Editor's note: Throughout the 2012-13 NBA season we'll be asking our colleagues at The Heat Index to weigh in on the progress of the Lakers' newly minted super group. This week, Tom Haberstroh wonders whether Mike D'Antoni's style for the Lakers doesn't play right into Miami's hands.
Man, one week can change everything, huh?
Just last week in this space, we were talking about how Mike Brown’s defense would make or break his chances at retaining his Lakers job. Well, apparently the Lakers had seen enough.
Sometime this weekend, little more than one week later, Mike D’Antoni will make his Los Angeles Lakers head-coaching debut. And you can be sure that one team in particular will be watching extra closely: the Miami Heat.
In fact, the Heat will likely be taking notes to see how a potential Finals opponent evolves under its new playcaller on the sidelines.
To be sure, Erik Spoelstra and the Heat have seen plenty of D’Antoni’s offense in action. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh got a firsthand glimpse of D’Antoni’s capabilities when they played on the 2008 Olympic team when D’Antoni was the assistant coach, and the Heat’s trio had a 4-2 record against D’Antoni when he was leading the way for the Knicks.
But that was then and this is now. The Lakers’ star-studded personnel would present a whole new batch of challenges for the Heat in a potential Finals showdown.
Namely, the pick-and-roll will be maximized with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, a pick-and-roll tandem practically built in a basketball lab. Brown had little interest in making this the focal point of the offense. He even joked that the D’Antoni-led Suns never won any titles running it -- never mind Brown has never won a title as head coach, either.
The Lakers emphasizing the pick-and-roll could be a terrifying prospect for the Heat because, when healthy, the Nash and Howard combination could be virtually unstoppable. But it’s the rest of the players on the court who will make it easier for the Heat to play defense. You can watch D’Antoni himself describe how simple and “unguardable” the pick-and-roll can be when it’s executed to perfection.
Here’s the key: the Lakers might not have the personnel to execute it to perfection. That is, if they plan on surrounding Nash and Howard with Metta World Peace, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Which they will.
It might play right into the Heat’s hands in some areas, especially when it comes to Gasol.
Sending the 7-foot Gasol to the corner could mitigate the Lakers’ size advantage over Shane Battier in the paint. If you want to hit the Heat where it hurts, putting Gasol on Battier in the post would accomplish that. But if you send Gasol into the corner, Battier can shade off of Gasol and help out in the pick-and-roll defense without worrying about Gasol.
Remember, Gasol is a career 23 percent 3-point shooter and hasn’t made more than one 3-pointer in four of his past five seasons. As a side note, isn’t it almost a given that a player with Gasol’s shot will make two 3s just by accident?
Gasol could be the X factor against the Heat, but it’s a big question mark how he’ll be used in D’Antoni’s offense. Let’s just say sticking Gasol 25 feet from the basket would make the Heat very happy.
You might ask, how do the Heat generally do in the pick-and-roll? Incredibly well. Another reason D’Antoni’s offense plays right into the hands of the Heat. Last season, Miami ranked second in the league guarding the pick-and-roll ball handler (Nash in the Lakers' case) and fourth in the league when guarding the roll man (Howard), according to Synergy Sports.
It’s all because of Joel Anthony, one of the league’s best pick-and-roll blitzers. Interestingly enough, Anthony hasn’t been able to crack the Heat’s rotation this season, as the Heat have gone all-in with shooters surrounding the Big Three. Anthony? Not a shooter. Not even from 5 feet.
For the Heat, Anthony would be key against the Lakers in any matchup, regular season or postseason. Few players can blow up a pick-and-roll as effectively as Anthony, and he’ll be needed to thwart Nash’s attack. Putting him out on the floor, however, will make the Heat immensely easier to guard. Howard can’t clean up everyone’s mistakes, but with Anthony’s stone hands, Howard won’t sweat it if he has to leave and rescue his perimeter defenders. It’s a classic give-and-take scenario.
It will be a fascinating clash of styles. The Heat will want to go “small” with Battier and spread the floor, but can they get away with Battier guarding Gasol? Can they get away with Bosh defending the pick-and-rolls instead of Anthony? Wouldn’t the Heat rather send the 6-11 Bosh to guard Gasol in the corner so that Bosh can help intercept potential lobs to the paint?
All legitimate questions for Spoelstra and Pat Riley to ponder before the Heat and Lakers first face off on Jan. 17 in a potential Finals preview. In the end, D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll offense will be a scary affair solely because of Howard and Nash. But the Heat have been able to defend it in the past and the Lakers may be leaving money on the table if they don’t surround Howard and Nash with 3-point shooters.