The D’Antoni Index: A Simple Statistical Test for NBA Coach Quality

We have spoken before in this space about Scott-Hollins Syndrome, the affliction (named for Byron Scott and Lionel Hollins) whereby a coach can destroy his team’s chances at a championship through nothing more than failing to adopt modern NBA offensive principles.

If your team shoots lots of midrange jumpers, never attacks the rim, and shoots about as many threes as NBA teams did before 1979 (I hope to the gods you don’t need this joke explained to you), then it is your duty and obligation as a fan to call your local sports talk radio station, go on Twitter, and write to the letters-to-the-editor address of your local newspaper until your coach gets fired.

But at the same time, the eye test is dangerous and our eyes often lie to us through some combination of confirmation bias and selective memory, so what we need is a number on the Sheed’s Law radar gun so we can call coaches for a moving violation.

And because it needs a name, I’m going to call it the D’Antoni Index, named in honor of good old Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, the architect of the offensive principles that pulled the NBA out of the Dark Ages and set the stage for the pace and space era.

The Index works like this. (3PAR + shots taken between 0 and 3 feet + FTR) – that same sum of the league averages in those three stats (so it is apples to apples across seasons as the league continues to evolve.)

Is it a gross oversimplification? Yes.

Does it unjustly penalize coaches whose teams take fewer 3-pointers because nobody on their team can shoot threes for beans (looking at you, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, and Gregg Popovich)? Also yes.

Does it give a damn about defense? No. But there are other stats for that and you still have to score points unless your DefRtg is zero.

Does it care if all those midrange jump shots go in? No, nor should it. Unless you’re shooting 52.2 percent or more on those bad shots (through games of Nov. 16, 2019, per Basketball Reference), your eFG% will be higher with even league-average 3-point shooters. You are not shooting 52.2 percent on long twos, I promise.

Anyway, let’s plug the numbers, rank them, and show you how this should largely square with what you’re expecting.

In order, from best D’Antoni Index (take a wild guess who’s in first place) to worst (no prizes for guessing that one either):

Houston (Mike D’Antoni): .192
Charlotte (James Borrego): .083
Phoenix (Monty Williams): .083
Atlanta (Lloyd Pierce): .080
Minnesota (Ryan Saunders): .076
Brooklyn (Kenny Atkinson): .071
Milwaukee (Mike Budenholzer): .067
Dallas (Rick Carlisle): .063
Chicago (Jim Boylen): .052
Miami (Erik Spoelstra): .049
Toronto (Nick Nurse): .043
Utah (Quin Snyder): .021
Detroit (Dwane Casey): .009
LA Clippers (Doc Rivers): .008
Boston (Brad Stevens): .007
New Orleans (Alvin Gentry): -.005
Oklahoma City (Billy Donovan): -.015
New York (David Fizdale): -.015
Cleveland (John Beilein): -.024
LA Lakers (Frank Vogel): -.036
Golden State (Steve Kerr): -.041
Sacramento (Luke Walton): -.056
Portland (Terry Stotts): -.056
Philadelphia (Brett Brown): -.061
Orlando (Steve Clifford): -.072
Washington (Scott Brooks): -.085
Memphis (Taylor Jenkins): -.094
Denver (Mike Malone): -.121
San Antonio (Gregg Popovich): -.137
Indiana (Nate McMillan): -.138

Tell me that isn’t broadly in line with the reputation of the guys both at or near the top (D’Antoni, Pierce, Atkinson, Budenholzer) and the bottom (McMillan, Popovich, Brooks) of the list!

If you don’t have a coach who can get you looks from three, design plays to attack the basket, and coach aggression as players force their way to the free throw line, that coach better either be a total defensive mastermind…or unemployed.

Sometimes the simplest stats distill the most complex stories.

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