What is Mike D’Antoni’s Offense? (Part I)
The element of surprise is as old as life itself. With species competing for life & death, every advantage is critical. Anyone that’s witnessed a sucker punch knows humans have been no exception, as catching an opponent unprepared can lead to a easy victory. The general philosophy of Mike D’Antoni’s offense, aka Seven Seconds Or Less, follows on the same principle. The goal is to get the ball up the floor before a defense is prepared for an attack. It’s the NBA’s version of the Trojan Horse.
D’Antoni features a lineup that is quicker than the other team. Ideally, this sleeker group races up the floor where the ball-handler gets into the paint before the slower opposition, especially the big men, can get back. Backpedaling wings may be able to collapse in order to compensate and prevent a score in the paint. However the SSOL team’s other players each have a spot around the three-point arc, and the ball-handler’s job is to pass the ball out to them when the defense turns inward. The fast break has been used for decades, however without a concentration of perimeter players other teams will not be able to take advantage of as many of their fast break opportunities. This is due to D’Antoni’s use of three point shooters to spread the floor wider and more efficiently.
In lieu of a fast break, D’Antoni’s offense relies on the pick and roll as a means of simulating the above situation. The point guard will run a pick and roll with a big (for the Knicks, usually Amare, sometimes Chandler, Turiaf, or Mozgov), forcing the defense into making difficult decisions. In the video below, you can see how different types of defensive approaches affect SSOL and what kind of skills it demands of the offense in order to maximize efficiency.
The defense can react to a Felton/Stoudemire pick & roll with:
BIG SHOWS: Stoudemire’s man can come out and “show” on Felton, preventing him from having a direct line into the paint or an open shot, then either try to recover back to the diving Stoudemire or stay with Felton. Because Stoudemire is quicker than nearly all the defenders who cover him, most bigs can’t recover to him, especially when Stoudemire is playing at the center position. Additionally, if Stoudemire senses that the big is going to show, he will often slip the screen, diving to the basket before Felton dribbles through the screen and making it even harder for his man to recover. In this situation, teams often send a third defender to cut off Stoudemire’s path to the hoop.
BIG AND SMALL SWITCH: In this option, the big takes Felton and the small takes Stoudemire. When this happens, Felton will always have space behind the screen to take a jump shot. If he can nail that shot, he can force the big to show, which opens up the options above. If he can’t, then he can try to beat the big with his quickness. Additionally, if the small doesn’t commit early enough to the switch, Stoudemire can sometimes still slip the screen, keeping Felton’s man pinned to his hip. However, this will only happen against poor defense. The other option is for Felton to try to beat the big using his superior quickness. So far, he has not been particularly adept at this. It’s another thing that Nash is superb at.
BIG STAYS WITH STAT: Stoudemire’s man can stick with Stoudemire, preventing him from charging to the basket. If this happens, then Felton can take the ball into the paint himself (his man will be behind him), forcing a third defender to come in and help and leaving a man outside open. The angle on the pass to the perimeter player is often a difficult one, so this is the time when Felton’s passing becomes most important.
BIG SPLITS THE DIFFERENCE: The defending team can do something in the middle, leaving the big around the free throw line, close enough to Stoudemire to cut off the pass inside and close enough to Felton to cut off a drive. The best option here is for Felton to take the open 20-24 footer, a shot that he has struggled mightily with of late and one which whatever point guard we have will have to make consistently if we want the offense to thrive.
A couple of points I want to emphasize: