Saturday , Nov , 15 , 2008 C.Y. Ellis

Systems, Coaches and Players: The Blame Game

Systems, Coaches and Players: The Blame Game
Systems.  Coaches.  Players.  Living in Phoenix and being a Suns’ fans, I’ve been inundated with the word “system” for the past five years – more specifically, “D’Antoni’s System.”  Saying one system is superior to another is like saying, “My karate is better than your karate,” or “No, jujitsu sucks.”  

When D’Antoni went to the Knicks, I said that the Knicks would make the playoffs.  Find it here for posterity.  Last year, the 8th seed had 37 wins and the Zeke-led Knicks had 22 wins.  D’Antoni is at least twice a good a coach as Isaiah Thomas.  The Knicks are going to be around .500 and that’s good enough for the Second Season.  

For whatever it’s worth (very little), they are .667 with more than 10% of the season over.  They’re good enough to pound on the cruddy teams (Charlotte, Memphis) and occasionally steal a win against a good team (Utah).  

At Phoenix, many claimed that he could not win a title with his system.  Answer me this:  If Kobe Bryant were at the 2-guard instead of Raja Bell (with Nash, Marion and Stoudemire) would the “system” be able to win it?  I will answer that question by looking at a discussion of martial arts “systems.”

The system/style is kind of like the hardware – it is how you operate (not being very computer savvy, some of my terms may be off, but I know about martial arts so bear with me).  Some operating systems work better than others.  Some operating systems work better for others.  If you can wrestle, play judo or jujitsu.  If you’ve got fast hands, boxing is your game.  So with every person, there is (1) an operating system that best suits you, and (2) an operating system that has superior components.  In the NBA, D’Antoni’s systems is better than my Y-League system simply because he knows a ton more stuff than I know.  

Now, there is also the coach.  Knowing something and being able to communicate it are two different things.  Look at the Cuss D’Amato-Mike Tyson relationship.  Did Cuss have secret insight that he was passing along to Mike?  No, otherwise Tyson would’ve kept up his winning ways after D’Amato’s passing.  One of the biggest differences between pre- and post-D’Amato was defense, keeping your hands up.  This is training.  This is coaching.  Cuss knew how to talk to Mike and keep him in line.

In a fight, the strongest, fastest, most well-trained guy usually wins. Note that I am talking about competitive fighting.  Anyone can walk up behind you and crack you on the back of the skull with a lead pipe; you can’t train for that.  As you can see, there are many factors that go into this.  Physical attributes, training, knowledge.  The most important factor, though, is the guy standing across from you.  If you’re a tough, well-trained, highly accomplished martial artist, but you’re 5’10” and 160 lbs, Shaquille O’Neal will crush you with one hammer fist to the top of your head.  Every time.

So, I wonder what would have happened if Kobe Bryant had been playing 2-guard for the D’Antoni-led Suns?

When he left, everyone wondered whether his “system” would work with shoot-first point guard Stephon Marbury and slower-than-Shaq Eddy Curry.  He took care of those questions, didn’t he?

Look, he’s a good coach.  I bet there are a lot of blogger sitting in their underwear in their mother’s basements who “understand” what he’s doing (I don’t really understand it).  This guy knows a lot about basketball.  Everyone should read his site as it’s very informative and educational.  However, that does not mean he can coach a pro team.  D’Antoni can coach a pro team.

D’Antoni also put in place a good system.  It works.  It wins games.  Look what he’s doing so far.

The system does work.   He can coach.  These two attributes can carry a team a long ways.  However, it cannot put the team over the top.  Only the players can put the team over the top.  We will find out this year, but there is an argument that D’Antoni made his Suns’ teams overachieve (Nash-haters have been saying this for years).  It’s kind of like how Mick kept Rocky propped up all those years after getting lucky against Apollo Creed.

Sure, great players can be squandered by bad coaches and bad systems (Mike Woodson).  Great coaches with great systems can also get their players to overachieve.  In the end, though, it’s not the system or the coach as much as the players.  As discussed above, there is an interplay and each segment of the triangle is necessary.  However, do not disparage the “system” when it clearly works.  Blame the players for not being strong enough.