It's getting close to the end of the regular season in the NBA and for 16 well-deserved teams, the real season begins. The rest are left to ponder what never was and what changes need to be made in the future. I watched the playoff-bound Miami Heat against the lottery-bound New York Knicks tonight and you could tell just by looking at how the teams played on defense which team was going to the playoffs and who was not,

On the Ball, Crowd their Space:

I just want to focus on defense on the ball. If you don't close out properly on defense, bad things happen. In this first sequence, Crawford of the Knicks just lets Daequan Cook of the Heat shoot the open 3-pointer right in his face. He doesn't even move on the pump fake,

In this second sequence, Beasley gets the ball at the top of the key, despite Harrington giving him all this space, he still gets to the rim with ease and the help defense is nowhere to be found, and there was a defensive foul to boot,

I'm not sure what the vibe is in NYC, but I have to say, that my own personal opinion is that Mike D'Antoni's 7 seconds or less is not a good fit. When I think of the Knicks, of NYC, I think of tough, dog-eat-dog, no holds barred attitude. I think of New York Giants tough defense. I think of Mariano Rivera tough. I think of Charles Oakley, Patrick Ewing, Bill Bradley and Willis Reed tough. I think of the rough and tumble playgrounds of Rucker Park, the quintessential "New York City" point guards with the likes of Mark Jackson, Kenny Anderson, Rod Strickland, and yes, even Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair.

My point is, this style of play doesn't fit the character of NYC. This city is one that has educated basketball fans. They don't need to be "entertained" with a high-flying high-scoring gimmicky-offense, yes, I said "gimmick". This isn't Phoenix after all, MSG knows what a winner looks like and this ain't it.


Much is made about when Lebron James makes his move to NYC. If and when that happens, 7 seconds or less isn't the style of play that suits Lebron James's skills either. Could he adapt to it? Sure, but why would he? Shouldn't the system adapt to him? To be sure, the Knicks have improved over their dismal record last year, but 30-51 is still nothing to be happy about. Defensively, the Knicks have worsened both in FG% and points allowed, ranking in the bottom 3 in each this season.

For more great video info on defensive close outs, check out Seth Greenberg's DVD on Closing Out and Defending Special Situations. Coach Greenberg is the head coach at Virginia Tech. Discuss this and the rest of your favorite basketball topics at the X's and O's Basketball Forum.


  1. bruchu  

    April 20, 2009 at 2:53 PM

    Good debate going. Here's my rebuttal:

    Consider a team of really good players, all-star caliber. All things being equal including talent, skill, and athleticism. The team that places team/individual defense as their number one priority will win more championships than the team that places their number one priority in scoring quickly. If this is the case (as D'Antoni has publicly acknowledged), then why would go against the grain?? Just to prove that you can win a championship playing fast?

    As a coach, you can take a team full of mediocre talent and make them a good team by coaching up their defense. It doesn't work vice versa. You can't take a team full of mediocre talent and make them a good team by coaching up their offense. I've tried many a time, it doesn't work.

    Conversely, you can take a team full of great talent, coach them up on offense, beat the weak teams, but lose to the good teams. In addition, you can't expect to simply assemble a team full of great talent, and expect them to play great team defense by virtue of their talent. Great defense must be coached and practiced. Great defense is not something that can be turned on and off.

    I want to stress this point again because it appears the importance of it is getting lost: defense is a function of coaching. Unlike offense, defense does not come natural and it must be played as a team.

  2. Perception & Reality  

    April 20, 2009 at 10:31 PM

    coach. I can't agree with you more. :)

  3. Clancy3434  

    April 21, 2009 at 6:13 AM

    larry brown is a great defensive coach and he couldn't get this roster of malcontents to guard a soul. in the NBA, where the players make more money than the coach, you need to have the right players to be a great defensive team.

    again... it comes down to the players on the roster. was doc rivers a terrible defensive coach before the arrival of kevin garnett? the celtics were certainly a terrible defensive team, akin to the current knicks. garnett's arrival changed the culture of the locker room. the knicks have no such player. they're trying to find one.

    wilson chandler i believe could turn into a lock down type defender, but even the best of lock down defenders will have issues when the team has zero shot blocking ability behind them, as the knicks do (or don't).

