The Breakdown: D’Antoni Channels Mike Brown

Darius Soriano —  December 6, 2012

One of the enduring critiques of Mike D’Antoni’s coaching career is that he’s not very adaptive to his personnel. He’s seen as a spread pick and roll devotee, and those players who don’t fit into that model aren’t very useful. While I don’t fully accept the premise of this critique, it’s also not completely off base.

Early in his tenure with the Lakers, you can already start to see why this perception exists. Pau Gasol has struggled to find his stride as a mostly stretch-y power forward while Kobe has mostly been asked to play the role of a pick and roll practitioner on the majority of the Lakers offensive sets. These aren’t necessarily the round peg, square hole fits that would lead to outright questioning of how to deploy these players. But they are sort of round peg, oval hole fits where you’d hope more diversity could be employed in order to better maximize the roles of the players he has at his disposal.

In recent games, we’ve started to see some of that diversity. Rather than only employing the spread P&R to initiate their sets, the Lakers have started to run more direct post ups for Dwight Howard and more pin down and off ball screen actions to free Kobe for open jumpers. And, interestingly enough, they’ve also started to run an action that looks very much like it was lifted from the Mike Brown sets the Lakers ran from the past two seasons, but with a little D’Antoni twist to still incorporate the P&R.

Below is a set from the Lakers’ win over the Nuggets. The alignment should look familiar as it’s essentially a Princeton looking set with the point guard high on the floor, Dwight Howard at the elbow, and Kobe on the left wing:

The set begins with Chris Duhon entering the ball into Dwight at the elbow and then moving to the left wing to set a pick for Kobe. However, rather than using the screen, Kobe cuts back door in a manner consistent with the Princeton (or Rick Adelman’s Corner offense). When Kobe cuts to the baseline side, he circle cuts up the right lane line and comes off Dwight’s shoulder to receive a hand-off. After getting the ball, the defense is concerned about protecting the paint and yields an 8 foot floater to Kobe. The shot doesn’t fall, but the execution is there. Kobe has essentially got one of the more efficient shots he can take in an offense.

Against the Hornets, the Lakers ran this same exact set but with entirely different personnel. Here you see the bench unit execute the play again:

This play starts with Darius Morris as the PG, Jodie Meeks on the left wing, and Jordan Hill at the left elbow. The same action proceeds as in the first clip. Morris enters to Hill at the elbow, goes to set a screen for Meeks, and then Meeks moves away from the screen to cut back door. Meeks then circles to the top, takes a hand off from Hill, and comes off his shoulder to attack the paint. However, instead of pulling up, Meeks drops off a pass to Hill who gathers the pass but misses the shot at the rim. Again, this play wasn’t successful but the team got as good a look as they could expect out of this action.

The mix of Princeton principles with D’Antoni’s emphasis on creating P&R actions is a nice wrinkle for this group of players. This type of action puts players in positions to run more traditional actions that threaten the defense. It allows a player like Kobe (or Meeks) to work off the ball initially while working back into the fray to set up a good shot. This action could be run with Gasol in place of Howard and presents a variety of options that can be spun into other good looks (after the SG cuts back door, there’s a sideline P&R just waiting to develop between the PG and the C while the SG circles back to the top of the key as an outlet).

When the Lakers have their full roster available to them I can only imagine we’ll see even more variety in their offense. Steve Nash will be integral to the D’Antoni’s standard spread P&R attack and that set alone should allow the Lakers to feast on defenses multiple times a game. But it’s these types of alternative sets that feature Kobe, Howard, and, when he returns, Gasol that will sustain their offense should teams overload on the standard P&R. The fact that D’Antoni is already implementing these actions is good to see.

Darius Soriano

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to The Breakdown: D’Antoni Channels Mike Brown

  1. So – if I am understanding correctly:
    D’Antoni has a reputation for being non-adaptive and players who don’t fit his style are often not utilized to their full extent.
    He has somewhat demonstrated that with the Lakers by not using Pau to his strengths, not playing Hill much, and making Kobe go to the PnR.
    We were told after his hiring that he “fit the Laker personnel” better than any alternative.
    And he is now emulating facets of the Mike Brown offense.

