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The man who remade the NBA

Pondering Mike D’Antoni, the Houston Rockets, and the NBA he wrought.

Houston Rockets v Miami Heat
Strange that such a genteel figure would be the target of such ire.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Quick, tell me how do the Houston Rockets play offense?

  • High pick and roll.
  • Multiple shooters spread on the perimeter.
  • Emphasis on ball movement around the 3pt arc, rather than player movement.
  • Drives to the basket off the pick and roll leading to either a layup, or alley oop dunk from the rolling center.
  • Iron clad emphasis on layups/dunks, three point shots, free throws for all but the best mid-range players.
  • A simply staggering number of three point shots (compared to most of NBA history), because, math.
  • Emphasis on smaller (shooting) players, maybe one big, maybe none, on the court. Even then, bigs are generally very mobile, maybe shooters.

Quick, tell me how YOUR team plays offense?

Be honest.

Yes, it likely is very much the same as the Rockets. It might even be identical in execution.

Many appear to hate the Rockets offense, their players. James Harden is “What’s Wrong With The NBA.” Yet, Everyone’s Darling Luka Doncic is in every relevant respect EuroHarden (a bit taller, slower).

Don’t like the current NBA? Look in the mirror, not at the Gulf Coast.

How did we get here, to this uniformity of play, this 3pt shot barrage, post-abandoning, mid-range hating, player movement-eschewing, league?

You can thank, or blame, one man, Mike D’Antoni.

Traditional NBA centers almost certainly blame him. His offense made most of them irrelevant. The switching style of defense that’s almost obligatory to stop a MDA offense did the rest. The traditional center, big, strong, immobile, holds the post on offense and defense, is endangered and certainly not the NBA crown jewels they once were.

Tall wing players who can catch and shoot a 3 pointer and play switching defense on multiple player types should love Mike D’Antoni. He’s made them the choicest, and richest, player type in the league.

Over the past five years it’s difficult to argue against the proposition that the Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA, possibly one of the best teams ever. Close on their heels were the Houston Rockets.

Those teams have something in common: Mike D’Antoni. Steve Kerr was in Phoenix with D’Antoni, (and San Antonio with Greg Popovich and this explains to me the high post pass/rim run that was so devastating for the Warriors when combined with the MDA spread shooting offense).

Back in Phoenix people loved watching MDA’s Suns, but there was a reactionary mainstream voice that spoke against them, and apparently cited injuries and suspensions as a reason “A jump shooting team will never win a title.” Fast forward to today. Golden State seemed to thrive shooting jumpers. San Antonio may be the last traditional big man, non-jump shooting/3pt shooting team to win a title. (Barring rule changes.)

The league has moved to Mike D’Antoni, but the reactionary element has stayed right where it was, with MDA and his team.

D’Antoni was right about offense before the analytics confirmed he was right. He’s still right about offense, and now almost the entire league looks like one of his teams.

Look in the mirror.


Will a post/mid range team win another title?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Not without rule changes.
    (67 votes)
  • 26%
    Yes, the classics never change.
    (41 votes)
  • 29%
    If Luke is a center, then yes.
    (45 votes)
153 votes total Vote Now