Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Arrogant Scientist

Bringing in 2010 with the re-re-re-resurrection of FU. My first post of the new year will be dedicated to my favorite team—in particular, the coach of that team and what I believe to be his thinking behind some of the roster moves he's made. New year, same random pictures...

Mike D'Antoni, originator of the "Seven Seconds or Less (SSOL)" system that added a 21st-century twist to the fast-paced Basketball of a generation ago, has tried to implement his philosophy with my New York Knicks. But there are a few differences between the Suns' teams that initially ran and the mob that calls Madison Square Garden home. There's no versatile help defender in NYC like Marion; nor a seven-foot jar of nitrous oxide that Amar'e was pre-microfracture. Instead, there are much more Quentin Richardsons—perimeter forwards that float 25 feet from the basket and hoist shots from distance like Antoine Walker did. This is actually a wrinkle D'Antoni didn't have in Phoenix, as there are multiple Knicks that are capable of hitting four threes a game. But the single-most important piece missing from true actualization is something D'Antoni himself refuses to change. And it's been visible in his decisions after leaving Phoenix.

First, let's examine the Suns back then. The signing of Steve Nash gave D'Antoni the ability to perfectly project his genius onto the floor. With Nash's immense IQ and vision, there was a conductor who knew exactly how and where his teammates would be most effective; something previous point guard, Stephon Marbury, either couldn't do or wouldn't do. As with any new idea, it has to breed success. Sixty-two wins in the SSOL's first year garnered an MVP for Nash, and established the hyper-kinetic offense's credibility. The supporting cast changed. Diaw, Bell, Thomas—all names that found oasis in The Desert. Nash was that literal steady hand. With the ball as that bouncing one in sing-alongs, he dribbled and assisted like leading a Tchaikovsky symphony; creating measures of chords at clips of 105-plus points per game.

So what does that extended metaphor have to do with D'Antoni? Well, it seems that he's being arrogant and refuses to draft or sign that life-altering point guard again. For instance, he turned down coaching the Bulls, even though Derrick Rose seems to be the thoroughbred built for SSOL. Then, in New York, he chooses to draft Jordan Hill over the young buck Brandon Jennings. Even drafting Ty Lawson, to a lesser degree, is that lead guard with speed in constant fast forward and championship-tested in college. Instead, D'Antoni entrusted the reigns to Chris Duhon—a structured, rigid guard that can't create for himself or others. He'd rather be stubborn that his system will win out as opposed to investing in this recent crop of 1-guards. Granted, players like Curry, Flynn, Evans, and even Rubio were off the board by the time the Knicks were on the clock; but the selection of Hill proved that D'Antoni believed finding the next Amar'e was easier than cultivating a newer Nash.

The final piece of evidence that supports my theory is the inexplicable benching of Nate Robinson. He's the one player on the Knicks with the improvisation in his Basketball soul, and the natural one-on-one scoring skills. For reasons between him and the Most High, D'Antoni sat Robinson for 14 consecutive games; and the Knicks did play well without him. In the short term, it looked like a wise decision. But the offense suffered as teams adjusted to the lack of dribble penetration. Then, Nate was released, and responded with 40 points in an overtime win on the road against fledgling elite Eastern power Atlanta. Like Napoleon Bonaparte with a jump shot, he shredded the Hawks in their own gym as if he hadn't had game action in a month. D'Antoni couldn't help but swallow his pride; yet I don't see Nate being the maestro in The Garden.

It could all be coincidence. Maybe this is another chemical equation in the SSOL formula. But passing on many of the revolutionary point guards has proven in today's NBA to set back franchises a few years. Just ask those Atlanta Hawks. He's probably forgotten more Basketball than I remember, so I'm pretty sure he knows what he's doing. For the sake of my favorite team, I hope so.

Or maybe it's all for Lebron.


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