No offense D’Antoni, but there is no defense for you anymore

“Here we go again. Same ol’ shit dog, just a different day.” – DMX, Here we go again

This blogger is feeling more and more like Bill Murray in Groundhog day. We reach .500, we are below .500. We are in the playoffs, we are out of the playoffs. And so the blogging goes. Pessimism is exchanged for optimism only to be hit in the head with head scratching pessimism yet again.

Forget about everything you know about life as a Knicks fan the last 10 years and imagine that any random team – let’s say for argument’s sake, the Philadelphia 76ers – had the following roster.

Starting 5

PG – Jeremy Lin

SG – Landry Fields

SF – Carmelo Anthony

PF – Amar’e Stoudemire

C – Tyson Chandler

Rotation:

G – Baron Davis

G/F – Iman Shumpert

G/F – J.R. Smith

F – Steve Novak

F – Josh Harrelson

F/C – Jared Jeffries

Wouldn’t you be absolutely shocked if that team was out of the playoffs with an 18-24 record?

You’ve got two players that have subscribed to being All-Stars and All-NBA players for the last decade. You’ve got one of the best defending centers of his generation coming straight off a Finals win against the Heat. Right there, I would expect a 4th seed. And in the Eastern conference, that is probably selling your expectations short.

What is starting to bother me immensely is all this talk about “the system” that I’ve had to endure for the last 3,5 seasons. Granted, if the system is predicated on speed-ball offense and movement, I can understand that the Zach Randolph’s of the world is a clear situation where his skills are not being put to best use on the fast break. And for several years, D’Antoni had to live with salary cap killers not fit for his system. Not anymore.

  • Amar’e Stoudemire made a career in this “system”.
  • Tyson Chandler should be the system’s dream in just lobbing it in there for alley-oops or bounce passing through a pick and roll for an easy finish at the rim.
  • Jeremy Lin himself has praised D’Antoni for his offensive strategies and quite frankly probably could only create Linsanity under the offensive freedom D’Antoni has provided him with.
  • Novak is a lights out shooter and clearly thrives in this “system”.
  • Fields is the type of player that takes whatever offense is handed to him, not very different from what Shawn Marion did in Phoenix in this very system.
  • J.R. Smith is all about shooting, shooting, shooting, which is something that D’Antoni gives the green light to any player that is open.
  • Harrelson is a big man who can stretch out the defense and drain the three.
  • Baron Davis is used to be extremely capable offensively and has said he’s always dreamed of playing in D’Antoni’s system.
  • Shumpert is a super athletic player that gets the green light to take risks on defense to get the fast break started.
  • Heck, even the offensively challenged Jared Jeffries is a D’Antoni favorite.

That covers more or less every player on the team getting minutes. Except for the fact that one player is conspicuously missing: Carmelo Anthony. To me though, one of the absolute best scorers of the 2000s should work in ANY system. Carmelo is a shooter, he can drive, kill you one-on-one or pull-up for a J, he can post-up and he can run the break (although hardly like Lebron or Durant). Kobe Bryant played in Phil Jackson’s triangle his whole career and how did he respond this season when Jackson was replaced by the defensive-minded, and from his Cleveland days offensively criticized, coach Mike Brown? By leading the league in scoring at age 33 with 28.8 PPG. Oh and by the way, for the D’Antoni haters out there, you may have noticed that Steve Nash is leading the league in assists at age 38 with 11 APG. (I just had to put that in there.)

Today, Marc Berman of the New York Post is reporting that there is friction between Anthony and D’Antoni. I’d be surprised, and even somewhat disappointed, if there wasn’t friction after a 6-game losing streak in an overall terrible year for both the franchise player and the coach. It’s obvious that if things continue the way the Knicks are playing lately, D’Antoni is gone next season (or sooner) and rightfully so. Then finally, hopefully, all this talk about “the system” can stop and the players can be held accountable for their play without any cop-out excuse as to why they’re gravely underperforming.

If on paper this team did not have so much god damn potential, I’d trade them all including the coach and the management. Only problem is, the way the team is playing the value of the players are at an all-time low. And there goes the last defense of the D’Antoni backers (myself most notably included): You remember when D’Antoni actually increased his players value by juicing their stats?

