Suspend reality, replace it with science fiction for a minute and switch places with Mike D'Antoni.
You are the head coach of the New York Knicks. It's Game 7 of the first round against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Miami is up 102-100 with 30 seconds remaining. Chris Bosh bricks an 18-footer, and Ronny Turiaf out-muscles Zydrunas Ilgauskas for the rebound. He outlets to Chauncey Billups, who crosses midcourt, runs to an official and calls a timeout at the 28-foot line.
Twenty-three seconds are left, and the shot clock is turned off. You pat Turiaf on the back for a great rebound, and call Shawne Williams off the bench in an offense/defense switch. The Heat are sending out Bosh, Mario Chalmers, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Joel Anthony.
What do you do? Make the right call, and you're a genius who led a team that defied expectations in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Make the wrong call, and you stay a card-carrying member of a group of successful coaches who could never win the big one.
The following slides present all five options, a conclusion and what the Knicks should do if they find themselves in a do-or-die situation, using the Heat as an example.
Anthony will be comfortable posting up LeBron James 10-15 feet from the basket and calling for the ball, or receiving the ball 20 feet away facing up following a screen and working from there. When he gets into that situation with most defenders, he's nearly automatic, but obviously James isn't your run-of-the-mill defender. Still, Anthony can pop a quick mid-range jumper in James' face if LeBron plays off of him, or dribble drive and put up a short jumper or layup.
The problem with going to Anthony down the stretch is that the chances of the Knicks living or dying off his success or failure are pretty large. He's not going to get doubled right away unless an opposing coach is fine with leaving another player who has three-point range wide open (not a chance), so Carmelo's natural scoring instincts would be to go big or go home. If he drives and players collapse on him, he'll have to make a nifty pass in order to get out of a precarious situation, unless he forces up a rushed shot.
Still, despite some red flags about Anthony's tendency to play on an island, you can't go wrong passing the ball to a player who is one of the best pure scorers of this generation and an absolute terror for defenses to guard.
Amar'e Stoudemire offers you a plethora of scoring options. He can work a pick and roll or pick and pop with Chauncey Billups, work in isolation against Joel Anthony and take a jumper or drive to the basket for a layup or short jumper if he sees a lane. Stoudemire has also proven that he can hit an open three-pointer, and D'Antoni did use that option in a last-shot scenario against the Boston Celtics in December. Stoudemire hit the jumper, but he didn't beat the buzzer, and the Knicks lost 118-116.
It will be more difficult for Stoudemire to get off a jumper over the 7'1" Joel Anthony, but if the Knicks spread the floor and run a pick and roll with Billups, the advantage goes to Stoudemire out-running Anthony to the basket and slamming it home if the pass and screen are executed well.
Furthermore, if something goes awry with the pick—whether it be Mario Chalmers going under the screen or Anthony being forced to switch to off to Billups because he got caught in a bad position—Billups can quite easily shoot a long-range jumper or drive to the hoop. He is a 39 percent career three-point shooter and has a propensity for hitting clutch jumpers, so Chalmers would be unlucky to lose him in a pick and roll.
Landry Fields has made 51 percent of his shots (40 percent three-point range) and Shawne Williams isn't too far behind at 43 percent from the field (44.5 percent three-point range). Most likely, they would serve as backup plans to whatever Billups, Stoudemire and Anthony come up with.
Fields, much like Darrelle Revis, lives on his own island, as he is the unofficial league leader in most three-point attempts with no one in sight. Give credit to Fields for his robotic success rates, though. If Dwyane Wade comes over for help defense on a driving Billups or Stoudemire, Fields can easily receive a pass from either of them (Stoudemire's passing is underrated) and knock down a wide-open three-pointer. He can just as easily create his own shot in the lane, too.
Williams had his chance to be a hero earlier this year against the Philadelphia 76ers with the Knicks down 100-98, but he deferred on taking a contested three-pointer and instead drove to the hoop for a floater that died like a deflating balloon. The eventual air ball ended the game and put the Knicks on the brink of falling to .500. Williams is option No. 5 on the court, but he's easily one of the best fifth options in the NBA. If Bosh cheats and tries to double-team a driving Stoudemire, Williams can hide in the corner (his favorite spot) and shoot an uncontested three-pointer.
Here's what I'd tell the Knicks if we were down two.
Landry Fields inbounds the ball to Chauncey Billups before running to the left wing, outside the three-point line. Shawne Williams goes to the left corner. Carmelo Anthony sets up 20 feet from the basket on the right wing. Amar'e Stoudemire starts underneath the basket.
Billups kills the clock to about 12 seconds before Stoudemire runs up and sets a pick on Chalmers.
If Chalmers goes under the pick, Billups should spot up for the open three-pointer. If Chalmers goes over the pick and loses his mark, Billups should look for Stoudemire on the previously planned pick and roll. If Chalmers sticks with Billups and prevents the entry pass, Mr. Big Shot still has Carmelo Anthony for a Plan B. Anthony going one-on-one with LeBron from a mediocre angle on the court with limited time isn't the best option, but it certainly isn't the worst.
From there, Anthony can either spot up for a shot or drive to the hoop.
If Billups wants to run the pick and roll left, he can slash and kick to Fields if Wade helps out. If Wade gets to Fields in time, preventing the shot, Fields can slash and kick to Williams for a corner three-pointer.
The options can mix and match in terms of movement, screens and pieces, but the point remains the same: I'd put the ball in Billups' hands and let him explore options before going to Anthony isolated one-on-one from the wing if my season is on the line.