of any other rotation which features any normal line-up of bench players.
Take solace Lakers fans, line-ups featuring the starters are good, very good. The starting line-ups have an offensive rating of 110.7, just barely below last year's best offense in San Antonio (110.9). The 96.0 defensive rating is better than last season's best defense in Boston (98.2). Only a handful of line-ups last season played at least as many minutes as these line-ups have while being as efficient. These results are in spite of Howard recovering, Steve Blake at the helm the majority of the time, and a brand new offensive system to worry about. That sound you hear is the rest of the NBA trembling in fear. This team is good. Scary good.
This may come as a surprise to many but the Lakers bench is not bad. In fact, they are actually somewhat respectable. The actual bench players may not put up as many points as other teams' benches but they don't need to. They simply need to complement the few all-star caliber starters they share the floor with. So far these "bench" line-ups have not only held their own, they have actually outscored the opposition by nearly 9.3 points per 100 possessions, primarily because the offense has stayed at the same high level as the starters.
The results of these line-ups is not a surprise. When the Lakers put out their third string roster, they are no longer competing. It shouldn't matter in blowouts because the game ought not be in doubt when these guys take the floor.
Mike Brown Specialties:
Finally, we have the Mike Brown Specialties. If the "Blowout" group represents the line-ups that should never see the floor during a close game, these represent the line-ups that should never see the floor period. They don't make sense on paper and the performance backs it up. Who would have guessed that a roster with no shooters and no real shot creators wouldn't work offensively? Who would have guessed that playing one of our slower small forwards at the shooting guard position wouldn't lead to defensive breakdowns? Everyone other than Mike Brown apparently knew this. It is tough to comprehend a line-up featuring either Howard or Gasol being outscored by 32 points in only 25 minutes of game time but that is reality. Basketball is a game of player combinations, match-ups, and systems. These line-ups are the culmination of screwing up all three pieces.
So let's combine these four groups into two units; line-ups that most coaches would play (Starters and Bench) and line-ups that most coaches wouldn't touch unless they needed to shave 10 points in a hurry to cover a $10,000 bet (Blowouts and Mike Brown Specialties).
Starters and Bench:
This is what puts a smile on Mike D'Antoni's face. These are the line-ups that coaches other than Mike Brown would play the entire game while the game is competitive. These line-ups have played nearly 300 minutes and have outscored the opposition by 12.4 points per 48 minutes. For comparison's sake, the 72-win Bulls team outscored their opponents by 12.3 points per game. Yes, this team has all the potential to be as good as that Bulls team. So why aren't they?
Mike Brown Specialties and Blowouts:
It is difficult to digest just how bad these line-ups have performed. These line-ups have played 40 minutes and have been outscored by 47 points. It should be clear why these rosters should not see the floor. They can't serve as any sort of stop-gap rotation to even get through a short stint without significantly impairing the team's ability to win.
And therein lies Mike Brown's problem. The Lakers lost to Portland by 10 points. The Starters and Bench were +2, the Mike Brown Specialties and Blowouts (which were played in the 3rd quarter) were -12 in less than five minutes of action. The Lakers lost to Utah by nine points. The Starters and Bench were +4. Mike Brown Specialties were -13 in 11 minutes. Both of those losses saw the Lakes put together enough of game to win if not for Mike Brown shooting a giant shotgun-sized hole in the Lakers' foot with his rotation decisions.
It's unfortunate for Brown that he didn't get more than five games to prove himself, especially since the underlying statistics around line-ups shows this Lakers team has actually played at a fairly elite level, even if it doesn't seem like it. Had Brown not played indefensible rotations, the Lakers would likely be 5-2 right now and he wouldn't be unemployed. Instead D'Antoni will take over a team where avoiding the aforementioned line-ups results in a true contender with little to no effort. Brown lost out on the opportunity of a lifetime, primarily because he felt that Jamison and World Peace make a good small forward and shooting guard combination.
To Mike D'Antoni, here are the keys to the Ferrari. Please don't drive it head on into a telephone pole like the last coach did.
*All stats from www.basketball-reference.com