It’s been a strange year for NBA awards. Players, executives, broadcasters and now coaches seem more engaged than ever in the pointless exercises that go into determining just who will take home the league’s batch of individual awards, to the point where the ex-winners are almost expected to give their thoughts on the various races. Especially the incumbent winners.
Incumbent winners from Golden State, however, feel oddly removed from the whole process, yet notably verbal. The Warriors once again have the NBA’s best record, but voter fatigue, a rash of deserved candidates and the team’s own 2016 postseason disappointments have Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry’s respective 2016 Coach of the Year and MVP awards looking somewhat distant in scope in comparison to what James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Erik Spoelstra or Gregg Popovich could grab this season in corresponding categories. Pretty odd, for the best parts of a 73-win team.
Curry, whose knee injury from last spring and summer have his 2016 MVP trophy looking like it was presented ever so long ago, has already gone on record for Houston’s Harden. Now it’s time for Steve Kerr to throw unofficial checks the way of Harden’s coach Mike D’Antoni, who is the leader in the clubhouse in 2016-17 for the Coach of the Year award:
“Mike deserves it,” Kerr said. “There’s probably a couple guys you can make a strong case for. Erik Spoelstra’s done an amazing job. Pop (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich,) you just give it to Pop every year. I think Mike has been brilliant. You look at where the team is now compared to where they were at the end of last season.
“What he’s so good at is really giving his players confidence and belief in what they’re doing. They’re obviously believing. Mike guess is Mike will get the trophy. He’s earned it.”
Mike D’Antoni has earned the 2016-17 Coach of the Year trophy.
His Rockets, estimated to be a 45-win oddity by most and a flameout by some, are on pace for a 57-win record while working with the No. 3 seed in the West. James Harden reacted fabulously to D’Antoni’s insistence that he act as a point guard, he’s well on his way toward acting as the MVP favorite heading into April (voting season), and no star has paired as seamlessly with his new coach as Harden has in 2016-17 since Derrick Rose’s MVP turn with Tom Thibodeau in 2011 or, perhaps, Steve Nash during his MVP runs under Nash in 2005 and 2006.
Because Steve Nash was the NBA MVP in 2005 and 2006. Sorry, but hardly sorry, Shaq:
— Andrew Ungvari (@DrewUnga) March 27, 2017
D’Antoni won the Coach of the Year award in 2005 for his turnaround with the previously morbid Phoenix Suns, and though his methods helped change an entire league for the better Mike was more or less handed his 2005 award by an establishment that considered it akin to giving the Player of the Tournament trophy to the 8-year-old that somehow managed to hit .600 despite holding the bat upside down. He was, in the eyes of far too many, nobody to fear.
It’s a dozen years later and parts of that previous establishment have hardly moved, to their great detriment, but that didn’t ensure D’Antoni’s deserved brand of recognition or even a head coaching gig, entering 2016-17.
Despite similarly styled teams from Golden State, Miami, Cleveland and even San Antonio hitting championship heights with offenses predicated on swifter lineups and knockout shooting, D’Antoni is still considered to be just a shot up from Doc Brown, circa 1985 or 1955: forever without a timeline and even narrative that concludes that, yes, it was the crazy scientist and his excitable followers that were right all along. Heavy, man.
This might be why Steve Kerr gives the nod to D’Antoni above Erik Spoelstra, former Kerr coach Gregg Popovich, or any number of the savagely talented coaches that make up what is once again a deep roster of Coach of the Year candidates. Several other NBA coaches have “earned” the Coach of the Year this season.
Another factor in the endorsement sticks as the obvious one. Do recall that Kerr was technically D’Antoni’s boss for two seasons in Phoenix, before and during a failed experiment with the aforementioned Shaq that both coach and general manager signed off on. D’Antoni left the Suns in 2008 to cash in on his career’s turnaround with a gig on the then-rebuilding New York Knicks, as Kerr stayed behind to tinker with what was left of Seven Seconds or Less.