Without coaching and leadership this team ain’t going nowhere

“Coach D’Antoni is an absolute offensive genius” – Jeremy Lin.

I don’t want to make my comeback to the blog about D’Antoni, I hate blaming the coach as I always felt that sports of any kind is about the players, but at this point it’s hard not to question the abilities of this coach.

And I’m not talking about D’Antoni’s first three years as Knicks coach, scrambling with tons of players, I’m talking about the Knicks post-Linsanity. If you’ve read this blog already you know that for me one of the most exciting things about Linsanity is to finally see what this coach is made of. So far, I’m not convinced. And it’s not even all about the losses that have started to pile up. It’s about the clueless offense that I’m seeing.

First of all, who’s team is it? I know that in an ideal world, people can share the ball and everybody can be stars. We all know communism doesn’t work in practice and by the same token all NBA champions have a clear #1 guy, whether if it was Kobe in the 2010 Lakers, Shaq in the 2000 Lakers, Duncan of the Spurs, Wade of Miami, Nowitzki of Dallas, Olajuwon of the Rockets, Jordan of the Bulls, Isiah of the Pistons, Magic of the 80s Lakers, Bird of the 80s Boston and the list goes on. The 2008 Celtics and the 2004 Pistons are the only exceptions to the rule, because those teams had evenly spread out talent, but at the end of the day those teams belonged to Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups.

Since joining the Knicks in the 2010 offseason, the team immediately belonged to Stoudemire. But when Carmelo joined the team, by sheer star status, the team belonged to both of those guys. And with Melo’s game being more of the natural focal point of a team like a Kobe or a Jordan, the team more and more started to become Carmelo’s team. To me though, Stoudemire always seemed like more of the personality to be the team leader, sort of like Larry Johnson in the late 90s Knicks. When Tyson Chandler joined the Knicks, he seemed to take on more and more of the 2010 Stoudemire leadership role on the Knicks, becoming the player that the rest of the team looks up to, if nothing else because he was an NBA champion. With so many potential leaders on the team, it became more and more apparent that losing creates an identitiy crisis, or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, clearly the team didn’t have a set identity in terms of who was leading the team and what roles everybody needed to play. That is, until Linsanity happened. Suddenly, the team had a leader, one that everybody wanted to follow, one that everybody gladly put ego and prestige aside for, for the greater benefit of the team. All of this of course happened when Carmelo was out with an injury (and to be honest, for the most part they were also without Stoudemire) and everybody feared what would happen with the team chemistry and leadership once Melo returned. So far, the doubts have come true. Since Stat and Melo have returned, the Knicks have looked almost as lost as they did pre-Linsanity. Sure, the schedule has been tougher and you’d think that integrating major parts would take some time. But to me that doesn’t explain why the Knicks have looked completely lost and doesn’t seem to have an offensive game plan or any set plays outside of the pick and roll and the general musical chairs scheme we’ve grown accustomed to seeing under D’Antoni. Mike D, here’s a newsflash for you, you’re in the final stretch of your Knicks career, it’s time to start making the uncomfortable decisions and not worry about whose feelings are gonna get hurt (read: Melo).

In terms of the make-up of the team, the Knicks are not much unlike the 2008 Celtics, in that both teams have a premier scorer (Melo/Pierce), an elite power forward (Stat/KG), a young and exciting point guard (Lin/Rondo) and a defensive minded center (Chandler/Perkins). The Celtics of course had Ray Allen as well, but Fields is more athletic than Allen and Ray’s three point shooting is balanced out by Novak. Please give me one valid reason why this Knicks squad shouldn’t be close to that team’s level? Outside of the starting five, one could easily argue that the Knicks team is deeper than the 08 Celtics, with JR Smith, Baron Davis, Novak, Harrelson and Shumpert all contributing. Also, Stoudemire, Carmelo and Tyson Chandler are all in their primes, whereas Boston’s Big 3 were turning 33, 32 and 31 the year they won it all. Doc Rivers, were able to figure it out with 3 future hall of famers and a young all-star point guard. So why can’t D’Antoni? If the players don’t adjust by sacrificing themselves through the team it’s up to the coach to make sure they do, and through his point guard facilitate the type of offense that actually win ball games.

