Does D’Antoni understand the importance of player development?

Mike D'Antoni Houston Rockets (Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Mike D'Antoni Houston Rockets (Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has a tendency to run his stars into the ground, which begs the question of whether he sees the value and importance of developing young players.

Over the course of Houston Rockets‘ coach Mike D’Antoni’s 16-year coaching career, he’s developed a habit of going top heavy with his lineups, which essentially runs his stars into the ground. This has played a part in the dip in James Harden‘s postseason productivity, yet Harden is playing more minutes this season than any of the other seasons in which MDA has been at the helm.

The same can be said for PJ Tucker, whose minutes have increased during each of MDA’s seasons as the Rockets coach. It’s understandable that D’Antoni would want to invest in his known commodities, but is this the smartest approach when the Rockets have young assets at their disposal?

One would have to assume that Gary Clark was partly waived because General Manager Daryl Morey noticed Clark hadn’t cracked MDA’s rotation and wasn’t getting minutes anyways, in spite of him shooting 35 percent from downtown this season and having the second-highest offensive rating on the team this season among players with as many minutes as him, behind only Isaiah Hartenstein. With the Rockets trying to dodge the luxury tax, Clark became a cap casualty. If he had become a regular in D’Antoni’s rotations, would he still have been waived? Or would he have remained on the roster, a la Ben McLemore?

Rockets rookie guard Chris Clemons has also been an example of MDA stunting a player’s growth, as he’s not been able to draw any favor from MDA. Clemons was initially on a two-way deal, which places limitations on the number of days a player can be on the actual NBA roster, so it makes sense that the Rockets were trying to maximize those days and not play him when they didn’t have to. But Clemons is on a standard deal, which means there are no longer those restrictions.

In spite of that, the rookie has only played 18+ minutes once in the last 60 days, and that game was against the New Orleans Pelicans, when the Rockets were without James Harden and Russell Westbrook. In that game, Clemons had 16 points on 36.4 percent from downtown, while also dishing out 9 assists. This begs the question of why Clemons isn’t drawing more playing time, as he’s only had three games this season in which he’s played at least 18 minutes. In the three games in which he has, he’s averaging 17 points on a scorching 45 percent from deep, which would be a great addition to a Rockets team in need of 3-point shooting.

Another example of D’Antoni’s lack of interest in developing younger players is Isaiah Hartenstein, who should have already caught the attention of his coach. Harty has posted a double-double in each of the last two games in which he has played at least 18 minutes, which is an example of the player he can become. But in spite of that, Harty played a combined four minutes over the course of the Rockets last two games, which were both losses.

Hartenstein seems to be on a short leash, which was evident in the Houston Rockets’ loss against the Portland Trail Blazers. Harty entered the game for one minute before being pulled for making a mistake. The question MDA should be asked is how exactly these mistakes will correct themselves without the players being able to correct them on the court.

Next. D'Antoni explains why the Rockets waived Gary Clark

The answer is simple: they won’t. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that MDA doesn’t have a desire to develop his young players on the roster, although they’ve shown on numerous occasions how they can provide value to a fairly thin Houston Rockets team. It seems unlikely that this will change moving forward, as MDA’s track record shows otherwise, but a major responsibility of being a coach is player development. It seems interesting that MDA has disregarded that.