The initial conversation Mike D’Antoni had with Antawn Jamison showed his immediate belief he’d quickly become the ideal candidate for his fast-paced system.
The Lakers coach brought up Shawn Marion, who played five of his nine seasons with the Phoenix Suns thriving under D’Antoni’s offense as a lethal slasher and three-point shooter. Jamison, a 15-year veteran, posed a similar skillset as a scorer both as a starter and reserve.
“He told me to be aggressive, don’t think and take shots,” Jamison recalled. “When you got a coach telling you to play your game and be aggressive, eventually you’ll get in a situation where you’re comfortable.”
That process has already taken place. The Lakers’ 122-103 victory Friday over the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center featured Jamison posting a season-high 33 points on 13 of 19 shooting and a five of 10 clip from three-point range, the first 30-point game by a Lakers reserve since Shaquille O’Neal on Feb. 11, 1998. Jamison has averaged 12.1 points per game in the six games D’Antoni has coached and posted double figures in three of them, a stark improvement from the 5.5 points Jamsison has averaged thus far.
Jamison’s even stolen some of Pau Gasol’s playing time. He sat on the bench in the entire fourth quarter of the Lakers’ loss last week to Memphis. Jamison (33 minutes) also ate into Gasol’s time (27 minutes) against Indiana. But before Lakers fans become carried away, D’Antoni made one thing clear on whether Jamison will ever become a starter.
“Not yet. We’re way too early,” D’Antoni said. “I like where we are right now until we get the whole roster back and look at it. Then we’ll see what we got and make surgical [changes].”
In other words, D’Antoni wants to hold all judgement until Steve Nash and Steve Blake return from their respective injuries. That could last a while. Nash is penciled out at least through the Lakers’ game Sunday against the Orlando Magic, but he’s made small progression with agility and jogging drills while nursing a fractured left leg. Blake’s lower abdominal strain will keep him out for at least six more games.
So it’s clear D’Antoni, for now, will elevate Jamison’s playing time assuming he maintains his productivity.
“I’ll ride him,” D’Antoni said. “I’ll probably have to kill him. He said he could do it.”
As for Gasol, he played the diplomatic route on both playing time and starting. But it sounded clear he knows this is another example where he’s going to have to tap into his versatile skillset to adjust to system that doesn’t cater to his post presence.
“Nothing worries me too much nowadays,” said Gasol, who posted six points on three of seven shooting and eight assists. “I’m just trying to do my best and feel good also about myself and what we’re doing. That’s the point I’m trying to reach.
“Sometimes I feel better. Sometimes I don’t feel so good. I’m a player who always scores the ball and gets in certain positions. I haven’t had that lately. I might have to start shooting 10 threes a game, like Metta [World Peace] and Antawn. That’s a position that might fit better for the system.”
Gasol appeared very eager in playing the facilitating role against Indiana, setting up Dwight Howard for lobs and even connecting with Jamison on the backdoor.
“I want him to be comfortable,” D’Antoni said of Gasol. “I’m good with his talent. He has a lot of skills. But I’m not big on pounding the ball inside. That’s not what we do. Right or wrong.”
What D’Antoni is big on involves spacing the floor. Hence, why D’Antoni frequently paired Jamison with Howard in the lineup. The Lakers center scored 16 points in the first quarter, forcing Denver to collapse more in the paint. That made it necessary for the Lakers to feature the currently prolific outside shooters in Jamison and Meeks.
The clear role for Jamison has paid off, an area that hardly looked prevalent during Mike Brown’s tenure.
“It wasn’t hesitancy at all,” Jamison said of his previously poor play. “It was combination of a lot of things, trying to figure out what my role was, trying to get the offense down and being frustrated with minutes. Instead of being positive and getting out of the funk quicker, it was tough. But D’Antoni has given me the confidence to go out there and compete and give me some minutes. I’ll make something happen. I got into a rhythm early.”
As a result, Jamison appears to be morphing into the ideal slasher and outside shooter for D’Antoni’s offense. But not enough to start, at least for now.
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