As might be apparent at this juncture, this is quite possibly one of the worst Lakers seasons ever should we go by the team's record. With only three teams in the league that are currently worse than the Lakers, it is hard to argue with that statement, especially given how distinguished a history the franchise has. As a result, one might think that it is unsurprising that some would call for the job of Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, who has overseen this descent from respectability into the depths of the Western Conference. However, the case can legitimately be made for Mike D'Antoni to stay. When it comes down to it, several of the complaints hoisted against him just don't make sense.
The first issue is that many people blatantly ignore the fact that the roster he's been given is terrible. Needless to say, it isn't easy coaching a team full of injured players coming in and out of the lineup, guys on the brink of being out of the league, former D-Leaguers, and prospects who aren't quite ready to be starters. Really, let's break it down: Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre were late second rounders no one expected to contribute this season; Xavier Henry and Shawne Williams were on their way out of the league; Kendall Marshall and a handful of Manny Harris games were picked off the D-League scrap heap; and, of course, Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and Nick Young have all missed significant time this year with injury.
So, what exactly is D'Antoni to do with a roster on which Wesley Johnson and Jodie Meeks lead the team in minutes? Not much, to say the least. As bad as this team is, they have definitely overachieved over the course of the season. The Lakers should be awful on the offensive side of the ball, given the guys who are currently getting minutes, but D'Antoni has made them somewhat respectable. This, in and of itself, should make the doubters rethink their arguments. One of the main reasons is the team's three-point shooting. The Lake Show is third in three point percentage (38.3 percent) and the two teams ahead of them in the Spurs and Wizards both shoot four less threes per game. Three-point attempts account for 29.4 percent of all shots for the team. It's safe to say shooting behind the arc has really helped D'Antoni's offense.
There is another key element to the offense: assists. Presently, the Lakers average the fourth most assists per game, thanks to Kendall Marshall. When Blake and Kobe played, they averaged 7.6 and 6.3 assists per game, both would be career highs. 62.9 percent of all Lakers field goal makes are assisted, which is good for third best in the league. The only guys who can create their own shot would be Gasol, Young, Kobe, and Nash, but seeing as Gasol is the only one playing, assists have been a huge factor. Furthermore, the team needs to buy into what D'Antoni is coaching to make the offense run, and it seems the players are listening. It's an easy choice for most because this is their chance to prove they belong, and they have the perfect stage for it. It's quite incredible how well the offense has been doing when you consider that Meeks, Swaggy P, and Pau Gasol are leading the way in scoring.
To put it simply, D'Antoni deserves a ton of credit for how well the offense is run despite the limitations he has before him. We can see this in the simple fact that nearly every player on the roster is having a career year. Observe the following increase in PER for various members of the roster:
|Player||'12-'13 PER||'13-'14 PER|
Of course, most aren't really criticizing D'Antoni for how he's structured the offense. Unsurprisingly, the most commonly used argument against D'Antoni has been the state of this team's defense. As bad as the Lakers' defense has been, however, this isn't exactly an argument that takes context into account, considering that the best defender on the team is arguably Robert Sacre. That's just sad. One can point to only the Pelicans, Jazz, Bucks, and 76ers having worse defensive efficiency marks, but it's really hard to complain much about it given the personnel available. Gasol has been atrocious on defense, and the Lakers are only averaging seven steals a game -- good for fifth worst in the league. With all the injuries and a lack of above average defenders, there's really not a whole lot to expect from this defense.
There are legitimate arguments to be made within the context of attacks on MDA in this regard though, namely in reference to the team's rebounding. With players like Gasol and Jordan Hill on the roster, the Lakers should not be getting killed on the boards every night. They have the second worst ORB% in the league, only ahead of the Heat. With one of the best offensive rebounders in the league in Hill, there has to be some way to improve the rebounding. D'Antoni's system involves playing a stretch four, and that ends up being a smaller player. Having smaller players isn't really something that would help the rebounding numbers go up. The younger big men -- Kelly and Sacre -- aren't the greatest rebounders to ever play the game, either. Los Angeles is giving up almost 100 more second chance points than the second worst team. Although the Lakers are struggling with rebounding, contenders such as the Nets, Heat, Hawks, and Mavericks are also in the bottom seven in TRB%, and they are still finding ways to win ballgames. Again, MDA doesn't have a whole lot to work with, so the struggles aren't a big surprise.
Lastly, there have been times this year during which D'Antoni has had issues managing the roster in his rotations. Although there have been a ton of injuries, D'Antoni's rotations have been highly inconsistent. This has been a result of the injuries and MDA having to adjust his rotation regularly due to players coming in and out of the organization. Jordan Hill has often found himself in the doghouse for unknown reasons, Sacre has had trouble getting minutes at times, as well, even though it is important for him to get as much playing time as possible. However, we have seen D'Antoni go with the hot hand, not only this season, but also in New York. Nonetheless, with the season essentially over, it is best to let the younger guys get some experience.
It has been a very depressing season and fans are understandably going to look for someone to blame, but Mike D'Antoni is not that guy. Blaming the coach simply isn't justifiable in this case. He's really helped some of the guys develop, and the offense has been pretty good given the limitations of the roster. The Lakers probably won't be very good again next year depending on what they do in free agency, but with a draft pick and some free agents brought in to play in D'Antoni's scheme, the team can be a lot better. In short, find someone else to blame, Lakers fans.