NBA News: Knicks D'Antoni Quick Draw from the West, Or Worst Coach in the East?
We went back and forth on the headline, considered Mike D'Antoni: Offensive Mastermind or Worst Coach in the NBA, but decided to go with the caption above because it felt like it had a catchier ring.
Either way the reader will get the idea that we're not particularly impressed with the current Knick floor leader, especially in the midst of this six-game regression, which is starting to eerily resemble the disastrous play of the past two seasons that led to a combined record of 61 wins and 103 losses.
Of course in 2008 & 2009 D'Antoni and his famed Seven Second System was supposed to have been drawn and quartered residual to a poor player mix. While nobody will really argue that point, the Knicks certainly have had their fair share of lousy players the past couple of seasons, if not the last decade. One also might want to consider the obligation of a coach under those circumstances.
His ability to react to the roster in hand, go with the coaching flow so to speak and Knick fans need only reach back to the earlier coming of another Western Conference coach with an even larger reputation for running a high-speed act, Pat Riley, to understand or remember what it means for a coach to react to his surroundings in full.
Like D'Antoni, who came East without the comfort of having superb point guard Steve Nash by his side, (now he's an offensive genius!), Pat Riley arrived in town in 1991 lacking the distinct sense of well being long provided him by the man who made Showtime famous, Ervin Magic Johnson.
However unlike current coach Mike, who comes from Italian league roots where defense is some kind of—what's that word from The Godfather..."infamnia"—where defense is frequently played in the matador style, Riley, (who played the high-octane game in L.A. in the '60's and early '70s with Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich and this big guy named Wilt Chamberlain), came from stern Kentucky roots.
The sternest Kentucky roots in fact having churned at an All-American level for legendary coach Adolph Rupp and from his very first day in the Garden, Pat Riley preached defense, and then some more, which was kind of a requisite thing for a Knick gang who too frequently got into the habit of clanging shots from all over the hard court.
Of course that kind of dramatic coaching adjustment really stuck out; equally so, the fact that the players themselves improved immeasurably under his guidance.
Sure a few of the guys had the goods. Ewing obviously, Larry Johnson, Doc Rivers was great in New York for awhile, but then you had your CBAers Anthony Mason and John Starks and neither of those two would have ever seen the NBA spotlight if not for the efficient way Pat Riley went about the business of coaching up his players.
The bottom line is no Madison Square Garden floor leader, not Red Holzman, not Riley, not Jeff Van Gundy, each of whom at least got the team to the NBA Finals, ever won a thing in New York without preaching defense, and if you look around the league today things are really not all that much different.
Down here in Miami fans and aficionados alike contemplated 150-point outbursts led by the big three of Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. But the Heat, coached by Riley-disciple Erik Spoelstra are just as frequently winning with defense. On a night when they score 90, the opposition is held to 85, and when they score 85 the opposition is held to 80. Overall they are top five in the league allowing 93.9 points per game with a plus-10 differential.
The Celtics, at 33-10, continue to play the killer D, (91.8 points per game allowed, first in the league), no big surprise as they're coached by the aforementioned defensive advocate Doc Rivers.
Orlando has piled up the wins these past number of years. Dwight Howard manning the defensive middle doesn't hurt, and having Stan Van Gundy whose defensive roots go back to the early days of watching erudite papa Bill Van Gundy successfully patrol the sidelines for mighty, but little known Brockport State is certainly a benefit as well.
Look around the league—Phil Jackson, a gangly, long-armed defensive specialist in his days with Red Holzman's best Knick teams preached defense in Chicago and does the same in L.A.
Jerry Sloan, one of the league's best hard-nosed defenders as a player, has had a long, pretty successful run in Utah.
The Chicago Bulls, 30-14, are flourishing under rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau, a noted defensive specialist.
The Spurs have always been able to score under head coach Greg Popovich, but they didn't win titles without hustling back and playing half-court defense, requisite come playoff time.
We can go on, but we won't, rather we'll return to the original premise or subject at hand: Mike D'Antoni and this 2010/2011 Knick team.
At this point the club couldn't look less prepared to play playoff basketball, much less survive the balance of the season without a major adjustment in their preparatory thrust.
Which when you get right down to it is probably never going to happen under the former Phoenix head man, because even now, in the midst of this six-game losing streak, D'Antoni is probably thinking about why his vaunted offense is failing and why the Knicks are not outscoring the opposition, as they were doing with some regularity earlier.
He'll tinker with the lineup as he did endlessly these past two seasons, some players will be okay with it, others will react by going into the proverbial tank as Wilson Chandler seems to be doing now.
Some people will say, "Well, this roster is not configured to play defense, there's no true big man." To that we say, "Defensive players are not borne of the womb. Every kid looks at the ball, looks at the rim and says, 'Man, I want to throw that thing in there.'"
Defense is taught. It is instilled in the player as a foremost part of the game, an invaluable part of the game, and no team is going to win, much less win it all, playing some European League matador version of the same.
Mike D'Antoni may be some kind of offensive genius after all, but unless he figures out a way to get this Knick team to play some ferocious D as well it's going to be another lost season at Madison Square Garden.
New York fans have already seen enough of those in the decade most recently past and will not be pleased to find their vociferous chants of De-Fence go ignored for too much longer.