Did Steve Nash Make Mike D’Antoni?
After winning back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards in the mid-2000′s, some questioned whether or not Steve Nash was a legitimate MVP or just a product of Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offensive system. Even though Nash led the Phoenix Suns – a lottery team the year before he joined the squad – to new heights at the point guard position, there were whispers by some that it was actually D’Antoni who should take the lion’s share of the credit.
Looking at the stats, D’Antoni’s offensive numbers since leaving Nash and the Suns behind before the 2008 season would beg to differ with that assessment. While still featuring some of the best offenses in the NBA, there was definitely a drop off in New York for D’Antoni.
In roughly three-and-a-half seasons with the New York Knicks, D’Antoni’s offense ranked in the top ten every full season he coached. This included top five finishes in points scored in two of the previous three seasons leading up to 2012.
The 2012 season, however, was a different story altogether for D’Antoni, as a disappointing season with New York came to an abrupt end on March 14. With the Knicks having lost six straight games that resulted in just 18 wins and 24 losses up to that point (the team’s lowest mark of the season), D’Antoni stepped down as head coach after a tumultuous last few weeks on the job.
New York would rebound after D’Antoni’s exit, finishing the season with an 18-6 record and making the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
As a whole, in 42 games before departing last season, D’Antoni’s Knicks routinely failed to crack the 100-point mark as not much seemed to work on either end of the floor for D’Antoni. However, even though 2012 was a down year, D’Antoni’s offensive numbers overall were very respectable with the Knicks.
As a whole, the case can be made the D’Antoni still had some excellent offensive teams even without Nash running the show.
Without question, the Knicks’ offensive numbers with D’Antoni at the helm were good bordering on great during his tenure but, with Nash at the point in Phoenix, D’Antoni’s offenses were much more lethal. With Nash leading the way at the point guard position, D’Antoni’s Suns finished as the best scoring team in the NBA three out of his four seasons there.
With Nash, D’Antoni was able to let his floor general run things offensively and that led to the best numbers on the offensive end of the floor that one of his team has ever put up.
For Nash, the perennial All-Star point guard has continued to flourish even without D’Antoni in charge over the past few seasons in Phoenix. While he hasn’t racked up the Most Valuable Player awards that he did under D’Antoni, Nash’s numbers have either exceeded or been on par with those of his MVP-winning seasons.
Over the past four campaigns, Nash has been the model of consistency and efficiency at the point guard position. From the 2008 season leading up to this past year, Nash averaged nearly 15 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting (41 percent from three-point range) to go along with 10.7 assists per contest.
Clearly, there was no letdown in life post-D’Antoni for Nash.
Also worth noting is that the Suns continued to dominate opponents on the offensive end without D’Antoni masterminding the game plan.
In each of the first two seasons after D’Antoni’s departure, the Suns led the NBA in points per game as the team continued to run their opposition into submission. Phoenix has been a top-five scoring team overall in three of the past four years and this past season finished at eighth NBA in scoring – the lowest spot since D’Antoni’s exit.
So, was it actually Nash who was the main responsible in powering D’Antoni’s offense to the most difficult to defend in basketball?
While that case can certainly be made, one can’t argue the fact that D’Antoni not only didn’t have the luxury of possessing a point guard like Nash in New York, he barely had a serviceable cog at the position during his entire stint with the Knicks.
Before Jeremy Lin stole the show in New York, the likes of Stephon Marbury, Raymond Felton, Toney Douglas and Chris Duhon were placed in charge of D’Antoni’s system. While Felton was certainly solid during his tenure in New York, none of those other point guard’s stints as starters with the Knicks lived up to expectations.
Plain in simple, those players weren’t up to snub – much less anywhere near Nash’s caliber at the position. The Knicks team as a whole, with a roster that seemingly changed by the minute, wasn’t exactly a steadying factor for D’Antoni as well.
One of the first people to stick up for D’Antoni’s coaching ability would be Nash, who defended his former head coach earlier this summer.
“It was a shame,” Nash told Marc Berman of the NY Post of D’Antoni’s resignation.“He never got a great opportunity. The team was constantly in flux. Amar’e [Stoudemire] and Carmelo [Anthony] didn’t play much together and build a rapport yet. It was a shame. He didn’t get enough time with the full roster.’’
It should also be noted that the offense in Phoenix remained largely the same after D’Antoni departed. The only difference was that Nash was in charge of running the show on the court rather than D’Antoni dictating the action from the sidelines.
Clearly, the argument can be made that Nash was the key cog that made D’Antoni’s offense system go but, even if that’s not the case, it’s safe to say that Nash wasn’t merely a byproduct of that blazing style. D’Antoni is clearly an offensive guru, and that fact shouldn’t be overshadowed, but it’s been made abundantly clear over the past few seasons that Nash didn’t need his former head coach to continue to thrive in the NBA.
For Los Angeles Lakers fans hoping that Nash will be the championship difference next season, it’s also certainly a welcome sign that the 16-year NBA vet is showing no signs of slowing down. After consecutive second-round playoff exits to the eventual Western Conference champs over the past two seasons, Nash’s arrival in L.A. could signal a changing of the guard next season in the West.