The Knicks are struggling and it is all Mike D'Antoni's fault. This is not a typical bash the coach post. For starter's D'Antoni is preaching defense and has done so all year. In fact the trade set back real significant progress in the team's defensive efforts. However it is even clear that with the new group D'Antoni is preaching defense. I know most of you do not believe that but it is a fact. However I know that facts do not matter when it comes to D'Antoni in New York. So no this post is not about his inability or refusal to coach defense. To be honest folks D'Antoni has blown it because of his failings offensively with this team. Take the jump and find out.
When the Knicks swapped out Raymond Felton for Chauncey Billups, the gained a point guard with more experience and a proven playoff track record. However they also gained a point guard who was 8 years older and has significantly more mileage on his legs. Billups in games played both regular season and playoffs has played nearly ten more seasons worth of games than Felton. So obviously D'Antoni was right not to expect Billups to play at the pace that he had Felton playing for 35 minutes a night. However, D'Antoni has been far too accommodating of Billups in this offense. The Knicks have gone from the 2nd fastest team in the league to the 7th slowest in terms of pace. By allowing the team to slow down that much D'Antoni has doomed this team to failure.
The Knicks are a small team, even smaller since the trade than before it. Even when D'Antoni tries to play a "big" line up we are undersized, if not in length then in girth. Now D'Antoni is not a stranger to playing undersized teams, for much of this season he played a small line up. However small teams need to be fast teams or they will be in trouble. While this aspect of the game is not talked about in basketball often, teams win or lose often by their ability to wear out their opponents. When a small team gets into a slow paced possession by possession grind it out game with a bigger more physical team, the smaller team will often lose regardless of talent because they will be worn down physically. The Knicks have struggled to close games because they are often worn out by the fourth quarter. Playing fast not only neutralizes a bigger teams ability to beat you up physically, it wears them out by making the larger team have to expend energy getting up and down the court. For example imagine what would happen to the Knicks if they have to play the Celtics with a healthy Shaq in the playoffs and we play a slow down half court possession by possession game? We would get drubbed. Push the pace have Shaq have to sprint the length of the floor to get back on defense and after 3 or 4 trips up the court big boy will be sucking air and will need to come out. Small teams play into the hands of bigger teams by slowing down.
Secondly, the slower pace violates D'Antoni's own principles on offense. This becomes apparent in the fourth quarter when teams especially good teams tighten up their defense. Rule number one of D'Antoni's offensive principles is to attack a team in transition. Even bad defensive teams are able to put up more defensive resistance when they can set their defenses. Good defensive teams become almost impossible to score against when they get set. But even good defensive teams can be exploited if they can be attacked before they set their defense. As we have seen the Knicks have been playing very slow in 4th quarters and as a result have been facing set defenses. This leads to more turnovers and difficulty getting good shots. Now if you are going to play slow you have to be a good offensive rebounding team. For example the Bulls and the Lakers are great offensive rebounding teams so even missed initial shots do not always result in empty offensive trips. The Knicks are not a good offensive rebounding team, they simply lack the personnel, so missed shots become one and done trips for the Knicks. This puts stress on their defense. The Knicks are a below average defensive team at best, but turnovers and missed shots especially in the fourth quarter allow their opponents to get out in transition and place undo stress on the team's defense; making stops almost impossible to get.
Now if D'Antoni thinks he has to play slow, then the Knicks have to play faster within the half court set. Thus D'Antoni rule number two is also being violated. Good ball movement defeats good defense. If you are going to face a set defense then it is imperative that you move the basketball to create good looks. The Knicks ball movement has been atrocious since this trade. Now to be fair, the team before the trade struggled to consistently move the ball to D'Antoni's liking, but there are nights where this present team does not appear to even try. Now it would be easy but also lazy to blame Carmelo Anthony for the Knicks pedestrian ball movement, just as saying the Knicks poor defense is the fault of D'Antoni's indifference, but the fact is the ball does not move anymore crisply when Carmelo is on the bench than when he is on the floor. Now even D'Antoni's harshest critics will admit the man preaches ball movement, but it is clear from the point guards on down the line that this team has not bought into what D'Antoni is preaching. Now as unfair as it may seem, that is D'Antoni's fault. It is his job to make sure the players buy in to what he wants and replicate that on the court.
D'Antoni has often been criticized for being too rigid and to invested in his system. Remember early in the year when Felton was struggling with the pick and roll, how D'Antoni was blasted by Isola and others for being stubborn and insisting on Felton running that play instead of "adjusting to the talent" and eliminating the pick and roll from the play book. Well D'Antoni stuck to his guns and what happened? Felton figured out how to run the pick and roll with Stoudemire. Well here D'Antoni is blowing it by not being rigid enough! This team is too small to play as slow as it has been playing. Now Billups might not be able to run the offense at the pace that Felton did, but D'Antoni needs to demand that Billups run the offense at a faster pace than he has been thus far. We saw D'Antoni this season screaming at Felton from the side line and demanding from Felton in timeouts that he pick up the pace when he felt the team was playing too slow. Have you noticed D'Antoni saying anything to Billups? He needs to get over the finals MVP, Five time All-star 7 times conference finalist stuff. Billups did not do any of that playing for you Mike. Now if you want to have a chance in hell of getting to the conference finals or having Billups or anyone else on your team for that matter be finals MVP while you still coach here, you need to demand that Billups run your offense they way you want it run or ask Donnie to get you another point guard for next season. While Billups' stats have been good since this trade, the fact is he is not running this offense right now any better than Chris Duhon did. Speak up Mike or you will be soon referred to as "former Knick head coach."
Same with ball movement. You need to demand it, not just from Anthony but everyone. You cannot defer to superstars or merely spout platitudes like "they will get it," or "we will get better," I know calling out players in public is not your style Mike, but you have to find a way to get these guys to play the way you want them to. I have seen your face after these games Mike and not only do you not like that your team is losing games, but you don't like the brand of basketball they are playing either. You are blowing it Mike, you are still the coach for now, do something about it!