Suns coach D'Antoni does it the right way
While debate swirls around Steve Nash’s candidacy to repeat as the NBA’s MVP, precious little has been written about the job Suns coach Mike D’Antoni has done this year. D’Antoni, like his brilliant point guard, has been a huge factor in helping the Phoenix Suns overcome adversity and remain one of the elite teams in the NBA.
The fact that the Suns hold a comfortable lead in the Pacific Division, despite losing superstar Amare Stoudemire for an entire season and two other starters from last year’s 62-20 squad, speaks as much about D’Antoni’s adaptability as it does about Nash’s on-court leadership. The two are an extension of one another, and D’Antoni is as deserving to repeat as NBA Coach of the Year as Nash is entitled to another MVP award.
The Suns’ record this season is a tribute to the system that D’Antoni has installed in Phoenix and reinforces the belief that D’Antoni and the Suns success last year wasn’t a fluke. Even without an offensive force like Stoudemire the Suns are still averaging 108 ppg, only two less then a year ago. They continue to give up 103 ppg, as they did in the 2004-5 campaign.
While Larry Brown has shuffled players in and out this year, looking for guys who’ll "play the right way," D’Antoni has inserted the equivalent of bargain basement NBA guys like Boris Diaw and Raja Bell, who have thrived in the Valley of the Sun.
Even, Tim Thomas, persona non grata throughout the league, has had a rebirth under D’Antoni.
Diaw, Bell and Thomas have all adapted to an offense that allows tremendous freedom as long as you run and remain within a team concept. Diaw, in particular, is having a breakout season. He’s developed into the versatile, key player that he always had the talent to be, but probably never would have become under any other NBA coach then D’Antoni.
In a direct comparison between D’Antoni and Brown, look at the career year that Quintin Richardson had in Phoenix last season and his current achievements with the Knicks. Richardson, by the way, is one of a handful of Knicks, who has allegedly bought into coach Brown’s system.
D’Antoni’s method succeeds because it’s user-friendly: you hustle, you stay unselfish, you move constantly and you’ll get good looks all night long. What’s there for an NBA player not to like?
Amazingly, the Suns have held their own defensively while playing "small-ball" all season. What they lack in size is made up for with speed and hustle. Their tallest starter was Kurt Thomas, 6'9", playing out of position at center. He went down with a stress fracture a month ago and will return only if the Suns make it deep into the playoffs. In the meantime, the Suns have basically been using Nash and four perimeter players.
With the playoffs starting in another week, most NBA experts feel that the Suns can’t go far with their current lineup. D’Antoni and the Suns have been fooling the critics all season long. I wouldn’t count them out so fast.
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