The Fast Break: Should Mike D'Antoni Be Next Coach Fired?

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Is it time for Mike D'Antoni to go?

Mike D’Antoni, the mastermind behind the run & gun Phoenix Suns. He was supposed to be the savior of Gotham, the architect behind a resurgence at the Mecca. He failed, and it has fallen on Amar’e Stoudemire to lead a rebirth at the Garden. He was supposed to be the main attraction for the much hyped free agent class of 2010. He failed, and LeBron James went south. He is supposed to be the coach that leads New York back to the finals. I’m going to go ahead and call that a fail as well, since the D’Antoni experience seems to be on the fast track too nowhere.

For a coach that was supposed to lead the team back to the playoffs and attract every free agent under the sun because A) His system is fun for everyone, and B) He coached all the mega stars in the Olympics, Mike D’Antoni has thus far been an enormous disappointment. No one that was a free agent or was approaching free agency gave a damn about his system or his time spent with the Olympic team. The Knicks had to pay more then anyone else would in order to acquire Amar’e Stoudemire, and it has been STAT that has made the Knicks attractive again, with Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and even Dwight Howard proclaiming NYC a possible destination now that Stoudemire is here. Mike’s ability to lead this team to the playoffs is also looking shaky, as the team was pretty worthless under him until Donnie brought in STAT and Raymond Felton. Even with an All-Star caliber Point Guard and a superstar Power Forward, the Knicks under Mike’s peerless leadership are just 1 game above .500 and a mere 4 games from being tied with Indiana for 9th place in the Eastern Conference.

Only six Knicks are averaging 20+ minutes a night, with Stoudemire and Felton averaging over 37 minutes a game. Those six Knicks that are averaging over 20 minutes a game are also the only players to appear in at least 28 games this season. Tony Douglas is the only none-starter to appear in 30+ games. There’s a reason why the Knicks often look tired entering the fourth quarter, missing that clutch ability to close games out late that they showed during their 13-1 burst from November 17th – December 12th.

This is a topic that Howard Beck of the New York Times reported on back in late December. The Knicks lack of depth at point guard and center, and Mike D’Antoni’s tendency to use a meager 8 man rotation leads to flat 4th quarters from many of his starters.

Anthony Randolph and Timofey Mozgov have collected dust on Mike’s bench all season long, a scene that benefits no one as the Knicks at 25-24 (1-6 versus Boston, Miami & Orlando) are nowhere near good enough to excuse the lack of development of their young talent. It would certainly benefit the Knicks to have Randolph and Mozgov develop their games for any potential trades, but it would also benefit the Knicks regular starters, who all log far too many minutes for their own good. Timofey Mozgov is trying to defy that trend with a 23 point, 14 rebound performance against Detroit and a 9 point, 7 rebound, 2 block stat line against Philadelphia. The situation isn’t as simple as young player performs thus said player gets minutes though, because Mike D’Antoni is notoriously stubborn. He refused to play Nate Robinson and when Nate embarrassed Mike by putting up stellar numbers, there by bringing into question the coach’s decision to bench him, Mike simply played Nate less and less as the week went on until he was glued to the bench once again. Same thing happened with Tony Douglas that same year.

Before the Detroit game Mike D’Antoni told reporters that nothing Mozgov or Randolph could do on the floor was going to “upset the apple cart”, meaning no matter how well they performed they had no chance of cracking the rotation. How nice of the coach to show confidence in his young players with  such inspiring words of support. Now that Mozgov made Mike D’Antoni look stupid for benching him, by posting a double-double against the Pistons and gaining public support from Raymond Felton, who called for somebody “who’s physical like that to take some of that banging off Amar’e Stoudemire”, Mike’s decision making as come under fire yet again. If he sticks to his tendencies, I expect to see Mozgov less and less as the weeks drag on until he’s entombed in the bench once again.

Burning out his starters, due to a heavy workload, isn’t the only issue with Mike D’Antoni’s coaching style. Defense, as they say, wins championships and it’s something that Mike hasn’t exactly been renowned for in his time in the league. The Knicks are allowing 106.0 points per game while scoring 106.3 per, for a differential of +.03. That means they are allowing the most points of any of the 16 teams currently holding a playoff spot while having the second worst point differential among playoff teams. The Knicks have allowed their opponents to score 100 or more points 14 times over the last 20 games. To make matters worse, the Knicks stand as the only team in the entire league to lose to the 8-42 Cleveland Cavaliers over the Cavs last 33 games, giving up 109 points in that December 18th game, breaking up a Cavs losing streak that should stand at 33 games instead of 23. From November 30th too now, the Knicks stand as one of only 7 teams that Cleveland managed to score 100 or more points against during that time. The other teams on that list are Memphis, New Jersey, Indiana, Toronto, Denver, and Phoenix. 109 points allowed vs Cleveland on December 18th, against a team that averages only 94 points a game. Defense is definitely not what Mike D’Antoni is renowned for.

