D'Antoni going deep with Bryant out

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
12:02
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant's absence from the court is immeasurable when it comes to the total package of the will and mental toughness he brings to the equation, but two tangible statistics help tell the story of his void that the Los Angeles Lakers are trying to fill: 38.6 minutes and 20.4 shot attempts per game. Those were Bryant's averages last season.

Nick Young has had no problem volunteering for the extra shot attempts, leading the Lakers with 80 shots through their first seven preseason games (18 more than the next closest Laker in Pau Gasol), but he also has spent most of his time playing small forward. And that's still only 11.4 shots per game for Young, about half of Bryant's total.

[+] EnlargeJordan Farmar
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesJordan Farmar says of the Lakers' deep roster and player rotation: "Everybody here is on the same page."
As for Bryant's minutes, will Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni simply spread them out to the rest of the roster?

"Yeah," D'Antoni said after L.A.'s 108-94 win over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night at Staples Center, their best showing of the preseason. "Unless somebody grabs it. That could happen. We'll just keep monitoring things. There's a lot of guys that deserve to play."

Just how many guys will actually play consistently is up in the air, but even when Bryant returns -- and especially when Bryant is out -- the Lakers look to be playing with a deep, deep bench.

How deep? D'Antoni said over the summer he would try to employ an 11-man rotation. When reminded of that statement this week, he said that 10 is more likely, although when Bryant is back in the mix there would be 11 players deserving once again.

D'Antoni also has unexpectedly had to dole out about 15 minutes per game from Steve Nash's minutes, as the 39-year-old point guard has been limited by injuries all preseason, the latest being discomfort in his neck keeping him out of the second half.

On Tuesday, D'Antoni gave 10 players 15 minutes or more of playing time and it paid off, as L.A.'s bench produced 74 points, including four players in double digits in Jordan Farmar (20 points), Jodie Meeks (15), Wesley Johnson (14) and Jordan Hill (10).

D'Antoni is going out of his comfort zone a bit as he has kept a short bench in the past (the Lakers basically played only eight guys as they made their playoff push a season ago), but the coach has his reasons. He said that the dropoff between the eighth guy and the ninth guy on those previous teams was precipitous, whereas on this season's Lakers, he has legitimate horses in his stable.

However, there can be a lot of upheaval on a team if a roster keeps getting shuffled and minute totals spike up and down from night to night, which is apt to happen with more roles trying to be created.

"One thing I don't want to do is meander around all over the place," D'Antoni said. "I like to go with some people and you go with them, unless they play their way out. ... I just don't like to grasp straws and all that."

Then again, part of the Lakers' downfall last season was a lack of depth as the team was decimated by injuries. This time, while Bryant (and Nash to a lesser extent) starts the season injured, D'Antoni has options. And more options also means more combinations and formations in which the lineup can take shape.

"I think Mike D'Antoni is incredibly smart when it comes to basketball and creating matchups that are beneficial to us and awkward for other teams to see," Farmar said. "If you have 4s and 5s away from the basket, that opens up the middle for penetration and we get our shooters shots off of awkward lineups. So he's really creative with those kind of things and he does a good job of instilling confidence in everybody."

Going into the season sight unseen, one would figure that nine Lakers --– Bryant, Nash, Gasol, Farmar, Young, Steve Blake, Johnson, Hill and Chris Kaman -- would figure into the rotation no matter what as long as they were healthy. What has extended it into double digits has been Meeks finding his stroke, Shawne Williams playing consistent and Xavier Henry showing why he was a lottery pick just a few years ago.

"Everybody here is on the same page," Farmar said. "They're all very supportive of each other. When someone is rolling, everybody is happy for them and it's a lot of positive energy all the time. I think that will go a long way. Everybody is going to have their chance to contribute and be successful and knowing that, it just helps you be really easy with everybody else playing when you're not."

That's the key. Because when Bryant is back and Nash is healthy, the rotation is sure to shrink significantly unless D'Antoni can enforce minute restrictions to find time for everyone who is deserving.

Is the deep rotation sustainable? The Lakers are about to find out for real, with the regular season tipping off in just a week.

"I'm actually curious to see, to find out if that is going to be the case," Gasol said. "I think that's going to be important because we have a lot of guys that can contribute and I think we can use the bench. We got to keep our intensity, our energy up during the game -- get extra balls, get extra possessions. I think that's how you do it, rotating guys.

"We have a pretty deep team. Guys that are hungry. Guys that want to come in and do well and are being unselfish, which is going to be also important to continue to be unselfish and find the open guy and trust that next time he will find you."

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
26.7 4.2 1.3 35.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 10.0
AssistsJ. Lin 4.9
StealsR. Price 1.3
BlocksE. Davis 1.4