Portland Trail Blazers: Pros and cons of hiring Mike D’Antoni

Mike D'Antoni, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Mike D'Antoni, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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Mike D'Antoni, Houston Rockets
Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

The pros of the Portland Trail Blazers hiring Mike D’Antoni

Personnel Fit:

One thing we won’t have to worry about is how the roster fits with D’Antoni’s method of play. The decorated coach has proved that he’s at his best when he has a strong lead guard, capable of scoring in bunches and creating for others. Whether it’s Steve Nash, James Harden, or even Jeremy Lin, D’Antoni has shown the preference of running his offense through one primary ball-handler.

Damian Lillard would fit that role perfectly. Dame may possess the strongest offensive gravity of any NBA player not named Steph Curry.

With D’Antoni at the helm, expect the Blazers to run a lot of isolation and high pick-and-rolls through Lillard with the wings waiting on the flanks for open threes.

Coach also already has history and chemistry with Robert Covington and Carmelo Anthony.

It’s reasonable to expect a renaissance for Melo with D’Antoni coming to town. I would also predict that we’ll see a lot more small-ball lineups with RoCo spotting as a center to open up the floor even further for Dame.

The Blazers roster already has a lot of pieces that D’Antoni could use, but don’t be surprised if the team makes some personnel changes if they hire him. Coach will likely push to add more 3-and-D players around Dame.

Also don’t be shocked if the Blazers break a few offensive records and Dame makes his first serious run at the MVP.

Pick up the pace:

One of the biggest knocks on Coach Terry Stotts was his unwillingness to play fast, even with a team equipped for it.

With agile bigs RoCo and Nurkic manning the front court with three guards surrounding them, there’s no reason that the Blazers shouldn’t have been flying up and down the court every game.

Despite their smaller lineup, Portland finished at only 19th in pace this season.

It’s no secret that D’Antoni —orchestrator of the “Seven Seconds or Less” offense—doesn’t mind playing fast.

Even with renowned half-court artists Melo and Kobe leading his teams, he never finished lower than fifth in pace in his full seasons coaching them.

It’ll be interesting to see how playing with speed will unlock an already explosive offense, specifically the effects it will have on Dame. It felt clear that attacking the Denver Nuggets in transition more in Portland’s first-round loss these playoffs would have been beneficial, but Coach Stotts never pressed the gas.

At the very least, it’ll be comforting knowing that D’Antoni is willing to pick up the pace if needed.

Underrated Defense:

Mike D’Antoni is known as an offensive genius, but that title does come with negative connotations as well. Since he’s known as an offensive coach, the natural assumption is that his defensive schemes are poor.

While it’s true that the coach primarily focuses on his team’s offense, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he struggles with defense.

In his run with the Rockets, they never finished worse than 18th in defensive rating and actually clocked in at sixth in 2017-2018. It wasn’t their defense that failed them against the Warriors, it was actually cold stretches on offense. The Rockets actually defended the Warriors and the Splash Bros as well any other team during that stretch.

In his winning season in New York, the Knicks finished 22nd. From 2004-2008, D’Antoni’s Suns never finished below 17th in defense. For comparison, the Blazers checked in at 29th this season.

The Blazers don’t have a particularly strong defensive identity, but they do have good defenders on the team. Some pundits will chalk up the adequacy of D’Antoni’s teams’ defenses to his assistants. While there may be some truth to that, there’s no reason Portland can’t secure a strong defensive assistant of their own and it’s not a knock that the coach is willing to hand over the reigns to someone who’s more knowledgeable in that department.

Now that we’ve addressed the positives to expect if D’Antoni is hired, let’s take a look at some of the possible pitfalls.