    I will spare you my opinion on all of this, and just let you all digest those facts on your own.


  2. your right they do have some mike brown in them


  3. Robert most of the media has either been lieing to us(except Darius of course) or know little about team basketball. They predicted Lakers would be in the finals and some suggested 70 wins. Lakers own announcer Thompson said 17 and 3 first 20.

    Again this is a 5th or 6th seed. Very easy to scout, foul Dwight, double Kobe, push around Pau and run like crazy on them all. This team lacks defense rotations, can’t stop offensive rebounds and is still slow
    and a bit old. They have a much better chance in the playoffs but will finish around 50 wins.

    As for Mike, he is what he is. Nash is his identity and without he is searching like in New York.


  4. I love these breakdowns.

    I am still disappointed that Phil is not the coach, but it is encouraging to see DAntoni utilize aspects of the Princeton, as well as taking advantage of Dwight in the post. I guess Eddie Jordan was kept on the staff for a reason. When Jordan was hired, we all envisioned a Princeton/P&R hybrid offense, and we might actually get one under DAntoni, albeit a P&R heavy hybrid. Lets hope DAntoni continues to be flexible to better fit this roster.


  5. Agreed, Mitchell. I too wonder how much of this we can attribute to Eddie Jordan. He seems to be the only common link between the two here, being that he was of course supposed to be the Lakers’ offensive guru prior to the arrival of the D’Antoni brothers. I don’t think a P&R/Princeton offense was ever a bad idea either, though I think we can all agree the way Mike Brown went about was probably not as “big picture” as he would have had us believe.

    D’Antoni, for what it’s worth, is taking a different tack entirely. He has previously said he will not be teaching most of his offense until Nash is able to participate in contact practices, and if you’re looking for a reason why certain players look to be mis-used now, it could very well be due to the fact that he’s got them in a holding pattern.


  6. We were told after his hiring that he “fit the Laker personnel” better than any alternative.


    I know you wanted Phil, but you need to take a step back here, buddy, and deal with all the facts. Four words: Steve Nash; Dwight Howard. Nash could play in the Triangle, but he is not a Triangle PG–he dribbles all the time. As was detailed in preseason, Nash and Howard have the best % in the biz in terms of P/R conversion rates independently; putting them together in the MDA system, as opposed to the Princeton, should, in theory, be synergistic to the extreme.

    The problem is that Hill and Gasol are not SSOL bigs. Hill can’t shoot, and Gasol is slow and is a Triangle player. MDA is not adapting there, and should be called out for that. But I think it is likely that Phil would have had the same issues with Nash, and with Jamison. Jamison doesn’t play enough D to get much burn on a Phil team. Also, MDA is getting more out of Meeks and Jamison than Brown did.

    Like I have said: the season, and perhaps whether Howard stays, now both depend on Nash. Hiring D’Antoni and not upgrading from Blake, Morris, and Duhon put the franchise in Nash’s hands.

    I think Aaron is right about Pau, and I do not believe that these offers are on the table. However, if that Minnesota deal is actually offered, the Lakers should take it.


  7. The problem I have with “some” MD supporters (not you rr) is that if we won, then it was a genius decision, and if we lose then they say – well we would have lost with Phil anyway. That wasn’t true with Doug Collins and Phil, Wasn’t true with Del Harris and Phil either. I like to own up to mistakes. So I thought this was a championship roster – and it may not be (Nash and D’Antoni coming around is my last hope). I also thought DH was a franchise saving maneuver. Could be wrong there as well – and I am hoping he will get to 100% and sign an extension. I could have been wrong on Phil too – but if we had signed him and we were under 500 -trust me – I would be questioning that too. I wouldn’t make one of these can’t be wrong decisions – let’s hire a coach and take credit if he wins and then spin the story if he loses. In sports there are winners and losers and right now we are below 500.

    rr: Question: Do we still have a real chance if we get a few breaks? Real defined as top 3 heading into the playoffs.


