- Created on Sunday, 20 January 2013 16:57
- Last Updated on Thursday, 16 May 2013 07:51
- Written by Jeff Noital
For a few years, the Phoenix Suns were known as a fast paced team looking to score in 7 seconds or less each possession. While those days are long gone, there's been a reunion between the two main catalysts of that era with the Los Angeles Lakers. Mike D'Antoni and Steve Nash were close in Phoenix and are looking to make the same magic with a lost Los Angeles Lakers team. When the Lakers fired Mike Brown and gave D'Antoni the head coaching job, it was supposed to be a team that could score at will. They necessarily wouldn't be like the Suns of old but maybe a mix of them and the Showtime Lakers. Instead, their fans have been treated to a team still searching for answers. On the other side of the Western Conference, there's the San Antonio Spurs. They're throwing in a similar mix of the old Suns style, but with not such an erratic pace and looking for quicker ways to get high percentage shots over just getting shots up. The core for both teams are about the same age with the Lakers having far better talent in their starting unit mixed with great players and former All-Stars.
When Nash was injured, announcers and bloggers kept emphasizing the Lakers would get better with more offense. Nash is back and they have more offense, the problem is the same: they're losing. They're out of sync and it's not getting better for them. To find out what's wrong with the Lakers, you have to find what's right with the Spurs. Why are the Spurs succeeding while the Lakers are quickly falling in the ranks of the conference?
Both teams are scoring enough. The Spurs are ranked 3rd in points forced while the Lakers are 4th. Both teams have point guards who can pass, score, and are great at decision making. The Spurs are with a less dominant Tim Duncan in the paint while the Lakers have the versatile Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard (who may or may not be 100% from his back just yet). While Howard is not as dominate as he should be, he's still rebounding (12.7rpg) and scoring (17.7ppg). The teams have three point shooters and defensive minded bigs. While they have a similar makeup, they have one huge difference between them: Kobe Bryant. He's having an incredible year averaging 29.7ppg and 4.7apg. His shooting percentages are at a career high: 36% for three point shots and 47% for his overall shooting percentage.
While these statistics are very good, they're not for a Mike D'Antoni system. A Kobe Bryant isn't meant for the system and it doesn't matter how well he does. This is where the "Kobe Factor" plays in. When D'Antoni coached the Suns, Steve Nash always had the ball in his hands while on the court. He was the creator and distributor for the other players, all the plays went through him. With a Kobe Bryant on the team, the ball is now out of Nash's hands. There's one thing that's for sure: when Nash has the ball, the other players know if they're open they'll get the ball. That's not the same with Bryant. If you don't believe Kobe's touches effect the pace and rhythm, check this statistic out:
Kobe Bryant is averaging 21.9 field goal attempts per game. The highest average of shot attempts in a D'Antoni coached Phoenix Suns team was by Shawn Marion in 2005-2006 at 16.9 attempts per game.
With Marion, the pace didn't slow down and D'Antoni didn't even call plays for him either. He was a guy who'd cut to the basket or move around to get an open shot, the same can't be said for Bryant. The shot attempts and lack of rhythm is what makes this Lakers team ineffective. The Lakers' coach doesn't stress defense and just focuses on offense. If a team is lopsided in one area, where's the motivation for other players to get involved? This is the statistic that separates the Lakers and Spurs. When announcers and bloggers said it's "more offense that's needed", they're wrong or framing it wrong. Here's the stat that separates the teams and their chemistry:
The Lakers rank 13th in assists per game while the Spurs rank 1st.
That's the major difference. Everyone is sharing the ball, everyone is looking to get open, and (if you watch the Spurs) the team is looking to defend. The highest attempts per game to Tony Parker with 15 field goal attempts per game. Steve Nash can average all the number of assists he can, but assists by a single player doesn't reveal how much actual ball movement there is from a team. If you were to compare the stats for both teams, you have to remember that the stats are spread out for the Spurs with their depth. The Lakers are basically going with a traditional D'Antoni 7-8 rotation while the Spurs typically play the majority of their roster. Instead of comparing stats because the minutes and games played for each player varies on both sides, think about this instead: how many players on both teams can get the ball and create for others? The Lakers probably have 3 (Nash, Bryant, Howard) while the Spurs have more (Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Stephen Jackson, Nando De Colo, Patty Mills, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, etc.). The difference between that is what makes the Spurs a better running team than the Lakers.
Until the Lakers creep up on the Spurs in the the most important statistic of team assists per game, they can't be successful with a coach who wants ball movement. Kobe's a great scorer on his own, but D'Antoni's never had that nor needed it. He always had Nash and good players for him to help create shots and get everyone involved. That's not what Bryant brings to the table and that's what's hurting the team. The Spurs are bringing exactly what D'Antoni needs from his team with no egos or bickering about shots......and a little defense on the side too.