Mike D’Antoni had an incredible run in Phoenix, with four straight seasons of at least 54 wins among the highlights of his tenure. However, his inability to get the Suns to play anything resembling defense ultimately led to the decision not to bring him back in 2008. While defense is the main knock on D’Antoni as a coach, it’s actually his failure to develop a bench that people should be worried about. If there’s one thing that Alvin Gentry has done differently than his mentor in leading this Suns team to the Conference Finals, is build and establish trust and confidence for his bench players.
In Phoenix, D’Antoni routinely played rotations of seven or eight players for full seasons, which undoubtedly wore out his stars and left him with few reliable options when injury struck. Gentry has established his bench as a strength, not a weakness, which is something D’Antoni never did. Gentry goes to his bench and gets reliable contributions from guys like Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley, who not only contribute, but Gentry has the trust in them to do so. He doesn’t fear having to go to his bench like D’Antoni used to and that has helped him keep Steve Nash and the rest of the Suns’ top guns rested and relatively injury-free this year.
For the Knicks next season, D’Antoni needs to learn from Gentry in regards to his bench. Look no further than Chris Duhon to see the effect of D’Antoni’s actions on his starters. Duhon basically fell apart at the end of the 2008-09 season physically, and disappeared while injured throughout much of 2009-10. Had he not been overused, sometimes playing more than 40 minutes a game, he could have been a serviceable point guard.
Also, with D’Antoni’s speedball offense that requires constant running, players get tired quicker than in a traditional half court set. So even if the Knicks pick up LeBron and another marquee free agent this summer, it goes without saying that they still have to put a team around him. And in order for D’Antoni to be successful, it’s important for him to develop trust in guys 6-9 before he can ever think about a Championship.
So Mike, be sure to tune into TNT tonight to see what building a bench is all about.
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