According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Mike D’Antoni informed the Houston Rockets that he did not intend on returning as the franchise’s head coach next season. Wojnarowski also reported that D’Antoni would be a candidate for the 76ers’ head coaching job. D’Antoni served as an assistant on Brett Brown’s staff prior to taking the Houston job. Tyronn Lue remains a firm favorite for the job. But, Billy Donovan and Mike D’Antoni are intriguing candidates that have become available in the last week. While Lue is in the driver’s seat, it is worth exploring the fits of some of the names in the passenger seats.
So, would Mike D’Antoni make sense in Philly?
Pushing Embiid Out The Door
The Sixers need to find both the coaching staff and the on-court personnel to try to align their pace of play regardless of which of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are on the court. As we saw under Brett Brown, the game had to slow down to accommodate Embiid when he was on the court with and without Simmons. When Simmons was on the court by himself, everything sped up. The awkward fit creates a situation where the team needs to play two entirely different brands of basketball to accommodate them, individually. The best mix of personnel and sideline brain power will stabilize that pace. If the pace stabilizes, the two stars can fit better together and the players on the floor feel continuity with the style of play.
The key to finding the best version of this team is to even the pace regardless of whether Embiid or Simmons is on the floor. Under Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets had the second highest paced offense in the league in 2019-20. That isn’t an accident–D’Antoni has long championed the 7-seconds-or-less offense. Houston even jettisoned the only playable center on their roster at the trade deadline. The Rockets opted to lean into the ultra small-ball concept that analytics heads push for.
With a high pace of play and impressive defensive success with Houston’s small-ball roster, D’Antoni’s introduction would not bode well for Embiid. The 7-seconds-or-less offense also implies a significant increase in the volume of three-point shots attempted. With a player like Ben Simmons, and the roster not having shooters with the gravity needed to inflict significant damage from the perimeter in the half-court, the style of basketball will undoubtedly favor transition play. That does not fit Embiid at all.
So, Do You Trade Embiid?
That leaves the Sixers in a conundrum. Embiid needs the ball to be fully engaged. He won’t be happy slugging up and down the court as his teammates swarm defenses in transition. There will be a significantly lesser focus on getting him paint touches in the half-court. So, with the offensive system seemingly complimenting Simmons and insulting Embiid, it may make sense to move on from ‘The Process’.
The problem: his trade value is very theoretical. The tantalizing big man is a major risk for other teams to gamble on. Front offices are afraid of returning significant assets for a player whose game-to-game availability is unpredictable. When locked in, Embiid’s dominance is too severe to not elicit equal return in a trade. The implication is that Simmons would have better value on the trade market. But, moving away from a transition wizard like Simmons plays against D’Antoni’s system. That remains the case even if a trade for Simmons returns equal value.
What About The Three-Point Shooting?
It also doesn’t make sense to empower the players on the current iteration of the Sixers to mindlessly jack three-point shots. The Rockets have led the league in three-point attempts per game in each of the past four seasons. Their strategy was to attempt over 40 per contest. Houston’s saving grace the past few seasons has been that they take so many threes that the math favors them converting enough to outshoot their opponents.
The bigger problem is that Houston has rostered a pair of isolation-dominant guards to create open looks for their shooters. Houston’s heavy reliance on isolation basketball (highest frequency in the NBA each of the past three seasons) forced defenses to collapse to protect the lane. That pressure on the interior allotted Houston’s 3-and-D role players to pull the trigger on every catch. The Sixers have neither the isolation players to manipulate defenses into giving up those open looks, nor the supporting pieces they can trust to consistently outshoot opponents.
So, would Mike D’Antoni make sense in Philly?
The answer is a resounding no.