Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni, king of the 3, draws singular praise
OAKLAND, Calif. — Stephen Curry and Draymond Green admire Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni from afar for how he empowers all his players to be scorers.
No matter who you are, just let it fly — and for the Rockets that means regularly from 3-point range. And in transition whenever possible.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr praises D’Antoni for influencing the way NBA teams now play offense: the pace and the space; precise ball movement and playing small without a traditional center; shooting at will and shooting from way back.
Still, for all his success in leading the West’s top team this season, D’Antoni might need a championship to validate his style.
Standing in the way are the defending champion Warriors, who open the best-of-seven Western Conference finals at Houston on Monday night.
“He empowers everyone to shoot the basketball, and that’s dangerous,” said Green, Golden State’s bruising forward. “That’s why he’s been so successful, especially on that side of the ball with any team he’s ever coached because that’s definitely an area where he’s a mastermind. ”
D’Antoni downplays his significance in developing today’s game.
“I think a lot of things combined to change it,” he said. “One, they changed the rules and, two, the analytic people came in and put validation over 3s and stuff we were doing in Phoenix. Yeah, we kind of jumped out there because of the team we had and Steve Nash before anybody really caught on. And it worked. So in a little sense part of it, but there was a lot of factors.”
D’Antoni’s teams recall those running, high-flying Denver Nuggets of the ’80s, led by Alex English, Dan Issel and Kiki VanDeWeghe.
While Kerr has long expressed how much he learned from mentor Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, he notes, “I was inspired by Mike.”
“The guy who deserves the most credit for changing the way the league is played is Mike D’Antoni,” Kerr said. “He’s the guy who just eliminated the center position and said, ‘Let’s go small and fast and shoot more 3s.’”
Not that Kerr was immediately convinced such a style would work. After all, while Suns general manager in 2008, he traded All-Star Shawn Marion to Miami for Shaquille O’Neal, who hardly fit that focus of play. Kerr has called it a “bad move” all these years later.
D’Antoni left for New York at the end of that season and went 121-167 before resigning from the Knicks in March 2012. But Carmelo Anthony was never comfortable with or committed to D’Antoni’s way.
The Houston coach has said most everybody doubted his system, but the game has evolved.
“In the old days, you had kind of three out, two in, you had your traditional power forward, whether it was Karl Malone or Charles Oakley or somebody like that who was going to maybe shoot a 15-footer, but he was going to be banging down in the paint,” Kerr said.
“Mike eliminated that and created all that much more space. … The influence is there in the strategy and then over the last 10 years every player in the league has spent his summers shooting 500 3-pointers a day.”
Kerr’s partnership with D’Antoni lasted only that 2007-08 season in Phoenix before D’Antoni bolted for New York. A decade later, the 67-year-old D’Antoni has enjoyed his most successful stint in these two seasons with the Rockets.
His influence has reached the college game, too.
In the summer of 2014, Tara VanDerveer, the women’s Hall of Fame coach from Stanford, called on D’Antoni for an assist She needed to revamp her offense from the Cardinal’s tried-and-true triangle. D’Antoni helped with the transition.
Facing a D’Antoni team, Curry is prepared to defend constant pick-and-rolls. He understands the fast and creative tempo at which D’Antoni’s team plays.
“I guess you’d call it unorthodox when it comes to the things that he tries,” Curry said. “But it seems that anybody who goes and plays for D’Antoni’s system their offensive numbers go out the roof, just because he knows how to put guys in the right positions and instill confidence when you’re out there to make plays.”
David Lee, an ex-Warrior, played for D’Antoni with the Knicks. Curry says Lee spoke of how D’Antoni sought to bring out the best in his players.
“So he’s had a great track record of putting up crazy offensive numbers and whatnot,” Curry said. “And as a guy watching teams he used to coach he was always fun to watch.”
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