Houston Rockets: Top 5 coaches in franchise history
2. Mike D’Antoni
Mike D’Antoni is viewed in league circles as one of the most innovative offensive minds, but isn’t known to have as brilliant a mind on the defensive end. It hasn’t hurt the Rockets, however, as this has been masked by former defensive specialist Jeff Bzdelik in each of the last two seasons. D’Antoni is hit or miss in the eyes of Rockets fans, as most people either hate him or love him. Many Rockets fans have drawn frustration at D’Antoni’s unwillingness to turn deep into his bench, which shouldn’t be the case this season
But what’s gotten lost regarding MDA is the fact that his 70.3 percent win ratio is by far the best in franchise history. The Rockets have never had a first round exit under D’Antoni’s watch, and even made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2018, falling to the Golden State Warriors in seven games. Furthermore, the Rockets have never finished worse than fourth place in the Western Conference since MDA has been the coach.
Not only that, but D’Antoni has a playoff win percentage of 59 percent, which is the highest in team history. MDA led the Rockets to a franchise record 67 wins in 2018, and guided the Rockets to a 20-5 finish after the All-Star break in 2019, going 53-29 on the year.
In D’Antoni’s first season with the Rockets, he turned James Harden into a point guard, causing Harden to lead the league in assists with 11.2 assists per game. In addition, the Rockets finished with the third seed in the West, which is the highest Western Conference seed of any Rockets coach during their first season with the team. Perhaps this is why D’Antoni was awarded with the Coach of the Year Award following that season.
D’Antoni also was able to create an offensive system in which Chris Paul and James Harden each thrived, despite the questions regarding whether they would each be able to co-exist. It’s been largely forgotten now, but the narrative following the acquisition of Chris Paul was that he and Harden were each isolation heavy players who needed the ball in their hands. Before the duo would ever play a game together, it had been determined by the media that the Rockets wouldn’t be able to have success. However, Harden won the MVP that season and the Rockets were within a CP3 hamstring of winning the Western Conference.
The same story has already been written following the acquisition of Russell Westbrook, but it will be on MDA to again show that he can devise a system in which the two can excel in the same backcourt.
The pressure and the stakes are each at its peak entering this year, however, as D’Antoni is entering a contract year and the Rockets are viewed as the favorites in the West, depending on who you ask.
Next: Rudy T