What Mike D’Antoni is known for however is developing high scoring, highly entertaining, offenses. As entertaining as a fast break happy team is to watch, that style of play has not resulted in the number of wins expected from a team as talented as the Knicks, playing in a weak conference no less. Especially against strong playoff teams. Out of 8 games played against Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and Boston, the Knicks have allowed 100 or more points 6 times, losing all but one of those matches. In 3 games against the Lakers & Spurs they’ve allowed point totals of 115, 109 & 101, going 1-2 in those games. New York’s record against playoff bound teams now stands at 10-14, a record that includes 0-2 marks against Boston, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.

If Mike D’Antoni is fired, the Knicks will have to settle with one of his assistants becoming the interim head coach (not Herb Williams) until the off-season when New York will have several worthwhile candidates to choose from. While that situation is not ideal, it could give the Knicks a shot in the arm like similar situations have given the Bobcats and Pacers players a little extra motivation heading into the seasons’ stretch run.

Now lets talk about our potential head coaches for next season and beyond. Let’s start with Ron Adams, who was the former assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder, credited by many for the development of the terrific defense they showed last year. In his absence the Thunder’s defense has suffered mightily while the Chicago Bulls (his current gig) have improved defensively. This move would not only provide the Knicks with a viable defensive minded head coach but weaken a conference rival in the process. The next potential hire is the more recognizable Nate McMillan, the current head coach of the Portland Trailblazers. With injuries ravaging his team season after season, McMillan still manages to find a way to get his players (those that are healthy anyway) to compete. He has issues with Blazers’ ownership and is expected to be among the coaches searching for a job come seasons’ end. The list of potential coaching hires includes Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer, who’s regarded as an up and coming head coaching talent, former Knicks great and current assistant coach for the Orlando Magic Patrick Ewing, former Knicks head coach (& fan favorite) Jeff Van Gundy and former Knicks great Mark Jackson.

Jim O’Brian is out in Indiana, Larry Brown is out in Charlotte, and with all this coach talent available this off-season, perhaps it’s time for Mike D’Antoni to be out in New York.

LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE

The Knicks just finished that 8-game span I previously wrote about, with the 3-5 record I expected them to have during that stretch. Though the win over the Heat was a pleasant surprise, I expected them to beat the lottery bound Houston Rockets, losing the first game in a favorable 8-game stretch (too a bad team no less) is inexcusable. The Knicks play 6 of their next 8 games against teams with losing records, with the Lakers (34-16) and Hawks (32-18) standing as the only teams likely to beat New York, and what does NYK do? Well they lose to the woeful 76ers of course. Philadelphia was 22-26 entering that game, with as many issues as promising young guards, and yet the Knicks failed to play any defense to start or end the game, losing 100-98. Everything seemed to start off on the wrong note for New York as Mike D’Antoni’s decision to send out a small frontline, with Shawn Williams starting, led to 19 first quarter points from Elton Brand. A loss Sunday would mean a season sweep of the Knicks by the 76ers.

After Philadelphia the Knicks face the two-headed LA monster of the Lakers and Blake Griffin (whose team is 19-30), after which they must take on the Nets (15-36), Hawks, Bucks (19-29), and Cavs. I expected New York to go 6-2 over this 8 game stretch, but since they already dropped one to Philadelphia, the Knicks need to go 5-2 over their next 7 games before facing a potential 3 game losing streak Feb 27th-Mar 2nd, when they’ll face Miami (36-14), Orlando (32-19), and New Orleans (32-19). Otherwise we might see the Knicks with a losing record for the first time since November 27th, when they were 8-9.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT

I realize Mike likes to keep things simple, and he’s never shown a capability to adapt his style to match the strengths of his players, but playing Danilo Gallinari as a Point Forward (taking a little something out of the Magic playbook, circa 2009), would go along way to improving the flow of the offense given Gallo’s innate ability to get to the free throw line. To use someone who is as capable of getting to the rim and finishing as Gallo has been since returning from his knee injury, and that can pass as deftly as he can, well that opens the floor up nicely for long range shooters, which the Knicks have plenty of. I realize Mike enjoys the traditional pick & roll, but your point guard isn’t the only one that can (or perhaps should) always run that play.

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Tags: Jeff Van Gundy Mark Jackson Nate McMillan Patrick Ewing

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