Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It didn't take long for the Los Angeles Lakers to hit the panic button. After a disappointing 1-4 start, they canned head coach Mike Brown.
Instead of going the usual route and begging Phil Jackson to come back, the Lakers ended up hiring New York Knicks castoff Mike D'Antoni to be their new coach.
Now, it's our turn to press the panic button.
The Lakers have clawed their way back to 7-7 under D'Antoni but it's come at the expense of Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. Neither player has been much of a factor in D'Antoni's new up-tempo offense.
Howard has seen his production fall dramatically since D'Antoni took over four games ago. In those four games, the six-time All-Star has averaged just 13 ppg to go along with 8.8 rebounds per contest. Before the hiring, he had been putting up 20 ppg with 11.4 rpg.
Gasol's decline has been just as sharp. Under the leadership of Brown and interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff earlier in the season, Gasol had been scoring 14.3 ppg with 9.4 rpg. With D'Antoni calling the shots, he's averaging only 11 ppg and 8.3 rpg.
It's been baffling to watch D'Antoni continually misuse two of the game's strongest low-post scorers. Howard has attempted just 8.3 field goals per game in his last four outings after recording 12 a game in his first 10 appearances. Similarly, Gasol's shot total has fallen from 13.3 a game to 10 per game under D'Antoni.
Gasol has been particularly vocal about his reduced role in the Lakers' offense, calling for D'Antoni to give him more opportunities in the low post.
"All my looks are jump shots," Gasol lamented to reporters after a loss to his former team, the Memphis Grizzlies, on Friday night. "I'd like to see something closer to the basket ... I'm not a pure jump shooter."
With Gasol having to settle for mostly jump shots, his season field goal percentage has dipped to a career-worst 43.4 percent. His career average is 51.9 percent. Gasol's ppg average (13.4 ppg) is also his lowest output in the NBA and more than five ppg below his career average.
With Howard getting fed the ball less and less, it's been easier for teams to apply the hack-a-Shaq method without piling up the fouls. Howard has been miserable from the line this season, converting on less than 50 percent of his attempts for the second year in a row. Tuesday against Brooklyn was one of his most embarrassing free-throw shooting efforts of the season. He finished 7- for-19 in the win.
The good news is that it's early. D'Antoni and the Lakers still have time to figure things out and perhaps, eventually, the team will begin to use a more balanced approach on offense. Howard (15 points) and Gasol (13 points) both returned to double-digits Saturday in Dallas after going two games in a row without reaching that threshold, suggesting that both of their roles could begin to increase.
And if Gasol and Howard aren't able to return to fantasy dominance under D'Antoni, there's always Antawn Jamison. The D'Antoni hiring seems to have rejuvenated the 36-year-old forward. In his last two games, Jamison has averaged 17.5 ppg and 11.5 rpg in 28.5 minutes per contest. Prior to that, Jamison had been playing just 15.1 minutes per game while scoring just 3.8 ppg.
Clearly, Jamison has become a favorite of D'Antoni's and should be an important player within the Lakers' rotation going forward. He's also widely available: right now Jamison is owned in just 5.2 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues.