Does Mike D'Antoni Hate Rookies?
In his return to the city as a Rocket -- a legit rotation player with Houston, mind you -- Hill told the press that D'Antoni doesn't like rookies, a claim many fans and rookies have made over the years. But D'Antoni wouldn't accept that charge.
The coach fired back hard, asserting that he just don't play "bad rookies," implying, then, that Hill wasn't worth playing when he was a Knick. But that's not exactly accurate -- Hill's limited per-minute performance in New York fortold what Hill has done with Houston: 14 points and nine-plus rebounds per 36 minutes. If D'Antoni didn't give Hill much an on-court chance because of practice habits or depth issues, that's one thing. But to say that Hill is playing much better as Rocket than a Knicks -- that's just inaccurate. Hill's just getting minutes now.
But what about all those other rookies out there? Does D'Antoni hate them too?
Toney Douglas, Hill's 2009 draft classmate, has played in only 44 of New York's 70 games, and in those games is playing only 16 minutes per game. That susses out to just over 700 minutes, or 17 percent of available minutes.
Last year, then-rookie Danilo Gallinari struggled through injury. He played in only 28 games, and averaged only 14 minutes a game in those.
In his final season with Phoenix -- 2007-08 -- D'Antoni had two minor rookies, D.J. Strawberry and Alando Tucker. They played less than 400 minutes combined. In 2005-06, D'Antoni played his two minor rookies (Sharrod Ford and Dijon Thompson) even less. Ditto for 2004-05, with Jackson Vroman and Yuta Tabuse. You have to go all the way back to D'Antoni's debut season with Phoenix to find the last time he played a rookie at least 1,000 minutes -- and that was Leandro Barbosa. Frank Johnson, who coached the team through December that season, had buried Barbosa on the bench behind Stephon Marbury, Joe Johnson and who's who of crummy roleplayers. D'Antoni freed Leandrinho, and the Brazilian Blur became a key cog in D'Antoni's championship-contending Suns run.
And that's really what can't be left out of this conversation: things are different when you're contending for a title. Can you really blame D'Antoni for not playing Vroman and Strawberry and Thompson more? Of course not! Those were bit players at best, and the team fought for every win. You don't rip Mike Brown for leaving Danny Green on the bench, just like you couldn't rip Hill's new coach Rick Adelman for burying a rookie Gerald Wallace on a championship-level Kings team.
But the stakes are different for the Knicks, and D'Antoni. There was really little evident reason for Hill to be buried in New York. And -- again, barring some work ethic issues not known publicly -- Hill showed he could play in the limited Knicks opportunities he got. But for Hill to argue D'Antoni refuses to play rookies as a rule -- that's just wrong. D'Antoni just refused to play Hill and, well, all those "bad rookies" he had in Phoenix. But the best rookie he's had, Barbosa, got plenty of opportunity under D'Antoni. The "D'Antoni hates rookies" theorem just doesn't float.