  8. Great breakdown, as always. The game always seems a little simpler each time the FB&G writers break it down.

    Rob – I know you wanted Phil, but that’s not the best argument to stand on. Phil was very much a system coach that brought in players to fit his system – perhaps even more so than D’Antoni. Whether he would have suited the current personnel better is debatable.

    We’re all talking about utilizing Pau “correctly” and levying criticisms at the coaching staff (both this one and the previous one). This has some merit. But we should also consider that some players – regardless of coaching adaptions – just cannot mesh perfectly and bring the best out of each other. When Phil was here, we spent a great deal of time critiquing how Bynum and Pau seemed to stunt each other’s game when they shared the court. Phil had an enormous advantage that MB and MDA don’t: a peak condition Swiss-Army-knife of a player in Odom. While many called for Bynum to close games, Phil went with the Gasol-Odom combination for a reason. So it’s hard to compare coaches and truly say Phil had “figured out” the 2-center combination, when he had an ultimate weapon the other 2 coaches didn’t.

    Defensively, Howard, Bynum, and Gasol are all centers in today’s NBA. If coach after coach after coach has tried and failed to bring out the best in a certain combo, then maybe we should stop levying criticism at the coaching. Perhaps there’s a limit to what any coach can do in that situation. Perhaps there’s just an inherent flaw in a team’s personnel structure, regardless of how they seem on paper.


  9. rr

    I agree with your analysis about different players and how they would have been used or buried on the bench considering the head coaches playing style. But the complaints about how MD should use a particular player that doesnt fit his system shouldnt be directed at him, but at the FO for not making the moves to acquire players that will. You cant bake a german chocolate cake with the same ingredients you used to bake a pound cake, both are good but require different elements to make them good.I expect the FO to give MD the proper ingredients to make his reciepe for success work in due time. If that means trading Pau because he isnt comfortable on the perimeter, then finding players who are will be of high priority. The FO has made itself crystal clear that they are building a winning team around Kobe, Nash, and Dwight. These players MD will cater his offense too, the rest will have to fall in line with what is being implemented or suit up elsewhere. MD is not going to deviate from the script too far, as PJ did with the triangle when he was here. It shouldnt be used as fuel to light the fire around his style of play and the players that will make it work who arent on the roster currently. The one thing I do know is MD never had the talent of those three on his roster in PHX and he did a fine job.


  10. Hey Snoop: The day they traded Odom was the day I started posting here. Like rr said earlier about people being able to go somewhere and vent. I read this blog and said – wow – a bunch of people, who like the Lakers, who are as mad as I am : )


  11. Snoopy2006

    You stated perfectly what I was trying to say with my post, stuck in moderation.

    Odom was a shell of himself when he was traded, plus the FO bagged Nash with the money from Dallas for LO. Once Nash gets on the court under MD all will probably be forgotten.


  12. Have to hope Nash doesn’t have the offense in a holding pattern nobody’s sure when he’ll play or in basketball condition after being stationary for 5 weeks and counting. It seems Lakers are waiting for Nash’s injury to heal itself like they did with Blake. At this point it feels Nash won’t be Nash until the asb all things considered if he’s back by then. There doesn’t seem to be time where the fo can evaluate how Pau plays with Nash given all the info we’ve been given. He’s not jogging yet. The urgency to win a title is there if players can’t fit with Kobe and Dwight then maybe decisions should be based off that and system rather than 38 yr old Nash.

    Great breakdown. I guess this shows D’Antoni will alter his style for possessions. I don’t think this set can work with 2 bigs because the floor wouldn’t be properly spaced.


  13. Completely unrelated, but this is the read of the week for me:

    Edit: PG-13 language in the URL, so instead of linking here, Google “Deadspin Pelicans Are Awesome” if you’re interested. Worth the time, especially considering Bill Simmons hasn’t been funny for about 7 years now.


  14. rr: Question: Do we still have a real chance if we get a few breaks? Real defined as top 3 heading into the playoffs.