Of course, not all blame should go to D’Antoni by any stretch. It’s up to the players most of all. They’re grown men making millions of dollars on guaranteed contracts and should throw all ego aside and do what’s best for the team.

With that in mind it’s very easy to point the finger at Carmelo for the Knicks struggles post-Linsanity. And quite frankly, it’s warranted. When he’s not trying too hard to be unselfish, he’s stopping the flow of the offense with his ball-hogging ways. Which would be completely fine – hell, Kobe made a Top 10 ever NBA career out of it – if he would just make a damn shot once in a while. He’s shooting less than 40% on the season and he is disrupting the ball movement that is the key element to the D’Antoni offense. That is a recipe for Ls upon Ls. It is rapidly becoming more and more apparent that either Melo or D’Antoni will have to be replaced. One has 3 years and 60 million left after this season and the other has a contract that runs out this summer. One is an international superstar that sells tickets, and the other is, well, just a coach. Not very difficult to figure out who will be gone after this season. Barring a Knicks upset in the first round of the playoffs and if not a series win then at least very competitive series against the Heat or the Bulls, it’s obvious that D’Antoni is a goner after the season. Dolan never seemed to like D’Antoni anyway, and Mike was always Donnie Walsh’s guy. And Mike never seemed like the type of kiss-ass kind of guy that Isiah was, so you can be sure he doesn’t have the right friends in management to save his job. Mike made 24 million coaching the Knicks, there’s absolutely no reason to feel sorry for him.

And so, in comes Phil Jackson? Hmm, I for one am very skeptical. Mainly because I don’t think he wants to risk his legacy. Not at this stage of his life. If he was 10-15 years younger, or if he had 3-5 less championships, sure. But when he’s already the most successful coach of all time, is New York really worth the risk? Phil Jackson coached in L.A. and Chicago, the number 2 and 3 markets in the US. In Chicago, Phil coached the best player ever in MJ, and in L.A. he coached two me-first superstars in Shaq and Kobe. In other words, Jackson knows a lot about coaching under pressure. But to be honest, that is still nothing compared to New York. We never had a Jordan or a Shaq or Kobe and the New Yorkers will still kill you at the Garden and in the media if you don’t succeed. Pat Riley escaped to the sun in Miami and Jeff van Gundy lost all his hair and felt no job-security even in a season where he took the Knicks to the finals. Do you remember a guy called Don Nelson? The man with the most NBA game wins ever. And do you remember how he fucked up big time in New York and was fired just 59 games into his first season as head coach after replacing Pat Riley? And do you also remember his record with the Knicks? 34-25.

No, Phil Jackson is not taking the New York Knicks job. And to be honest, I don’t even want to speculate who will. I know two coaches who I’d like to see take the job – Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich – but that’s not gonna happen. I also know tons of coaches who I’d dread see take the job, including all former players who are unproven coaches (the Mark Jackson’s of the world), the journeymen coaches who you just know are going nowhere in the end (the Scott Skiles’ of the world) and the glorified college basketball coaches (the John Calipari’s of the world). And most of all, I don’t want any James Dolan kiss-ass. But, if the zen master doesn’t come out of retirement (and I don’t think he will) I don’t see anyone other than some Dolan kiss-ass mediocre coach that is “all about defense” replacing D’Antoni. Translation, all about defense: “I’m just saying what I know the fans and media want to hear, but really it’s just a substitute to saying I have no offensive strategy at all. Please like me.”. And for that reason alone, I’m not willing to give up just yet on D’Antoni.

Kenyon Martin keeping it real

Via Alan Hahn

  • Kenyon Martin on George Karl’s recent comments on Melo (via SI.com): “Man, listen, George needs to keep his mouth shut, first and foremost. Melo don’t play there no more. So Karl shouldn’t be commenting on Melo. If George was such a great coach, then Melo would want to stay…If the organization was ran right, he wouldn’t want to leave, so it ain’t Melo.”

