As the Sixers continue to flip through resumes for who will be chosen as the next head coach, Mike D’Antoni should be a name that the team stays away from. Yes, D’Antoni has one of the brightest offensive minds in the NBA. Yes, he has his fingerprints all over the modern game and its emphasis on pace and shooting. But what D’Antoni isn’t is the coach that can bring the most out of the current Sixers team with its current pieces.
It feels like Mike D’Antoni has been around the NBA forever. The 69-year-old is known for his fast-paced offensive-oriented system which has proven to be effective for regular-season success throughout the years. He has a 672-527 career record and has made it to the playoffs 10 times with 4 different teams. He even served as an Associate Head Coach under Brett Brown here in Philly in the 2015-2016 season.
The first real imprint that D’Antoni put on the league was with his construction of the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns. Led by Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, the team pushed the pace and spaced the floor to an extreme that had never been done before. This resulted in a 253-136 record over the 5 seasons he spent with the team. Steve Nash also won 2 MVP’s during this time. Despite the regular-season dominance and making it to the Conference Finals twice, the Suns never got over the hump to win a championship and D’Antoni jumped ship to coach the New York Knicks.
Things were not as smooth in his time with the Knicks. The pieces were never fully put in place for D’Antoni to put his full offense in place and even the addition of Carmelo Anthony was not enough to push the team to more than a 42-40 record. This was a similar story to what happened with the Lakers as the faux big-3 of Kobe, Dwight Howard, and the 38-year-old Steve Nash. The team was surrounded by more drama than success and the team was unable to grow into a championship threat. After 2 years with a 67-87 record and just a first-round exit from the playoffs to show for, D’Antoni was forced to resign.
After the brief stint as an Associate Head Coach in Philly, D’Antoni took over the Rockets job where his extreme small-ball style was put on full display. While the style was certainly different from what he ran with the Suns, it was clear that there are trends in D’Antoni’s fundamental offensive beliefs. We have seen the court be spread, an influx in 3-pointers, and little to no use of a big man. This season they even started Robert Covington as their Center at just 6’7.
The Rockets have proven to be a talented team and have flirted with a ring over the past few seasons. With a career 217-101 record with the team, D’Antonia led a squad that excelled in the regular season but could not attain a championship. Offensively, D’Antoni is one of the most influential people in recent basketball history. The year after he took over with the Rockets, the team’s ppg increased from 105.7 to 114.4. In addition, their pace of play rose nearly 4 percentage points. They also shot 3’s at a league-high 48.7% of their shots from behind the 3-point line that year.
Fit With Sixers
While this run-and-gun fast-paced style of play is appealing, especially in today’s NBA, the Sixers are the furthest thing from having the personnel for it. Embiid can shoot but is most effective when operating out of the post. Simmons would excel at the fast pace, but the lack of shooting would be inexcusable in the offense. Both of these guys are elite defenders and an emphasis being put on that side of the ball could make a major impact.
While this change of play-style seems like a breath of fresh air, it is pretty much an exact opposite of the “bully-ball” style the team played with last year. The talk of the offseason has been about the lack of shooters on the roster and even with the best-case scenario off-season, it would be tough to attain the right players for D’Antoni to work with. This year the Rockets had 7 guys on the team that averaged more than four 3-point attempts per game. They were led in this category by James Harden who shot a league-high 12.4 3-point attempts per game.
In contrast, the Sixers had just 4 guys who shot more than four 3-point attempts per game. The team was led by Tobias Harris who shot 5.0 attempts per game. Furkan Korkmaz, Alec Burks, and Al Horford are the other names that made this cut. Regardless of who is the coach a priority needs to be put on adding more shooting to the roster. But under D’Antoni this glaring hole would be put on full display and become an even more difficult void to fill.
There is also a 7 foot 280-pound elephant in the room when thinking about D’Antoni’s system and school of thought. One thing that is clear is that Mike D’Antoni does not value big men very highly. The up-tempo style and emphasis on shooting is also a direct contrast to the play style of Joel Embiid. While posting up and playing through a big man may be out of fashion, there is no doubt that Embiid can still be effective in this role- as proven from his career 23.9 points per game.
Joel Embiid is unquestionably the best player on this team. He is the best center in the NBA and the Sixers must look to maximize his ability for their best chance at a title. While Embiid is a fairly good shooter and can do things on a basketball court that no man his size should be able to, playing in an up-tempo offense would take a major toll on him.
It can be frustrating at times but Embiid is never going to be a guy that plays all 82 games. He will constantly have to be undergoing treatment and going through load management to keep his body ready to perform. There have already been plenty of examples Embiid looking absolutely exhausted at the end of games and additional possessions will not bode well for that outcome. The big men that have excelled under D’Antoni (such as Amar’e Stoudemire and Clint Capela) are good pick-and-rollers and excel at catching lobs. While Embiid can play that role, it is far from the best use of his talent.
Some flexibility would have to be shown from D’Antoni to include Embiid effectively in the offense. Trading Simmons or Embiid should be kept as a worst-case scenario for the team, but if the Sixers chose to go all-in on D’Antoni’s style of play it is clear that Embiid may be the odd man out. If the Sixers do choose to go this direction with the hire, there should be no concern over D’Antoni’s coaching ability and basketball IQ. But there should be serious doubt about the fit and the chances of getting the most out of this team.
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