    No way to know, since it depends on Nash and Pau. I think some people on the site don’t really get how bad Chris Duhon and Darius Morris are, and how good Nash still was last year. Duhon has basically been getting credit for not embarrassing himself, but he can’t score, and he is not a particularly good passer or defender. Blake isn’t much better. Fans of other teams openly laugh at the Lakers’ PGs, and if you look around the league, it is easy to see why.

    Nash, OTOH, remains a great passer and shooter. If he plays, he will be the Lakers’ best passer, best long-range shooter, and best FT shooter, and he will be playing in the system and under the coach he loves, with the best big man and best wing player he has ever played with. Kobe dribbling less and trying to pass less, and just focusing on what he likes to do–score–will also cut down the TOs and indirectly help the D.

    Nash will not help the D directly, but as I said in September, the winning formula for this team is #1 or #2 in O and Top 10 in D.

    But as Kevin has pointed out, we don’t know when or if Nash is coming back and how good he will be if and when he does. But he is at the moment the one player who will have the greatest effect on the NBA landscape the rest of the year.

    As to Pau, as I said earlier in the week, it may simply be that the heavy minutes Phil played him, the heavy minutes Brown played him, and all the off-season ball have taken his legs. If that is not the case, and they keep him, then MDA needs to use the two-star platoon system that so many of us talked about earlier.

    If he shows enough that they can move him and they want to move him, then I think he will go to one of two places: Minnesota or Toronto. I will shoot you an email with my opinions on that.


  15. Knicks just gave the Heat a good beating in Miami without Anthony, boy they look good. We play them twice this month..


  16. Kevin

    I dont believe the FO is waiting on Nash to return in order to make a decision on Pau, thats more of a PC answer. If the right deal comes along at any time the trigger could be pulled. Pau has demonstrated throughout the years that his game is tailored for the post and when moved to the perimeter his game suffers, Snoop mentioned this above during the PJ era, LO was the spacer and Bynum sat on the bench during crunch time. Dwight is the future ,not Pau, its already hard enough to tailor an offense around three stars, now try adding a fourth who’s skillset is a duplicate of one of the main attractions. Pau’s passing ability is second to none in the league for a big man, but if he isnt comfortable spacing the floor and playing on the perimeter it’s counterproductive at this point and time.


  17. “When Phil was here, we spent a great deal of time critiquing how Bynum and Pau seemed to stunt each other’s game when they shared the court. Phil had an enormous advantage that MB and MDA don’t: a peak condition Swiss-Army-knife of a player in Odom. While many called for Bynum to close games, Phil went with the Gasol-Odom combination for a reason.”

    No more championships since Pau became the not primary C. One can add all the qualifiers that one wants to that, but does not change that reality.

    Lastly, let me add what you omitted, since in addition to loss of Lamar, at least Bynum had developed a decent jump shot, so you could conceivably make room for Pau in the post with Bynum out there in mid-range land, and that could alternate or shift according to the desired frequency for each down low. Can’t really do that now with Dwight, since Dwight simply does not have a mid-range shot that needs to be respected (if I was the other team, I’d send him a gold-plated, engraved invitation to shoot all he wants from 16 feet). And by the way, that’s one of the failings of the Pau critic crowd, as it’s all on Pau, and never on the fact that Pau has to do what he now does because of Dwight’s limitation(s) as a player. And so, in this one specific context, the integration of two bigs, Dwight is actually a step backward.


  18. thencdon: that’s a horrible rumor theb about lakers promising nash that he’ll get to play with pau. I do agree with you about the right deal but what’s out there is not it.

    slappy: great post.


  19. Slappy

    So true on Dwight’s limitations outside the post, but facts are the FO is banking on #12 being here the next 7/8 years which makes Pau dispensible if he cant compliment him. This is just a different version of Shaq/Kobe(didnt like each other), now Pau/Dwight(dont compliment each other) a new decision is to be made. FO made a long term decision back then, and I am almost positive they will do the same in this situation. Does it make it right, who knows, but I think they have spoken loud and clear by their actions last summer.


