A Hall Pass for the Dog Days on Coach D’Antoni’s Sole Trick?

After losing this weekend’s “what if” if game with several players of the franchise’s recent past, the the New York Knicks find themselves mired in what could be described as the dog days of a short yet heavily compressed NBA season. The Knicks who currently ride a season long six game losing streak, have regressed immensely on the offensive side of the ball despite showing signs of improving. But is the Knicks offensive funk merely a sign of a critically missing component or rather a telling sign of much large systemic issues with the offense in general and the offense’s architect in particular?

Most observers will note that Mike D’Antoni employs an offensive system (Seven Seconds or Less (SSOL) that generates allot of points.  The result as all know comes from the surge of the offense’s initial push up the court on the break to gain a step on opposing defenses.  If the initial break is denied the offense will simulate that break via the Pick and Roll (P&R )to initiate the collapse of the defense for the secondary break.  D’Antoni’s signature P&R set spreads the floor by complementing the Point Guard and Forward/Center tandem by shooters at the wings.  Back door cuts are intermittently employed when the defenses collapse on the Pentrator or Roller on the P&R, which frees up space for a slasher to cut to the paint and finish.

However, D’Antoni’s SSOL offense depends on certain types of players.  Athletic slashing Power Forwards who often masquerade as Centers. Shooting/slashing Small or Stretch Forwards or Shooting Guards at the wings.  But most importantly SSOL depends on a nimble adept decision making point guard capable of directing the uptempo attack.  In SSOL It is the point guard’s penetration off the screen/pick that initiates the options in the offense — e.g., whether to pull up, shoot, drive, dish to the Pick/Roller big man or swing the ball out to the wing players. With the ball in his hands to initiate the key set, it is the point guard who is the offenses chief decision-maker.  Other offensive roles are more limited and dependent on the point guard’s penetration to unleash. Nonetheless, when all the pieces of the offensive scheme are in place (but most critically the point guard) the offense can generate points at a remarkable rate — e.g., D’Antoni’s Pheonix Suns.

But what happens to SSOL in the absence of a point guard?  Absent the player that ignites the play that sets the rhythm and defines the roles and options of the surrounding players, the offense devolves.  Peripheral players dependent on the rhythm and discipline imparted to the offense off the Screen and Roll are less efficient.  The Power-Forward/Centers assisted forays into the paint are negated.  Peripheral wing players stand around the perimeter watching Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudmire’s frustrated attempts to collapse the offense on isolations — often confronting multiple defenders all to cognizant of the offensive inactivity surrounding the Knicks star forwards.  In the absence of the disciplined rhythm imparted to the offense off it’s signature set, wing players devolve into launching ill advised shots early in the clock at the slightest sight of any space given by defenses sagging in on isolations that have poorly filled the void of the P&R that ignites D’Antoni’s secondary break.

Aside from the absence of the point guard, the shortened yet compressed sixty six game NBA season, has sparked a trend of offenses generally starting out behind their respective teams defenses.  This year the Knicks has followed and headlined that trend sparked off of a shortened mini camp, yet compounded by limited practice time in between a heavily compressed schedule.  Moreover,the acquisition of new personnel from the draft, via trade and free agency along with personnel missing due to injury or rehab has delayed the development of cohesion for the Knicks offense.  But all this begs the question, does coach D’Antoni deserve a hall pass given the various factors affecting the functionality of his team, specifically his team’s offense? The answer is no. 

The problem with D’Antoni’s offense is that it inhibits player development. As illustrated in a fellow fanatic’s exhibit A, D’Antoni offense insist upon typecasting players into defined yet limited slots within the offense.  Danilo Gallinari’s increased assist numbers, drives to the paint and trips to the line clearly indicate that D’Antoni’s god son has developed into a more aggressive and complete offense player outside of the presence of the famed SSOL offense. The added dimension were not part of Gallinari’s game in New York, where he was pigeonholed in the role of a perimeter marksman camped out, . . . you’ve guessed it on the wings awaiting the kick out and swing passes of D’Antoni’s offense.  Exhibit B of the tendency to typecast players could be viewed in the decline and resurgence of Landry Fields. Like Gallinari, Fields contributions to the offense were limited to being parked out on the wings dependent on scoring opportunities from back door cuts and put backs when SSOL was running at it’s peak. Upon the arrival of Carmelo Anthony and then exit of Chauncey Billups, Fields role became more that of a perimeter marksman, which observers know he isn’t.  Yet in recent games, Fields has taken to attacking space given and has exploited the defense’s overreaction when the ball is swung his way in space. He has in a sense broken the mold he was deleteriously being cast into.

That said, you have to wonder whether the tendency to stand around on the perimeter is a tendency drilled into the surrounding players as a result of their dependence on the P&R to initiate the offense on the wings? Whether Amar’e Stoudamire face up forays into double or triple team coverage in the absence of the Scren and Roll, is an indictment of his built in co-dependance on a set that has pigeonholed his game to his detriment when he most needs to show a varied arsenal of post moves.  Whether the countless miscues and turnovers on entry passes by the teams wing players is any indication of an offense that has put all it’s eggs and smarts in one basket without developing them in am ore even manner. In an era where contemporary offense employ varied sets and require their peripheral players to make their fair share of reads and move themselves or the ball accordingly, has the co-dependent one dimensional typecasting tendencies of Mike D’Antoni’s offense run it’s course?

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