(Photo via Bleacher Report)
Much has been made of the Los Angeles Lakers hiring of former Knicks and Suns coach Mike D’Antoni. After canning Mike Brown just five games into the 2012-2013 season, the Lakers moved quickly to scoop up the man who made the “7 seconds or less” offense his staple in Phoenix. D’Antoni was wildly successful with the Suns, using All-Star point guard Steve Nash to direct his breakneck-pace offense and surrounding him with shooters and an incredibly athletic big man.
D’Antoni’s tenure as head coach of the New York Knicks did not go as smoothly, as his offensive philosophy clashed with ballstopper Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the players around him. So will D’Antoni be successful under the bright lights of L.A.? We take a statistical look at what made D’Antoni’s offense tick, and what made it slow down considerably.
ESPN’s John Hollinger has played a large part in changing how we analyze basketball game with statistics; and using his system is a fun way to analyze the difference between the Suns and the Knicks. The three stats we will look at are PACE, offensive efficiency and true shooting percentage.
PACE: Counts the number of possessions per game an offense has. D’Antoni’s “7 seconds or less” offense was geared toward getting the Suns as many chances to score as possible.
Offensive Efficiency: This stat shows how many points a team scores per 100 possessions.
True Shooting Percentage (TS): Hollinger defines it as “what a team’s shooting percentage would be if we accounted for free throws and 3-pointers.” Instead of using only field goals, Hollinger’s version takes everything into account.
The Phoenix Suns Years
During the 2003-2004 season, the Suns were on their way to a dismal 29-53 record. D’Antoni took over with 61 games left in the season, but the team continued to flounder. They averaged 110 possessions per game, but were scoring a dismal 85.2 points per 100 possessions.
Then came the offseason. D’Antoni put his offensive plan into action by shipping off point guard Stephon Marbury and acquiring Steve Nash and sharpshooter Quentin Richardson. He now had the perfect starting five for his offense: Nash, Richardson, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudamire. Not only could Nash hit the three, but he also ran a devastating pick and roll with Amare Stoudamire. Marion, Johnson and Richardson could all hit from long range, and the uptempo pace made the Suns impossible to guard.
During the 2004-2005 season, the Suns’ PACE increased only slightly, to 112.3 possessions per game, but their offensive efficiency shot up from 85.2 to 98.2, and their TS leapt from 51.5 percent to 57.1 percent. The Suns were hitting nearly 60 percent of all their shots from the floor. If a team that averaged 100 possessions per game were to score a two-point field goal on every trip down the floor, they would score 200 points. With the Suns scoring 98.2 points per 100 possessions, they were scoring on almost half of their possessions. That’s incredible.
Starting with the 2004-2005 season and ending with the 2007-2008 season, the Suns averaged 110.4, 108.4, 110.2 and 110.1 points per game, respectively. That’s a lot of offense. The defense was another story, as the Suns consistently gave up more than 100 points a game. Part of it was a product of the team’s high possession rate, but when the offense was scoring upwards of 110 points per game, the defense never really mattered.
The Suns were ranked no. 1 in Hollinger’s offensive efficiency ratings each year D’Antoni coached the team. Even after losing Joe Johnson to free agency during the 2005 offseason, the Suns maintained a True Shooting Percentage in the high 50s, peaking at 59 percent in both the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons. D’Antoni’s Suns thrived by pushing the pace to get as many possessions as possible and fielding a team of high-percentage shooters. The formula led the Suns to multiple Western Conference Finals and Semi-Finals appearances.
Moving to the Big Apple
When D’Antoni signed on as coach of the New York Knicks in 2008, he inherited a much different, less talented roster. D’Antoni’s PACE slowed greatly, falling from 112.9 with the 2007-2008 Suns to a paltry 99 with the 2008-2009 Knicks. The team’s TS dropped as well, to 54.4 percent in that first season. So while D’Antoni’s teams were still scoring points, averaging 105.2 and 102.1 points per game in his first two seasons, the Knicks were doing it much less efficiently while continuing to ignore defense.
Even the arrival of Amare Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony in 2010 failed to jumpstart the Knicks’ offense. Anthony, whose strength was playing in isolation, became a ballstopper on offense, limiting the fluid motion of D’Antoni’s scheme. Things would bottom out during the 2011-2012 season, as the Knicks’ PACE hovered at 95.7, a D’Antoni low, and the team averaged just 97.8 points a game, the first time a D’Antoni team averaged fewer than 100 points.
D’Antoni tried to replicate the formula that made him a success in Phoenix. He added shooters like Landry Fields, Chauncey Billups and Steve Novak to the roster. He reacquired Amare Stoudamire, but he never found a point guard like Steve Nash. Once ownership added Anthony to the roster, the coach and his star immediately clashed over offensive philosophy, and things never fell into place.
The Future in L.A.
So what will happen with D’Antoni in Lakerland? He’ll be reunited with Steve Nash, who despite his age can still push the ball. In Dwight Howard, he has an athletic big man to run the floor à la Amare Stoudamire. Kobe Bryant is a future Hall-of-Famer. Although the team does not have an abundance of shooters like the Suns did, it does feature role players like Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison, who can knock down the occasional shot.
We know this offense will score points; we just need to find out how efficiently. There is also the question of defense, which has never been D’Antoni’s strength, and was something the Lakers couldn’t master under Mike Brown, a presumed defensive specialist. One thing is sure: the D’Antoni era in Los Angeles will be an interesting one, and we can’t wait to see how it plays out.