After Mike D’Antoni took over the Phoenix Suns from Frank Johnson in 2003, he quickly installed his signature brand of shoot first, shoot later basketball and turned the Suns into the NBA’s fastest-moving and highest-scoring team.
Since 2004, D’Antoni coached teams have averaged around 108 points per game.
His New York Knicks have continued the trend too, and last year they were the second-highest scoring team in the NBA with an average of 106 points per game.
With two of the NBA’s best scorers, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, at home in Madison Square Garden and D’Antoni on the sideline, the Knicks are easily one of the more dangerous offensive teams in the league.
But on December 28, 2011, the Knicks traveled to Oakland to take on the Golden State Warriors and were beaten 92-78. More surprising than the Knicks only scoring 78 points, their duo of Stoudemire and Anthony shot a combined 8-for-27 from the field and scored 16 points and 13 points, respectively.
Five games into the season, with the Warriors sitting at 2-3, even the most pessimistic fans have to admit something is happening in Oracle Arena—the Warriors are playing some D.
Though head coach Mark Jackson deserves his credit for this modest change in team identity, the two reasons for the Warriors' improved defense are the infusion of some energy on the perimeter and the deep bench.
Look at Dorell Wright. In the first five games of the season, he has been in what many may call a shooting slump, averaging only 6.6 points per game and shooting 15 percent from beyond the arc.
Still, Jackson is playing Wright more than 30 minutes per game. The only players to get more burn than him are Monta Ellis and David Lee. As noted, it isn’t because of his scoring but because he is giving effort on defense, making the right rotations and closing out on shooters.
In the case of Dorell Wright, Coach Jackson has made a statement that the ability to play tough perimeter defense will be rewarded more so than the ability to leak out for fast break layups, and the players have responded.
Stephen Curry is among the league leaders in steals per game, and Brandon Rush is the team’s best shot blocker.
Which leads to reason No. 2: Rush, Kwame Brown, Ekpe Udoh, Dominic McGuire and Ish Smith have allowed Jackson’s new defensive philosophy to take root because a solid bench gives players the confidence and the incentive they need to commit on the defensive side of the ball.
Rush is also the fourth-leading scorer, Brown grabs more than six rebounds a game in less than 15 minutes on the court, Udoh remains a presence in the lane, McGuire had 14 and nine against the Suns and Smith plays with the confidence of a 12-year veteran.
The bench is solid. The starters know that.
And Jackson knows he will get energy from the backups, and he is not afraid to play them, meaning the starters have to work harder to stay on the court.
When D’Antoni moved to the Suns he made them the highest-scoring team in the NBA. But it is easy to get an NBA player to shoot the ball. It’s a little harder to get him to play defense. But in just five games, Jackson has been able to find a way.