  20. Sadly the Bargnani and Calderon rumour gives a lot of sense moving forward. I hope it will not go downt though. Then I guess the Timberwolves package offers more options if it could be moved to a third team.


  21. When Pau gets back, D’antoni needs to be open to closing games with Pau at the 5 and the free throw liability on the bench. Teams ain’t gonna be hacking a Howard anymore. And just in case, you think we are wasting Superman. He should be playing some serious minutes in the first three quarters, shreading the opposition, and buliding comfortable leads.


  22. darius: it’s interesting that you find a carry over from mike brown’s intended laker offense to one that coach d is letting happen w/this current laker edition. makes perfect sense, in principle the entire offense flows from this set up as illustrated and fundamentally works when ran over and over. and to your point, allows for all players to be involved.

    we now know the nba is looking into a rules change on the intentional foul. here’s my take for what’s it’s worth: call the foul, take the ball out. no free throws whatsoever, just move on.

    also on moving on, tonite vs the thunder, should be an interesting match up in that we should get a guage on where we are as a team up to this point in the season.

    Go Lakers


  23. …and then we can bring Howard back at the 2-minute mark! Rested and ready or crunch-time destruction.


  24. I wish Pau will play tonight even if some people say he is a liability, IMO he is still a 7 footer who could help the Lakers in the post and in the free throw line. It is just a matter of setting him up on p & r or post-up iso with his left hook shot. I also don’t know why a new Coach would be perceived as a bias DNP-type of coaching putting down Laker assets, it’s time to lift up spirits, motivate the troops, inspire the leaders than imposing new world order. The latter is just purely ego centric especially if you never been in NBA Finals. With regards to PG drought in absence of the Steves, Duhon is doing a great job and Morris is still a so-so but helping too but needs to be micromanaged especially with his fondness in dribbling the ball till time expires. I wish the Asst. Coaches would supervise his movements from the back court to front court, it is just the way it is in training the 2nd year rookie as a court general.

    Well, tonight will be a great test, Lakers should prove to OKC that they can play with them squarely in the playoffs whether one is seeded one and the other as 8th seed. If Lakers can put up stability and consistency, all they need is to get to the playoffs and it would really scare any of their opponents in the 7 game series, however at this point we can only wish becaause everything is dicey depending on how they woke up this morning.


  25. Pinch: Yes – the Knicks do look good. What was the big change there from last year to this? : ) Sorry when an underhand lob comes in – I can’t resist smacking it over the fence : )
    All: Tonight’s game is huge. If we lose – yes the sun will come up tomorrow, and the Staples Center will still be there. However if you are looking for a little more than that, a rational Lakers fan might be getting ready to panic. A bad loss must be avoided.


  26. Robert,

    Very little reason to believe the Lakers have much chance to win this game tonight. The loss of Harden will, I think, hurt OKC in postseason but they are one the top teams in the league right now, along with Miami, San Antonio, and at the moment, plus New York and Memphis.

    I think your “need to be Top 3 to have a chance” meme usually applies, but this team has unusual personnel and an unusual arc, and the NBA is a different beast now than it was even ten years ago, much less 20 or 30. I would say “panic time” will come if they announce that Pau and Nash need surgery.

    The 2010 Celtics are the parallel to think about here.


  27. I think the point that Phil Jackson had the benefit of playing Pau at center down the stretch because he also had Lamar at his peak is a great one. Part of that same concept, however, is the fact that aside from limited stretches of games, until last season Pau has always been the best center on the team. For all his promise, Bynum was rarely as good as Pau at the center position until last year, which made benching him down the stretch a far easier proposition than benching Howard–who is undeniably a better center than Pau, even with Dwight’s limitations.

    A three man rotation between the C and PF positions is a lot easier when you have a starting center who is good but not great, a PF who can play C as well as anyone in the league, and a backup PF who is extremely effective. I’d argue that this was precisely what Phil had with the Lakers, and not at all what D’Antoni has today.

    Pau is not a particularly good PF, and his skills at C have diminished (maybe this is a temporary condition caused by his tendinitis) as evidenced by the fact that he gets his shot blocked 5 times in a single game by a bad defensive team, and the regularity with which opponents pound the middle the second Dwight goes to the bench.

