Dispelling the myth that a Mike D’Antoni team plays no defense
Posted by Tucker Grady
With the firing of Mike Brown, one of the names that has been popping up as a potential replacement is Mike D’Antoni, which seems to be synonymous with “no defense”. Mike D’Antoni’s name should be Mike Antoni because there’s no D, we’ve all heard it before. Sports journalists and analysts continually put forth this notion that Mike D’Antoni’s teams play no defense, and D’Antoni will probably carry this stigma with him for the rest of his coaching career. With a cursory glance of his team’s stats, you’d probably blindly accept this fact also:
Opponent’s Points Per Game
2004-05 Phoenix Suns: 103.3 (30th of 30)
2005-06 Phoenix Suns: 102.8 (28th of 30)
2006-07 Phoenix Suns: 102.9 (23rd of 30)
2007-8 Phoenix Suns: 105.0 (25th of 30)
D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns teams were consistently at the bottom of the league in points allowed and sure, the simplistic point of view says that giving up a lot of points = bad defense. Yet, isn’t it completely logical that D’Antoni’s teams would give up more points than an average NBA team because the opposing team is given more possessions?
Points Per Game
2004-05 Phoenix Suns: 110.4 (1st of 30)
2005-06 Phoenix Suns: 108.4 (1st of 30)
2006-07 Phoenix Suns: 110.2 (1st of 30)
2007-8 Phoenix Suns: 110.1 (3rd of 30)
Mike D’Antoni’s offense is a fast-paced, high tempo offensive system that looks to score within the first 7 seconds of the shot clock. His Phoenix Suns teams were near or at the top of the league in scoring for four consecutive seasons and were also at the top of the league in pace. Quicker shots per possession means that more shots will taken throughout the course of the game, which means that both teams playing will see more possessions than the average NBA game. When both teams have more possessions on average, it makes perfect sense that there will be more scoring regardless of a team’s defense ability.
2004-05 Phoenix Suns: 107.1 (17th of 30)
2005-06 Phoenix Suns: 105.8 (16th of 30)
2006-07 Phoenix Suns: 106.4 (13th of 30)
2007-8 Phoenix Suns: 108.1 (16th of 30)
Defensive rating determines how many points a team allows per 100 possessions. As you can see, D’Antoni’s teams were hardly the worst team in the NBA defensively, and were usually somewhere around the middle of the pack. Part of this is the focus on offense, part of this is D’Antoni’s system, and part of this is the fatigue involved in running such a high octane offense. Regardless, the “D’Antoni teams play no defense” myth is completely false. The year before D’Antoni coached a full season in Phoenix, the Suns were 29-43 and ranked 23rd in defensive rating. The following season, he turned them into an offensive juggernaut, an instant contender, and a much improved team defensively. The same thing goes for when he left Phoenix for New York, as the Suns dropped from 16th to 26th in defensive rating and missed the playoffs after four consecutive post-season berths under D’Antoni.
Yes, I left out D’Antoni’s time with the Knicks because his four seasons in Phoenix are a much better sample size for what a team can expect when the players buy into his system and run it efficiently. During his years in New York, D’Antoni was plagued by a weak roster, a lack of a true point guard, injuries, and the team’s star players choosing to avoid the defensive side of the ball altogether (coughStatandMelocough).
The old adage is that defense wins championships, but I have a feeling that an incredible offense with a solid enough defense could have won a championship if Robert Horry didn’t hip-check Steve Nash into a scorer’s table in 2006-07. I’m not saying that Mike D’Antoni is the right hire for the Los Angeles Lakers right now, but it’s important to dispel the rumors that his teams play no defense. While he’s still an offensive-minded coach, Mike D’Antoni is also a very good all-around NBA coach, and that’s something people seem to forget.