The old saying is, “Offense wins games, defense wins championships.” Truer words are never spoken, but when it comes to New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni, that truth can be told in so many different ways.
D’Antoni, long criticized for his seemingly inept attention paid towards team defense, has overridden his court jesters once more with firm beliefs in team direction and chemistry. To him, that starts and ends at the point guard position. And his tenure as the Knicks head coach has just begun with the emergence of Harvard product and coming-of-age sensation Jeremy Lin, who has given Knicks brass, fans and teammates some hope in a championship chase, after so many years of futility and embarrassment. He seemingly came out of nowhere, but D’Antoni may have seemingly come out of nowhere more so than his star guard. He turnedinto a rolling thunder of sharp assists and fluid scoring, capped with two regular season MVPs and a future place in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame.
Lin wandered for so long before D’Antoni gave him the green light, which should now enlightened basketball fans everywhere about just how efficient a coach he can be at what he does: set the environment and the tone and let the subjects conduct their own research. In other words: give players like Jeremy Lin and Nash a free will to create and masterpieces could be made or mistaken.
With emphasis and strength at point guard, the team concept develops in a way that offense could spill over to defense. Since Lin has started, the Knicks have allowed 90.2 points per game with five of eight games of less than 90 points given up. Despite the quality of competition (only Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers were the only teams with records over .500 in those games), Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will the mystique of the once-elite Knicks franchise. Lin is taking small steps to prepare for a future championship-level run; D'Antoni's just providing the map, much like he did with an up-and-comer like Nash.
People must remember that much like Lin, Nash was a player with style, but no substance. He brought the ball up for the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns for a total of eight years with only one All-Star recognition to show for it. He was good, but greatness was one of his many assists he dished out to stars likeand Michael Finley en route to many years of stat-heavy promise lacking a catalyst to capitalize on it.
Enter D’Antoni, who gave Nash the keys to endless distribution for an offense that didn’t forgive nor regret shot selection offensively, and Nash delivered perfectly. D’Antoni, much he had with Nash, wants his point guard to play with fire and get burned. He tells Lin that turnovers will happen and it’s encouraging that he is taking the risks necessary to enhance his learning curve. D’Antoni has the offensive knowledge to gain the most out of his players, but a confident and sure-shooting point guard is needed to make D’Antoni believable and the league once again believing in the Knicks.
All-Star studsand Amare Stoudemire are now challenged with the task of not adjusting to Jeremy Lin, but ensuring Lin’s playmaking ability and D’Antoni’s vision are validated. “Linsanity” is just that because D’Antoni lets the inmates run the asylum, something most coaches don’t dare to do in professional basketball. But D’Antoni does it with strong communication and recognition of skill sets that his Knicks are simply playing better, not differently.
Maybe Jeremy Lin has been this dynamo all along and D’Antoni simply got lucky while not truly giving him a chance to flourish, but big-market teams like the Knicks have acquired stars over the years, but they haven’t necessarily created them.
How could D’Antoni see what’s Lin had to offer come game time when his job is on the line every game? It took one glance (and several injuries to his point guards before then) for D’Antoni to know what to do with this diamond in the rough: keep him playing the most pressuring position of the starting five and see if this pressure makes diamonds or breaks Lin’s chances of staying with the team. Lin did the former and D’Antoni has some credit to it. Steve Nash rose to two MVPs out of nowhere with the embattled coach shaping his environment all along. Being a product of such gives Jeremy Lin superstar potential, Nash a legacy and D’Antoni’s critics another trip back to the drawing board.