    getting guys to "buy in" in high school and college is vastly different than getting those in the NBA, when the players make more than the coaches, to buy in.

    also, i would argue the sad fact that we have gotten to the point here in america that offense does not come natural anymore. that the aau/me-first culture that has permiated through the ranks of basketball has created a generation of players who do not understand the subtlties of team offense, let alone team defense. so when somebody comes along that actually gets people energized with ball movement and off the ball movement... truely sharing the ball, pushing the tempo and hitting the open man when he's open, not just endlessly dribbling the ball in the same location... well, it's such a breath of fresh air that i hate to see people put it down.

    ultimately, do i think d'antoni is a great defesnive coach? no. he's clearly a better offensive coach than a defensive coach. but i think he's good enough defensively to win a championship, given the right players. cheap shot bob doesn't hip check steve nash into the boards, d'antoni would probably still be in phoenix right now with a ring on his finger.

    now it's time for donnie walsh to get the jimmy's and joe's to go along with the x's and o's.

  4. bruchu  

    April 21, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    I'm enjoying this lively debate. Here goes:

    You bring up a good point. Coaching works two-ways. It can't be all top-down, it has to be both top-down and bottom-up. No system will work if the players don't fully buy in. And when the players don't buy in, it most certainly is the coaches responsibility. When the coach loses credibility, he's lost the locker room.

    In the case of the Celtics, one can make a strong argument that Tom Thibodeau who joined as an assistant coach in 2007 was more responsible for the strong Celtics defensive play more than anything else. Yes, Garnett was a 8-time all-defensive prior to joining, but only won the Defensive Player under Thibodeau.

    As for Larry Brown. Yes, he failed because he didn't get the buy in from the players in New York. Whose fault is that? Coach Brown. But look at what he's been able to do this season. He took a less talented team in the Charlotte Bobcats (arguably less talented than the Knicks), and almost made the playoffs. Brown has been one of the most successful coaches in all levels of basketball because of his philosophy of "defense first" and his ability to coach it. Nobody can deny that fact.

  5. Clancy3434  

    April 22, 2009 at 11:10 AM

    while the blame does most certainly always fall at the feet of the coach, there are certain situations where you could have a dean smith, pat riley and the ghost of james nasmith all coaching together, and the roster is so void of talent or full of malcontents that it simply doesn't matter.

    such is the case of the new york knicks under both brown and now d'antoni.

    could d'antoni have muddied things up, slowed the game down and played a grind it out, hard nosed defensive game with this team? sure... would they have been better? maybe, maybe not. i would say no, they probably would have been worse. i'd take charlotte's roster of that of the knicks.

    also... points allowed can be a very misleading stat. UNC gave up 72ppg this season, while Michigan State gave up 62ppg. not many will argue that MSU was a stronger defensive team than UNC... but why the stat differential? UNC also averaged 90ppg on offense. a higher paced offense normally doesn't just equal more shots for your own team, but usually results in more shots for the opponent, too.

    the suns in 2005-2006 gave up 102.8ppg... one of the worst in the NBA. but their opponents field goal percentage was in the middle of the pack, they were one of the best teams in the league at turning the other team over, and only one other team in the league had a point differential that compared to that of the suns... the spurs, the one team the suns couldn't beat.

  6. Blake Kennedy  

    April 26, 2009 at 7:11 AM

    Clancy raises the proper point, that to properly quantify both offense and defense you must adjust for pace. Points per game becomes meaningless without considering that. If Team A allows 90 points per game on 80 possessions, and Team B allows 100 points per game on 100 possessions, can we dare say that Team A is the better defensive team? No, we can't.

    Phoenix in the D'Antoni years was a middle-of-the-pack defensive team (16th in the NBA in 2006-7 in defensive rating, i.e. points against per 100 possessions). They did a so-so job of defending the shot (12th in opponents' eFG%, a better measure than straight FG%), not so good on the defensive glass OR forcing turnovers (23rd in the NBA in opponents' TO%, the percentage of possessions resulting in turnovers) - but they kept their opponents off the line. And New York exhibited improvements defensively this year with D'Antoni, despite the roster that was designed for a tanktastic team.

    I have serious philosophical issues with "7 seconds or less": I believe in a ruled full-court attack, but going to primary break and a quick shot without a planned secondary attack to me never made much sense.