    I have no idea if the rumor that Nash was promised an opportunity to play with Pau is true, but it isn’t far fetched to think that before signing in LA for less money he sought some kind of assurance that Pau would not be traded, since trading Pau has been a topic of discussion for over a year now….


  28. rr: I of course agree with most of what you say, but I must point out the 10 year stats to which you alluded. In the past 10 years the number of times a team has won the title from worse than the 3 seed = zero. The Celtics of 2010 were a 4 seed, but of course they did not win. In the 66 year history of the NBA, the number of times that a team has started the playoffs with worse than a 4 seed and won the NBA title = 1 and that was in a strike shortened year – 17 years ago. Many are correctly questioning our ability to make it to even the 4 seed at this point. I am merely pointing out that conceding a 5 seed or worse is in fact, almost conceding the season. I am doing nothing of the kind : ) I am still in LaLaLand (literally) and am hoping that we can turn this whole thing around. Inclusive of games like tonight. We can’t mail these in, because time is slipping away.


  29. 1/2decaf1/2regular December 7, 2012 at 10:21 am

    great to see Dwight call out Kobe for his help defense then seeing Kobe reconciling after their argument. if you go back to one year ago, help defense was not even in bynums dictionary. now we have a center who understands this concept and is holding everyone accountable.

    dwight is still only about 20 games back after being away for over a year and a half. he was also not a great FT before we acquired him so i dont get all this dwight bashing this early in the year other than the fact we are a very spoiled and impatient fanbase

    whats also going unmentioned for every FT missed is every blocked shot or attempted missed layup or even unattempted layup by opposing guard due to dwights mere intimidating presence inside. he’s altering every conceivable shot by penetrating guards and its no coincidence guys who used to burn us in the past like harden are now having off nights. and if you really miss Bynum let’s not forget we could still have him sitting in our disabled list injured reserve instead with either pau logging heavy minutes playing with those bad knees.

    so a little perspective would be nice. TGIF!


  30. Robert,

    Well, right now, the Lakers are not a serious title contender, whether one looks at history or their present state. My point is that their arc is unuusal enough, and that today’s competitive ecology different enough, that it is not impossible. But as of this minute, based on the team taking the floor tonight, they are not even “6th.”


  31. It makes sense that Nash wanted to ensure Pau would not be traded when he joined the team last summer. Unlike Bynum, Pau’s P&R game and passing skills are good fits for Nash’s game, and it’s easy to see why Nash wanted to play with a player like Pau.

    …..but even if the rumor is true, Nash signed on BEFORE the team acquired an even better P&R partner in Dwight….and before the team hired DAntoni. All bets are off now. I think the front office has no choice but to trade Pau, and like the Mike Brown firing, it would be wise to get it done ASAP.


  32. Yeah, the Knicks are tearing it up and D’Antoni is (obviously) no longer the coach there.

    Guess the players there didn’t fit his “system”; just like a certain HOF PF who helped hang two banners in LA evidently doesn’t fit his “system”. Two banners being two more than D’Antoni and his “system” currently own. I mean, D’Antoni knew the players available before he signed on to this job.

    Makes me wonder if the problem is ALL Pau.


  33. … although Pau makes an excellent scapegoat. He basically takes it with little or no protest. That’s a pretty valuable asset to have. If he’s traded, we’ll have to find another scapegoat!


  34. Reasonable people on this board can agree on two things – Pau is still a decent player and Mike D is a decent coach. If everyone was healthy and Mike D had a full training camp we wouldn’t be having much consternation about this team. Given the prep – Pau would fit in just fine and Mike D wouldve adjusted. The prob is not Gasol or Mike but the fact that when Gasol and Nash are back there will be no time for error. They will need to click quick – otherwise Pau will need to be moved instantly to get pieces that are younger and a more instantaneous fit. The 4 allstars at the top of their game would make this team ‘chip caliber – but if not – then the FO needs to get some better complementary pieces to supplement the bench and add some athleticism outside of dwight.