I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.
That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).
Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:
But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.
“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”
The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.
“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”
With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.
“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.
This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.
We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.
As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.
The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.
We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.