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Breaking news: Mike D'Antoni doesn't totally hate defense

Mar 22, 2010, 11:51 AM EST

The consumption of sports is so widespread that broadcasts often create inbred opinion; two different people watch the same broadcast, inevitably assume some of the ideas and views expressed by broadcasters as their own, and mistake the other person’s confirmation of that view as legitimate when in fact they’re merely confirming on the basis of familiarity.

Or maybe the internet is just filled with message board fodder that’s somehow recycled as legitimate opinion.

Either way, somewhere along the line, Mike D’Antoni was tagged with a label and has since been stigmatized. It’s not enough to praise him for his teams’ relentlessness on the break, which strategically runs counter to what most teams in the league try to do while tapping into the players’ psychological desire to produce, produce, produce. Instead, because his teams have been far more productive offensively than defensively, we get the reputation that D’Antoni “doesn’t care about defense.” We get the idea that “his teams don’t even practice defense.” We hear rumors that “LIKE OHMYGOD, Mikey totally, totally hates defense’s guts.”

Erroneous! Erroneous! Erroneous on all counts!

D’Antoni’s system doesn’t put a premium on good defense (or good defensive players), and doesn’t necessarily construct a framework that allows players to succeed on D. He’ not that kind of coach, and that’s fine. But to say that he doesn’t care about it? To say he ignores defense? To say that he doesn’t teach defense in practice? That’s just irresponsible. Wouldn’t you agree, Jared Jeffries (via Howard Beck of the NYT Off the Dribble blog)?

“I think that Mike’s a realist,” Jeffries said. “Defending, like anything else in the NBA, is a talent level. And you can’t have people that are not great defenders and expect them to be great defenders. Just like you can’t have people that aren’t great scorers and expect them to be great scorers. He put me out there to be a defender and he puts guys out there to be scorers. He does focus on defense, but if you don’t have defensive players, then you’re not going to be a great defensive team.” He added, “It’s not like he tells the guys, ‘Don’t go out there and guard anybody, just try to score.’ That’s not the case at all.”

Steve Nash. Amar’e Stoudemire. Boris Diaw. David Lee. Nate Robinson. Al Harrington. So many of the heavy-hitters on D’Antoni’s teams have been poor to average defenders. He also had Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, and the aforementioned Jeffries, but asking a single (or even a couple) perimeter defenders to run a defense without help is a bit much. One bad defending apple can spoil the whole bunch, but an apple that’s good at defense can’t very well save the barrel now can he? 

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