After weeks of speculation, Mike D’Antoni was unveiled as head coach of the Houston Rockets in early June, after a season on the Philadelphia 76ers coaching staff.
D’Antoni is known as an offensive coaching pioneer of the 21st century, bringing the “seven seconds or less” offense to the NBA with mild success.
However, to put things kindly, defence is not his forte – 10 of the 12 seasons he has coached, his team has finished in the bottom half of the league for defensive rating.
Six out of those 10 seasons, his teams have finished in the bottom 10, and usually in the bottom five.
Last year, Houston’s offence was ranked 7th out of the 30 teams in the league – rather impressive for a team that finished at .500, eighth in the Western Conference.
This makes the hiring of D’Antoni all the more peculiar, as the Rockets’ offence was clearly not as problematic as their defence – which was ranked 21st.
When considering the kind of offensive talent Houston possess, it’s clear that the front room staff have hired D’Antoni to attempt to max out the team’s offensive potential rather than significantly improve the squad’s weaknesses.
This considered, one hopes that the Rockets have done their homework and made sure all their current pieces will fit well onto the kind of board Mike D’Antoni prefers.
Fortunately, they are in an advantageous position from the start – Dwight Howard and James Harden are both excellent pick and roll players, which is the first option a D’Antoni coached team will look for coming down the court.
Not only does this get Howard brilliant low post position, where he scores from at will, but it also gets Harden straight to the hoop for some of his patented free throws.
Mike D’Antoni’s offence also heavily features weak side screens for a dominant shooter or scorer, such as James Harden.
With Patrick Beverley bringing the ball up, a screen on the far side of the court from Dwight Howard for Harden allows the former to again dive to the hoop and the latter to either shoot off the screen or again barge his way into the paint.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a D’Antoni offense without some European influence. The man himself of course spent over 20 years playing and coaching Europe.
Every once in a while, in a move that looks like it was made up then and there, you will see the ball handler stand on one side of the court whilst his four teammates stand on the other, and once the call is made, scatter to various parts of the half court.
This is all of course misdirection for what inevitably becomes a screen and roll, a weak side screen, a floppy, or any other kind of rudimentary offensive trigger.
Whilst Houston were only very ordinary shooting the ball last year (14th overall), they will no doubt see that ranking go up in this offense.
There’s no doubt that for the best two players in Rockets uniforms – James Harden and Dwight Howard – Mike D’Antoni is exactly the kind of coach required to get the two working to their full offensive capability.
Whether or not he can get the rest of this Houston team to where it wants to be – the later rounds of the playoffs - is another story.
The farthest D’Antoni has made his way into the playoffs is the Conference Finals, where he has lost twice with a Phoenix Suns squad that included Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal.
Other appearances in the playoffs include a trip to the conference semis once, and three first round exits. Not the worst record going around, but generally, defensive frailties have kept his teams from succeeding to their true potential.
What do you think? Is Mike D’Antoni the right hire for the Houston Rockets? Have your say below.