Linsaracen

I was reading Bill Simmons’ All-Linsanity-Mailbag, which you definitely should check out. For all you Friday Night Lights fans out there I found one particular mailbag-letter amusing. “Stuart from L.A.” has found the TV version of Jeremy Lin, Matt Saracen. He writes:

1. Both were thrust from outsider status into the spotlight under unexpected circumstances and subsequently thrived.
2. They are both quiet, humble leaders, and their teammates love them
3. Both became instrumental to their team’s success and turned around what seemed to be hopeless seasons.
4. Seriously, have you listened to JLin talking? It’s uncanny!
5. They’re best friends with a guy named Landry.

If you’ve watched FNL you’d agree, right? And if you haven’t watched FNL, congratulations, you’ve got 5 seasons of pure brilliance to look forward to.

 

 

Once bitten, twice shy

Any time you can turn the a player’s (L)incredibly unlikely rise to overnight stardom into a problem, you gotta do it. I am now referring to the recent rumblings around the internets regarding how Melo will fit in with what Jeremy Lin has done with the team in his and Amar’e’s absence. Some fans are even spouting the same bullshit as Swedes have been saying about Zlatan Ibrahimovic over the last decade, that he’s “too selfish” and that our otherwise mediocre squad would be better off without him, because then they would play more as a team. You know what? In both these cases, statistics could prove these people right, the Knicks have won 5 straight now and floundered before that and the Swedish national football team has something like a 10-game streak of no losses when Ibrahimovic is out of the lineup. But when you really get down to it, like Andreas somewhat ironically proved in an earlier post, stats can make any point you want them to make. One could just as easily argue that the woes of both these transcendent players on their respective teams have been directly correlated to an unreasonable burden being placed on them in terms of running their team’s offense. And, let’s be honest, as bored as I was watching the pre-Linsanity Knicks and as thoroughly entertained as I’ve been watching the last five games, I realize that the team without STAT and Melo is not a championship-caliber team. I’m not entirely sure whether it is with those two players either, but it damn sure is closer to one, and for a franchise having waited almost 40 years for a title, the ability to truly compete for one is what ultimately matters.

All of this being said, I sincerely hope that Lin will continue to perform at a high level and in the process make Amar’e and Carmelo better, at least better than they’ve been during this season so far. If our stars could only so much as play to their averages while Lin delivers even 70% of what he’s done over the last five games, the Knicks will be dangerous… and since we’re basically a lock to re-sign Lin after this season, this team only stands to get better over the next couple of years (I think STAT has at least two more great years in him, anything else would be an overly pessimistic view in my opinion, given the fitness freak he is).

I understand that people can’t believe this is happening, I sure as hell can’t either (see my post from about 10 days ago on “The Curse”), but just because this franchise has been so burned in the past, let’s not be so quick to worry that this immensely fortuitous development is just some kind of mirage and that everything will be back to “normal” (i.e. dreadful) as soon as we get back one of the top 15 players in the league from injury. For now, let us all just enjoy that it’s fun to be a Knicks fan again.

The image of the Knicks is changing. How to cope?

1993 was the year I fell in love with the Knicks. I was 13, living in NYC with my family, and I can remember instantly falling in love with the Knicks. You know how you can remember a song from a particular time and place, from a special summer or your graduation? My early teenage years has the soundtrack of the NBA on NBC theme song.

Me and my brothers loved the Knicks with all our heart. The same cannot be said for the rest of the NBA. They hated the Knicks. With a passion. Because the Knicks were the anti-hero to their precious Michael Jordan. Because they were all about playing hard, not fancy. Because they bored the crowd to death with menacing defense. Because of Pat Riley‘s hair and slick suit. And because they didn’t care about who didn’t like them. But these Knicks were perfect for New York. We embraced that hate. We took pride in defense. And when we look back on those days we do so with a nostalgia that is much bigger than the actual success the team achieved. We made it to the finals and we were always competitive, but in the end we never won it all, yet sometimes when we think back to that era and compare it to the years since it seems that all we want is to relive another era like that.

So that got me thinking. How am I supposed to feel about the Linsanity-Knicks going forward? I’ve been starving for successful Knicks basketball for the last 10 years of the forgotten 00s era. Of course, I’m going to embrace Linsanity, or whatever-ity that brings my team wins. But my point is, this lovey-dovey Jeremy Lin story will ultimately put my hated (and underachieving) Knicks into a whole other category. The whole world loves Jeremy Lin. As Theo pointed out to me, Derrick Rose can kiss his All-star starter position good-bye, next to Wade you can take to the bank that Jeremy Lin is going to be right next to him, there’s a whole continent that will make sure of that. Hell, Yao Ming, was voted a starter even when he was injured, and he’d probably be there this year again if he was on the ballot even though he is retired. Jeremy Lin will be the same thing, except he’s more endearing because of his underdog story.

