Debunking the (D)’Antoni Myth
See you later, Mike Brown.
The second the Lakers dumped head coach Mike Brown after a stale and long-winded five-game stretch the replacement rumor mill went into meltdown mode.
First up was Phil Jackson. Before anyone could break down the logistics of such a move Laker fans had Phil and Scottie Pipppen seizing control of the sidelines, the Championship parade was booked and editing on the latest Laker Dynasty DVD was underway.
Then Papa Phil allegedly demanded his own Planet, a Dr. Evil level one hundred billion dollars and for Mark Cuban to “suck his balls”, essentially pricing himself out of the gig.
Enter, Mike D’Antoni.
Myself and numerous others, but most notably myself immediately took to Twitter to bash the D’Antoni signing. As a lifetime Laker hater this wasn’t a choice based on logic or reason, but more force of habit.
I have to hate everything the Laker franchise does, it’s the law.
Naturally I sounded off with the generic “defense wins Championships” line before throwing the run and gun offensive focused D’Antoni under the bus. Hey, I was drunk (I wasn’t drunk).
To kill the ill-informed stigma that arseholes like me carry around when it comes to D’Antoni shitting on defense I decided to take a look at the defensive numbers of the pre and post D’Antoni Knicks. Performing such a task prior to forming an opinion would have been the logical move but this is 2012 and we all have street cred to uphold. I also like reaching for excuses.
So what exactly do the numbers tell us? Well first of all they tell us that Mike D’Antoni had an 18-24 record as Knicks head coach before he chewed the bullet. Mike Woodson then led the same Knicks roster to an 18-6 record although we can’t be certain about how much of this was down to D’Antoni’s bad coaching, Melo not giving a fuck or Woodson promising Pizza after every win.
In their 42 games under D’Antoni the Knicks gave up an average of 96.47 points per game. To put that into perspective that would be good enough for the 18th best defense in the NBA today with the league average being 95.77 points. Under coach Woodson New York opponents averaged of 95.25 points per game in 24 regular season games, not a whopping differential.
The kicker in D’Antoni’s favor is that right around when he reportedly lost the Knicks lockeroom and the team completely quit, team defense tanked. D’Antoni’s final eight games saw the Knicks record seven losses with the team surrendering 107.75 points per game, shades of that sexy Suns defense we all remember from 2004/2005 when D’Antoni teams gave up over 100+ points per game for entire seasons.
If you eliminate those eight games where Carmelo led a Knicks mutiny and did everything possible to get D’Antoni fired the Knicks were allowing opponents to score just 93.82 points per game on the year, good enough for a top ten ranked defense in every year of the past decade.
And people say D’Antoni teams don’t play defense. I’m looking at you, me. Take a good hard look at yourself.
We all know that there’s more to defense than just points per game and if you look at the Knicks output pre-all All Star break the D’Antoni Knicks were above average defensively in numerous categories. The snapshot below represents a team’s defensive performance from a defensive efficiency standpoint and as you can see the Knicks were a borderline top ten squad. If you eliminate every play that involved Amare Stoudamire the Knicks defense is probably closer to a top five ranking, if not the league’s best.
The Knicks might have stunk it up at times under D’Antoni but the problems weren’t on the defensive side of the ball, at least not when everybody was invested and on the same page.
Its fair game to have doubts over the success of a Nash lead run and gun style that emulates the offensive philosophies of the 2005 Phoenix Suns, especially when the Laker core has an average age of 32 years old. These Lakers are old and their lack of athletic prowess is already firmly on show. Any concerns regarding the defensive end of the floor or D’Antoni’s dedication to defensive aspects of the game should be put to rest though.
The Mike Brown Lakers appeared to be laboring and washed up which is a strange thing to say just five games into a season. Can D’Antoni apply the required facelift and bring a refreshing “fountain of youth” feel to this veteran squad?
Who knows. Hopefully he gets more than five games to showcase the new system.
One thing’s for certain, we’ll all be watching and forming opinions, some of us incorrectly.
You can follow Scott on Twitter: @ScottyBarby