I tend to be pretty agnostic when it comes to the topic of Mike D'Antoni. I'd like to see him manage a team consisting of more than youngsters and inherited lame ducks before I judge his Knick legacy. That perception, it seems, is pretty widespread. Independent of roster quality, though, D'Antoni still draws ire for much of his decision-making. A lot of us pined for Jordan Hill to get more playing time in New York, and lo and behold, he's looking pretty sharp as a Rocket. Let select members of the media run wild with those circumstances, and you have a li'l controversy on your hands. You've probably heard: Mike D'Antoni was asked about rookies, and responded that he played good rookies, not "bad rookies". Of course, Coach's words were taken out of context and communicated to Hill, who responded as you'd expect. Whatever. The feud was overblown in the first place, and this guy ultimately isn't on the team anymore. It might serve D'Antoni well to choose his words more carefully when there are tape recorders in his face, but it's his journey. If the Knicks put together a winning team next year, this will all be forgotten.
In any event, the deal with Hill was another arrow in the quiver of those who claim D'Antoni is anti-rookie. Tom Ziller, as he's wont to do, sought out the empirical data behind everyone's idle criticisms. Look back at the coach's history, and you see a bunch of guys-- Jackson Vroman, Sharrod Ford, Dijon Thompson-- who you probably wouldn't play either. Basically, the coach hasn't spent much of his career coaching a bad team with lottery picks that deserve time. Limiting Hill's burn may or may not have been a mistake, but it's not really one of a series. The good news, I guess, is that the Knicks won't have a lottery pick for several years now, so this won't really be a concern going forward. Right?? (Tugs collar.)
The other pet criticism of D'Antoni D'tractors is that he doesn't preach defense. The merits of the 7 Seconds or Less system and all sorts of statistics have been presented and digested ad nauseam, so I'll just share these quotations from Jared Jeffries, who spoke to Howard Beck yesterday:
"I think that Mike’s a realist,’’ Jeffries said. "Defending, like anything else in the NBA, is a talent level. And you can’t have people that are not great defenders and expect them to be great defenders. Just like you can’t have people that aren’t great scorers and expect them to be great scorers. He put me out there to be a defender and he puts guys out there to be scorers. He does focus on defense, but if you don’t have defensive players, then you’re not going to be a great defensive team.’’
He added, "It’s not like he tells the guys, ‘Don’t go out there and guard anybody, just try to score.’ That’s not the case at all.’’
Jeffries' words are arguable, but his point should probably inform our perception of D'Antoni's mindset at this very moment. In years to come, the excuses will run out, but for the time being, it's worth keeping in mind what the Knicks' coach has to work with. Mike D'Antoni might, in fact, be vehemently ageist and anti-defense. For New York's purposes, I don't think we're certain of that yet. And if you think you're certain one way or the other, it helps to have gone to the source and done some research, like Ziller and Beck did.