“People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon…. This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us [Joshua 10:13] that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth”
-Martin Luther on Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
Mike D’Antoni doesn’t want epicycles. When he gazes out onto the finely waxed hardwood surface of the practice floor, the Italian League legend, former Phoenix Suns head coach, offensive guru and current man at the helm of the S.S. New York Knicks sees something revolutionary. It’s not the old guard, earth-based, slow-paced offensive game of decades before. D’Antoni is a heliocentrist.
When Nicolaus Copernicus, from his deathbed, released On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres in 1543, the world (or at least those educated enough to have opinions on the matter) had believed for a millennium and a half that the Earth was the center of the entire Universe, and that everything else in the sky revolved around our happy little ball of rock. Copernicus disputed this long-held and accepted model, proposing instead something more or less what is used today: things in the solar system, including Earth, orbit around the Sun. Needless to say, Nicolaus’ model brushed more than a few people the wrong way. The publication is considered a landmark in scientific achievement, and his work sparked what is now known as the Copernican Revolution.
Mike D’Antoni is on the verge of his own revolution this year in New York. His “Seven Seconds or Less” offensive mantra, introduced to the NBA world while leading the Suns, led to hundreds of points a game. The excitement level of those Steve Nash led Phoenix helped to re-ignite fan interest in the post Iverson, post Larry Brown grind it out style of basketball that had dominated the NBA since Jordan’s retirement. Although he has no Finals rings to show for the effort, D’Antoni did much to advance his own “Positional Revolution”.
Now I’m not here to break down the science of this oft-discussed idea; I’ll leave it up to some writers who are much better than me to handle that. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, just check out this article from 48 Minutes of Hell, this piece from Hardwood Paroxysm (which you should be reading on a regular basis) and this classic from FreeDarko, featuring some incredible graphs from Tom Ziller.
The point I’m making is that the 2010-2011 New York Knicks roster, as it stands today, (which could be very, very, different from the final product out on the floor if Carmelo has anything to do about it) is potentially the groundbreaking work D’Antoni has been subconsciously yearning for all these years. It’s been said that the perfect SSOL team would be “ten guys who are all 6’9″, can run the floor, shoot and pass.” This year’s Knicks team features more than a few guys who fit that mold somewhat. Amar’e Stoudemire, the prototypical D’Antoni big man, joins his old ballcoach in New York. Danilo Gallinari finished second in the NBA with 186 three pointers last season, can more or less defend 2’s through 4’s and can shoot the lights out from basically anywhere on the floor. Raymond Felton, while not exactly Steve Nash, is an orange and blue bolt of lightning. He has a career average of 6.4 assists per game in the stifling Larry Brown offense, no less, and is a solid pick to have a breakout season. Wil Chandler, Landry Fields, and Bill Walker bring length and shooting to the table. The team is an impressive blend of size, length, speed and offensive game. Enter Randolph.
Anthony Randolph never caught on in Golden State, for whatever reason. His emotions got the better of him sometimes, he was wildly inconsistent, and Don Nelson locked AR in the doghouse more often than not. Randolph’s beautiful, explosive, dominating performances were followed almost always by a head-scratcher. “What is this kid? Will he be a star or just the occasional flash in the pan?” His inconsistencies covered the beauty that he plays with.
The thing is: those beautiful performances were AMAZING. When playing up for a game, the kid blends smooth motions, raw power, great handles (he occasionally brought the ball up the floor for the Warriors) and incredible length. He runs the floor like a space gazelle. This offseason and in training camp, Randolph has been working on his outside shot, and, incredibly enough, it’s falling. Another weapon has been added to the Super-Knick.
Anthony has the potential to be the definitive D’Antoni-ball player. Their orbits have alligned, their paths are now crossed. More than a few things need to go right. Emotions have to be carefully brushed into shape. Some wins need to be put in the bank. The team must gel as a cohesive unit for a team that has a notoriously short bench. If that tremendously high glass ceiling is even so much as brushed, this season could be a magical one for the Knicks. If not, bring in a phrase that’s been prayed by countless New York fans for a solid decade: there’s always next year.