They Owe Mike D’Antoni A Thank You

Mike D’Antoni takes a beating about his defense. He has earned that reputation so no feeling sorry for the offensive genius here. It is all on him that he is lackluster when it comes to designing defenses to stop scorers. It slows the game down. It takes energy away from offensive brilliance.

D’Antoni has never coached a top 10 defense. History points to those teams making the Finals and becoming champions. His current team is ranked 21st in points allowed and field goal percentage defense, and 22nd in 3-point defense. The Rockets defensive rating is 22nd best in the league. In other words, awful. The defensive rating of the Warriors, Clippers and Spurs are 7th best, 2nd and 11th respectively. After game 20, you are who you are. Not much is going to change. The Rockets being D’Antoni predictable- offense all the time, defense whenever- is fact. That fits within the construct of the D’Antoni philosophy. Shoot often. Shoot a lot. Make the perimeter your friend. Because of their defense, no one considers them a true contender.

What the Rockets are though fit within the parameters of the Mike D’Antoni system. Look around the NBA. Everyone has the D’Antoni blueprint. They spread the floor. They move the ball. They disenfranchise power forwards and centers and don’t really care about points in the paint.

That more than half of the league attempt 25 or more threes a game is a credit to what D’Antoni has done. When he walks away from the game for good he can feel proud that he was the single reason the game shifted from a slower iso game to a three point league. Last year, if you took a lot of threes and you weren’t the 76ers you went to the playoffs. Thank Mike D’Antoni for that.

On the micro level, individual players on each team D’Antoni coached (Suns, Knicks, Lakers, Rockets) have thrived because of Mike D’Antoni. They will forever be grateful.

Steve Nash. Phoenix Suns.

Mike D’Antoni devised a system especially for Nash and it was a perfect storm. Nash was a free agent. Mark Cuban was balking on signing him to a five year deal. Nash always had back issues. Cuban didn’t think he’d stay healthy. Nash interviewed at Phoenix and D’Antoni mapped out his plan. 7 Seconds or Less. Move the ball. Create space with the dribble. Find shooters. Score. Only Steve Nash, a magician with the ball, could make it work. Nash won two MVP awards and became a Hall of Fame player coached by D’Antoni. He never got to the Finals but it doesn’t erase the two 60-win seasons and back-to-back Western Conference Finals appearances.

Jeremy Lin. New York Knicks.

The Knicks nearly waived Lin. Because the team kept losing games they were supposed to win D’Antoni felt desperate to do something. He threw Lin into the fire against the New Jersey Nets. LIn had 25 points and 5 rebounds. Hello Linsanity. A star was born, brief as it was. It was one month of pure madness. Because Lin was an underrepresentated minority doing things that were spectacular and against Hall of Fame talent it took the world by surprise. It was a rags to riches story- nearly out the league to situational greatness. When D’Antoni was ousted from the Knicks in favor of Mike Woodson and his pick and roll sets were sent to the woodshed Lin was devalued. He had a knee injury and that was that. The air was out the Linsanity balloon. In the offseason, the Knicks didn’t match the offer by the Rockets and Lin accepted a cool $25 million. That was only possible because Mike D’Antoni gave Lin a chance to be a star.

James Harden. Houston Rockets.

Was there ever a greater pairing than Harden and D’Antoni? Both are deficient on the defensive end. Both are brilliant with offense. D’Antoni took Harden’s game to another level when he moved him to the point and encouraged him to give up the ball to teammates. Harden is a gifted passer but often gets bogged down in his own narrative of shooting guard extraordinaire who can do Kobe Bryant things. It left the rest of the team in watching mode and frustrated. D’Antoni solved that by making Harden the point guard, giving him more responsibility. Harden is having a brilliant season. He would be the runaway MVP candidate if Russell Westbrook wasn’t dominating all areas of the game. More importantly, James Harden looks happy. He looks like he is having fun. He is the Most Improved Player in the league.

Jodie Meeks. Los Angeles Lakers.

When Jodie Meeks met Mike D’Antoni, Meeks was on the bench. The following season, a contract year, Meeks was a starter. Meeks, a five star effort player, works tirelessly before practice and after practice. He plays hard. His role model was Ray Allen and he copied everything the great shooter did, all of his habits. Effort and playing hard and being motivated and being a perfectionist are worthy values but they can’t replace A-level talent that is innate. Meeks could never be more than a role player, someone who would be open because stars were doubled. When Meeks was in L.A., he was the recipient of a lot of open looks because of the D’Antoni freedom offense. He had the best year of his career coached by D’Antoni. 46.3% shooting, a career high. 51.4% two point shots, a career high. 2.5 rebounds, a career high. 1.8 assists, a career high. 15.7 points, a career high, five points more than his previous high. His defense that year? A career worst. After that season with D’Antoni, Meeks signed a near $20 million dollar deal with the Pistons. He has never come close to posting the same numbers.

 

photo via llananba