That relationship ended somewhat uneasily, though just as uneasily as a relationship between two like-minded, talented and respected basketball people can. There appears to be no lingering enmity, but we’ll give that a month: Golden State and Houston could surprise and give us a Western Conference finals for the ages, in ways that blow away the squads’ rather lackluster previous three meetings this season (of which the Warriors have won two).
Kerr wasn’t finished, on Tuesday at least, in dotting the internet with opinion after opinion. In talking on the “Dan Patrick Show,” the three-time Chicago Bulls champion opined that MichaelJordan “would probably shoot a lot more” three-pointers if he played in the modern era:
Jordan, a career 32 percent shooter from long range, took just 1.7 threes per game despite playing an average of 38.3 minutes a contest. The NBA’s all-time leading per-game scorer took nearly twice as many (3.2 and 3.6) three-pointers during his first two full seasons playing alongside Steve Kerr in Chicago’s 72- and 69-win seasons in 1996 and 1997, making a white-hot 42 percent (after hitting half of his three-pointers in 17 games’ worth of action the truncated, comeback season before) and a solid 37 percent in that second season.
The NBA’s three-point line was shortened during those two campaigns to a uniform 22-feet around the perimeter, a shot that looked exactly like what it just about was to MichaelJordan at the time – the longest of the line-drive, dart shots. Because that’s all Jordan, a mid-range artist with little arc on his jumper, could work with. By the time 1997-98 hit, with the line moved back to its current station, Jordan was back to taking just 1.5 of those line-drives a game with Kerr and the offensively starved, Scottie Pippen-less Chicago Bulls.
His 23.8 percent during that season shouldn’t count as typical, Jordan struggled through a right wrist injury throughout 1997-98 that limited his touch from long range, and a nearly severed right index finger (suffered during the 1998 lockout) further limited his abilities from the outside. As a Washington Wizard, Jordan made fewer than a quarter of his three-point attempts.
Jordan’s best marks with the established line, though, came in 1989-90: MJ was at his physical peak, and shot 37.6 percent from long range while taking a career-high (with the normal line) with three treys a game. He was 12th in the NBA in three-pointers made that season at 92 and in the top 25 in three-point percentage (Kerr, playing in Cleveland, would lead the league at 50.7 percent).
The idea of reputation and practice, shockingly, appears to be key. Quibble about Spicy McChickens and Egg McMuffins all you want, but Jordan’s best shooting years came during the seasons that he took the most three-pointers. As Kerr points out, Jordan rarely practiced three-pointers during Kerr’s time in Chicago, which makes sense: MJ was typically out to destroy Chicago’s B team in practice with his typical post-ups, drives and fadeaways, and he wasn’t keen on partying like it was 1992 …
… every time out. Goodness, was that a dart shot. Your results may vary.
Given the context of the era, Jordan’s three-point shot wouldn’t have looked a lot like LeBron James’, as James relies on strength and height to peel many of his off in spots where slighter shooting guards may not have been able to. Despite a recent uptick, though, James is still a 34 percent career shooter:
(You really can tell when, with the offensive burden removed, LeBron James truly does love acting as a small forward and little else. When he only has to be Sean Elliott out there, no small task for 95 percent of the NBA’s other players, things are probably going well.)
Jordan’s increased attempts from outside probably wouldn’t have him looking much like Kobe Bryant, either. Bryant worked with smaller hands and a slightly less-lengthy frame, needing more arc than Jordan to hit for his 32 percent career mark:
MJ’s efforts from long range probably wouldn’t have been as unseemly as Dwyane Wade’s (28.7 percent on his career), however. MJ needed to line-drive his shots in from that far out, but his lines (even as a 33 percent shooter with Chicago) were far purer than Wade’s ever were from 25 feet away:
All of this has nothing to do with the 2016-17 NBA Coach of the Year race. It has just as much to do with the MVP race, of which a laughing Kerr kindly declined to comment on in his interview with Dan Patrick.
We’re glad that Steve Kerr, former NBAtalk.com and Yahoo Sports contributor, continues to share with us.
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