Our friends at SB Nation.com have tried to rank NBA coaches from 1-32. Between Mike D'Antoni of the New York Knicks and Avery Johnson of the New Jersey Nets, which would you think is higher on the list?
SB Nation's ranking, albeit a very subjective one rather than a scientific one, places D'Antoni eighth on the NBA coaching ladder. Johnson, in his first year with the Nets, is 15th.
Here is SB Nation's summary of D'Antoni.
- Coaching History: Denver Nuggets (1999), Phoenix Suns (2003-2008), New York Knicks (2008-present)
- Record with current team: 61-103
- Overall record: 328-275
- Best season: 2004-05 Suns (62-20, Western Conference finalists)
- Worst season: 2009-10 Knicks (29-53)
- Playoff record: 26-25
- Biggest strength: Most creative offensive mind in basketball
- Biggest weakness: Stubborness can often alienate, confuse complimentary players
With all the unrest in New York over the past couple of years, it's easy to forget about D'Antoni, but he remains one of the league's premier coaches. The Knicks' roster is hardly stacked, but for the first time in D'Antoni's tenure, they have a team built to play his style. D'Antoni is not perfect -- he stubbornly relies on a short rotation despite playing at a breathneck pace - but he's a brilliant offensive mind that understands the key to a good offense in this league is eschewing the mid-range jump shot. He's also able to turn tweenters into productive players, something we should keep in mind when thinking about newcomer Anthony Randolph. He's also a better defensive coach than people realize, though his team's defensive rankings are a bit misleading because D'Antoni preaches a low foul rate, sometimes at the expense of preventing points.
D'Antoni's reputation took a bit of a hit with the success of Alvin Gentry in Phoenix this year, but I think he rebounds this year with an interesting Knicks roster.
Here is what the fine folks at the mothership had to say about Johnson.
- Coaching History: Dallas Mavericks (2005-2008), New Jersey Nets (present)
- Record with current team: first year
- Overall record: 194-70
- Best season: 2005-06 Mavericks (60-22, Western Conference champions)
- Worst season: 2007-08 Mavericks (51-31, first-round playoff exit)
- Playoff record: 23-24
- Biggest strength: Outstanding defensive coach
- Biggest weakness: Intense style can wear on his players
It's hard to argue with Johnson's record, which is impeccable, but I think it overrates him as a coach. He inherited a nice situation in Dallas, and while he deserves credit for pushing that team even further than Don Nelson did before him, he also deserves blame for how it fell off after the shocking playoff upset to the Warriors in 2007. There really isn't that much of a difference between Johnson and Skiles. Both inspire great defensive efforts from their teams and build their offenses around mid-range shooting, but both wear on their teams. The major difference is that Johnson had Dirk Nowitzki, the best mid-range shooter in basketball. The Nets are hoping Johnson can foster a toughness the team lacked last year, but you have to wonder whether he's the right voice for such a young team.
So, Knicks and Nets fans it's time to step up and defend your guy. Does your team have the better coach? Does it have the right coach for the players it has? Why?
Personally, I would love to bottle Johnson's intensity and defensive-minded toughness and combine it with D'Antoni's creativity and willingness to let his players go on the offensive end of the floor. Do that and I think you would REALLY have a coach to brag about.
Give D'Antoni the right players, i.e., creative, athletic guys who can score with a point guard who knows how to distribute the basketball, and his teams will be good. I have doubts, though, that D'Antoni will ever coach an NBA champion. SB Nation's Mike Prada says he is "a better defensive coach than people realize." If that is the case why don't his teams ever seem to get important stops, and why do they seem to simply rely on outscoring the other guy?
Johnson is a hard-driving, defensive-oriented coach. He will demand execution and defense from the young Nets. Can he relax the reins enough to let them have fun, be a little creative and not get tired of his shrill voice? If he can't, he won't be around to enjoy the fruits of his labors when this young team really develops into something down the road.