On top of that we have an offense that is the exact opposite of the Knicks 90s culture of hard-nosed defense and grinding down the shot clock for 23,5 seconds each possession. And instead of thugs like Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley we have goody-two shoes guys like Landry Fields and Jared Jeffries. And even though we had Patrick Ewing he was never a star in its truest form like a Jordan or Magic, or even Barkley or Olajuwon, and besides Patrick was never one for showing off his personality and embracing that persona of a superstar. Not to take anything away from him, I appreciate that type of star as well, but Amar’e and Melo are embraced as larger-than-life superstars in a whole different way, which can be traced to the fact that Carmelo was voted an All-star starter despite a poor season, and Amar’e was voted 3rd forward despite an even worse season so far. And then of course, there is Jeremy Lin, potentially the most popular player out of everyone. All these things combined, and this Knicks team has the potential to become something completely opposite to what I grew up on. And I’m not talking about the years 2001-2010, those years I want to forget altogether, anything opposite of that era would be welcomed. What I’m talking about is of course the last time around we had real success in the 90s.

How will I react when random people hear that I’m a Knicks fan and instantly just assumes that I’m just another bandwagon fan? Or another Linsanity fan that knows nothing about basketball? Or that I’m one of these morons who was rooting for the Lakers a couple of years ago, the Heat last year and OKC until about a week ago? I’ve never been in that position before, similar to a Bulls fan in the 90s, or a Lakers fan throughout their whole existence. And I’m not sure how I will respond to it. But I do know one thing, if we win it all at some point, I will love it more than anything else.

And even if we don’t, I guess I will embrace it too. You can’t duplicate the past, and 19+ years of being a Knicks fan never brought me a championship anyway so why would I want to go back really? Every era is different. And all teams have their own charm. Regardless of how this Knicks team will be viewed in the eyes of the public, all I can hope for is that I will view them as the team that finally did what no other team I’ve supported has done before, and that is to win it all.

The D’Antoni Effect

It’s always funny to me how people use one-sided stats to prove whatever point they’re trying to make. So here’s a little revenge blog post to settle the score. I give you The D’Antoni Effect as “proven” statistically. All stats found at Basketball-reference.com.

By now, we all know that Jeremy Lin has exploded on to the NBA scene and is playing out of his mind, despite being overlooked his whole NBA career and as recently as December being cut by two teams. Is it a coincidence that he is excelling under Mike D’Antoni? To find out, I took a look at the stats of D’Antoni’s point guards that have played for other NBA teams and coaches than Mike D.

I’ve looked at the 4 starting point guards in the Suns and Knicks eras of Mike D’Antoni that all came from another team upon uniting with D’Antoni and that have since moved on to other coaches and teams. So, I wanted to find out if and how much the point guards of D’Antoni improved under his tutelage and how they fared after leaving.

First, a quick background on the 4 point guards. In Phoenix, Mike D coached Steve Nash (between 2004-2008) who came to the Suns from Dallas in D’Antoni’s first full season as coach. After D’Antoni left, the more defensive minded coach Terry Porter took over Phoenix for one season, followed by an Alvin Gentry and a system that is basically D’Antoni’s blueprint. When D’Antoni left Phoenix and took over the Knicks reigns, New York signed free agent point guard Chris Duhon from Chicago. After two years of service, Duhon then signed with Orlando, where he has played since. In D’Antoni’s third year with the Knicks, New York signed free agent Raymond Felton who was not re-signed by Charlotte. Felton played 54 games with New York, before being shipped to Denver for the remainder of the season. This season, Felton is playing in Portland. At the end of last season, Chauncey Billups, came over in the Carmelo Anthony trade with Denver and played 21 games. This season, Billups has played for the Clippers, before being injured.

