Who would have realized when the Phoenix Suns implemented the now famous Seven Seconds or Less offense, it would have changed the landscape of the NBA forever? Led by Steve Nash, Mike D’Antoni and friends, this infamous offense is now the stuff of legend.
The 3-point revolution in the NBA is in full swing, and most teams are utilizing an offense that is heavily reliant on the three ball, pace-and-space, and ball movement. For the first time in NBA history, the league as a whole averaged double-digit three-point makes this past season, converting 10.5 per game, while averaging 29 attempts per contest. It is the 6th consecutive season that the NBA has broken its previous season record in three-point makes and attempts.
The Golden State Warriors, which won 3 of 4 NBA titles, catapulted the league into this era of fast-paced, position-less basketball, proving that this brand of offense can be a formidable formula to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy in June.
The majority of the league has employed this kind of offense, and has tried to emulate what Golden State is doing. One of the best examples is the Houston Rockets, which came within minutes of slaying the mighty Warriors, not once, but twice. Ironically, the one engineering the Rockets offense at the time is not particularly trying to emulate it. He’s actually one of its pioneers.
Mike D’Antoni, when helming the Suns and Rockets, was the mastermind of one of the most exciting offenses we had seen in the 2000’s: The Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns. D’Antoni rode on the philosophy of getting a good shot as quickly as possible.
Most title teams in the 2000s featured a dominant big man like Shaq or Tim Duncan, or teams that had to grind it out and slow the game down, like the 2004 Detroit Pistons. These Suns, though, were different. Their brand of basketball was ahead of its time. And boy was it refreshing to watch.
Mike D’Antoni joined the Suns as a replacement coach in the 2003-2004, leading an injury-riddled squad that finished with a 28-54 record. The Suns front office felt optimistic with his vision for the team, and retained him for the next season. D’Antoni always had this basketball philosophy in mind: Run the pick and roll with a guard and a big, with shooters waiting on the wings. With this, there are so many options, as the guard can attack the defense, shoot off the dribble, feed the big man on the roll, or kick it out to the shooters.
With the right personnel, this could leave defenses scrambling. He already had a young, raw, high-flying big man in Amare Stoudemire. Now he needed was a man to run the system. He found that man in Steve Nash.
Nash came aboard in the 2004-2005 season, and the Suns’ fortunes turned around quick, as they finished with a league-leading 62-20 record. He was the perfect man to run the show. The Suns led the league in offense that season with a pace of 95.9 and an offensive rating of 114.5. Furthermore, the Suns hoisted a total of 2,026 threes that year, converting a total of 796, good enough for 39.3% — all stats that led the league. The D’Antoni effect was real.
Despite having a Cinderella regular season, the Suns lost in the Western Conference Finals (WCF) against the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs ground out the Suns offense and slowed the game down to their pace. They could not outscore the Spurs as much as they had wanted to, and could not stop them enough to beat them. The Suns were a middle of the road defensive team, and D’Antoni isn’t really one to preach defense. He was all about offense. Critics began to question whether this strategy could ultimately win a championship.
The Suns’ 2005-2006 season saw superstar big man Amare Stoudemire sit out all but three games of the year due to knee issues. The Suns predictably dropped off without Stoudemire, but still finished as one of the top teams in the West with a record of 54-28. The Suns once again led the league in three-pointers made and attempted with 837 and 2097, respectively. They finished second in offensive rating at 111.5, but still had a league-leading pace of 95.8. The D’Antoni system was still in full swing.
They made the WCF for the second straight year, but once again failed to advance, as they fell to the Dallas Mavericks.
2006-2007 saw more of the same. Phoenix once again finished as one of the top teams in pace and three-point statistics. In second round of the playoffs, they came face-to-face with an old foe in the Spurs. Game 4 saw the Suns were well on their way to going back to Phoenix with the series knotted at 2-games apiece.
With the game all but over, Robert Horry bumped Steve Nash into the sidelines, which caused an altercation. Amare Stoudemire, who was on the bench, joined in on the frenzy, which apparently was not allowed. Thus, he was suspended for Game 5.
The suspension proved to be series-changing as the Suns never recovered and ultimately lost in 6. It was devastating loss for Phoenix. They just could not get over the hump.
D’Antoni only stayed with the Suns until the 2007-2008 season. The team traded Shawn Marion mid-year, and they got bounced again by the Spurs in the first round. The core of Steve Nash, Stoudemire, and Marion, with Mike D’Antoni at the helm, never managed to win it all. The Seven Seconds or Less Era was over.
Still, this team was ahead of its time. They were still one of the most exciting teams to watch in the history of the NBA. The Seven Seconds or Less Suns never made it to the mountaintop, but they laid out the blueprint. Mike D’Antoni is still trying to finally win the big one, but with James Harden and Chris Paul at the helm.
The problem is the Warriors, the team that actually got it done, are in the way, and they don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.