The D’Antoni Before & After Effect

Let’s start with Steve Nash. First of all, Nash stands out because he has had a consistently good career before and after Mike D’Antoni. But the stats he had when playing for D’Antoni backs up the fact that it was under D’Antoni and the legacy of D’Antoni’s system left behind in Phoenix, that took Nash to the next level. In his first season with D’Antoni, he increased his ppg average with 0,8 and apg average with 2,5 (from 15,5 to 16,3 and 9,5 to 12 respectively). After D’Antoni left, his numbers decreased slightly – from 17,8ppg to 16,8ppg and 11,6apg to 10,4apg – while Phoenix went away somewhat from D’Antoni’s system under new coach Terry Porter. The next season, Phoenix revived the D’Antoni offense, and Nash numbers improved again to 18,0/12,1, and since then remaining strong with 15,9/12,3 and 16,7/11,8 despite inching closer to age 40 and with a depleted roster.

Next up is Chris Duhon, who averaged 5,8 points and 4 assists in his last season in Chicago. His first season under D’Antoni he improved to 11,1ppg and 7,2apg, both career best numbers. Duhon regressed in his second season under D’Antoni, mostly due to an insanely poor shooting percentage (37%), and averaged 7,4 points and 5,6 assists, and understandably so was not re-signed by the Knicks. The next season he signed with Orlando for circa 4 million dollars per year, where Duhon averaged a measly 2,5 points and 2,3 assists, and ever since his career year with D’Antoni he has slowly spiraled into complete oblivion.

Next up for D’Antoni was Raymond Felton who averaged 12,1 points and 5,6 assists in Charlotte the season before he came to the Knicks. Right off the bat, Felton improved his numbers under D’Antoni to 17,1 points and 9 assists. Felton was playing as well as any point guard in the league and Knicks management was criticized for giving up Felton and too many other assets in the Carmelo Anthony trade. Felton however, didn’t adjust in Denver (11,5 ppg/6,5 apg) and was shipped to Portland. This season, Felton is back to his pre-D’Antoni stats, averaging 10,5 and 6,5 assists as a starter for the Trailblazers.

Billups, who the Knicks received in the Carmelo trade, only played 21 games under D’Antoni, and compared to his overall body of work it seems pointless to draw any real conclusions from his short stint with New York. But for the sake of not excluding any stats, it should be noted that Billups increased his ppg average with 1 (from 16,5 to 17,5) and apg average with 0,2 (5,3 to 5,5) under D’Antoni during the 2010/2011 season after being acquired by the Knicks. This season in L.A., Billups decreased the same numbers with 2,5 ppg (from 17,5 to 15) and 1,5 apg (from 5,5 to 4), in 20 starts for the Clippers.

The D’Antoni Career vs. Non-D’Antoni Career Effect

The numbers below compare the stats the point guards achieved under D’Antoni compared to the rest of their respective careers not played under D’Antoni.

Nash
D’Antoni: 17,5ppg 11,2apg
Non-D’Antoni: 13,4ppg 7,5apg

Duhon
D’Antoni: 9,4ppg 6,5apg
Non-D’Antoni: 6,1ppg 4,1apg

Felton
D’Antoni 17,1ppg 9apg
Non-D’Antoni 13,1ppg 6,5apg

Billups
D’Antoni 17,5ppg 5,5apg
Non-D’Antoni 15,5ppg 5,5apg

In addition to the statistics above, there is The Career Year Effect which D’Antoni brings. Billups only played a quarter of a season under D’Antoni so he can’t count regardless of how good or bad he would’ve played. It is however, safe to conclude that all the other point guards have had their best career year under D’Antoni. Steve Nash won MVP two times under D’Antoni, so there can be no argument there. Raymond Felton, increased his ppg average with 41% and apg average with 61% in his first season with D’Antoni, while notching career highs in ppg and apg. Since, his stats have dropped in ppg by 39% and apg by 28%. Chris Duhon was not a consistent starter in Chicago and he has been riding the bench a lot in Orlando, but the fact remains that he increased his stats by 41% ppg and 61% apg when he came to the N.Y. from Chicago, and under D’Antoni he had a career year in just about every category. And turning Duhon into a quality starting point guard – remember he has the single game all-time assist record for the Knicks with 22 assists – is nothing short of Magic (no pun, Orlando).

Jeremy Lin, you are in very good hands. But you already knew that.