Tag Archives: Oklahoma City Thunder

Who’s A Good Coach?

I’m old enough to remember when Jeff Hornacek was an exciting young coach, and Derek Fisher was given a big multi-year contract. Now, armed with all the wisdom and experience that go along with being my age, I look at trends in the way NBA coaches are analyzed and wonder Does anyone know how to spot a good coach when they see one?

In the last year:

  • Tom Thibodeau was fired by the Bulls, after bringing them to the second round of the playoffs last season, where they lost to a better team;
  • Scott Brooks was fired after barely missing the playoffs with a team that played without Durant or Westbrook for most of the season;
  • Fisher was fired by the Knicks, who were showing signs of improvement, and had become a team kinda-competing-for-a-playoff-spot even though Jose Calderon was their best point guard;
  • David Blatt was fired when his Cavs were atop the Eastern Conference standings (the season after his team beat Thibodeau’s Bulls in the playoffs);
  • Kevin McHale was fired less than 20 games into the season following his team making the Western Conference Finals; and
  • Hornaceck was fired by the Suns, who were terrible, and had no business being anything better than terrible due to the lack of talent on the roster.

To be clear, I don’t claim to be able to give a deep, thorough analysis of a person’s ability to coach at the NBA level. I have some clues of what to look for, sure. For example, if you choose to play Sasha Vujacic any time there are 5 other living humans in the building, I know enough to question your lineup decisions. Fisher did that – repeatedly – so I have my questions about his ability to coach at the highest level. Or, if you decide, as Thibodeau did, to play Jimmy Butler for an average of 39 minutes per game, I question whether you’re overworking your players. Or, if you have Kevin Love, one of the game’s best offensive players, standing stagnant behind the three-point line, I question whether you’re getting the most out of the talent on your roster. But, in general, I don’t know enough about coaching at that level – or have enough time to watch – to give a detailed X’s and O’s analysis of why one coach is good and another is not.

That lack of knowledge seems to situate me to run an NBA team, because apparently none of the people hiring and firing coaches knows how to spot a good coach when he sees one, either. Consider this, hoopservers: the only coaches whose teams consistently win in the NBA are coaches with top level talent on their rosters.  In fact, the active coaches who have won NBA championships all had Hall of Famers on their title teams. That’s Pop (Duncan, and probably others), Carlisle (Dirk and Kidd, while acknowledging that Kidd was past his prime), Spo (LeBron, Wade, and Bosh), Doc (KG, Pierce, Ray Allen), and Kerr (Curry, and, at the rate the Warriors are going, maybe 7 or 8 other guys). Nobody else who’s coaching today has won a title.

Even among those guys, there are reasons to doubt their collective coaching brilliance. I’ll put aside Pop and Carlisle, and stipulate that they’re excellent coaches. Still, Doc’s Clippers teams have hardly overachieved, Spo missed the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference last year, and Kerr’s Warriors opened their season with a better start than any team in the history of the NBA, while Kerr sat out and Luke Walton coached them. Maybe Luke Walton’s the next great coach. I dunno. Or, maybe the Warriors were so good because of what Kerr had taught them previously. But if we’re inclined to give Kerr credit for what the Warriors did without him, we at least have to consider whether Mark Jackson deserves credit for what they’ve done since he left.  At that point, we have good reason to question whether the Warriors are great because of coaching, or because they have the best shooting backcourt of all time, and a roster that fills out perfectly around them.

I’m not saying that any of those guys is not a good coach, just that their teams’ results seem to be more directly connected to the talent level on the roster than anything else.

The current coaches who have raised their team above the level we’d expect based on talent seem to be Brad Stevens, Mike Budenholzer (last year, at least), and, um… uhh…. I don’t know. Maybe Steve Clifford?  Even among those guys, Bud’s Hawks are 31-25, and Clifford’s Hornets are 28-26. That’s what excellent coaching counts for? Meanwhile, 2006-07 Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell has the Wolves at 17-39, 2007-08 Coach of the Year Byron Scott has the Lakers at 11-45, 2012-13 Coach of the Year George Karl has the Kings at 23-31, and 2009-10 Coach of the Year Scott Brooks has the Thunder at… oh, wait, dude got fired.  (If you’re reading this, thinking “I’d like to see a list of Coaches of the Year,” I gotcha: Coaches of the Year.  It’s what I’m here for.)

If given the choice, I’d rather have an above-average fourth starter on my team than a purportedly excellent coach.  But, hoopservers, maybe I’m overlooking someone.  So, I ask you: any coaches I’m overlooking, who have proven that they can consistently make their team competitive without top level talent on the roster?

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What’s The Best Model?

Here we are.  The 2011 Playoffs.

Of course, there are lots of interesting storylines to talk about as the playoffs begin.  What interests me the most is the clash of styles amongst the teams still standing.

To set the table for that discussion, I think it’s worthwhile to identify who I think the 20 best players in the league are (otherwise, discussions about which teams truly have “star” power get complicated, as it’s easy to call lots of players “stars” but much harder to identify the ones who truly are).  In no particular order, I think the top 20 players, divided into “superstars” and “stars” are:

SUPERSTARS

1.  Kobe

2.  Durant

3.  Rose

4.  LeBron

5.  Wade

6.  Howard

STARS

7.  Dirk

8.  Gasol

9.  Westbrook

10.  CP3

11.  Anthony

12.  Stoudemire

13.  Randolph (20 ppg, 12 rpg)

14.  Aldridge (22 ppg, 9 rpg)

15.  Rondo (11 assists, 2.5 spg)

16.  Ginobili (17 ppg, 5 apg, 4 rpg, 1.5 spg)

17.  Parker (18 ppg, 7 apg)

18.  Johnson (18 ppg, 5 apg, 4 rpg)

19.  Horford (15 ppg, 9 rpg, 1 bpg)

20.  Granger (21 ppg, 5 rpg)

We could probably debate a few of those guys (CP3, Anthony, and Stoudemire might deserve to be considered superstars, while Garnett, Pierce, Bosh, and Iguodala could be considered stars).  But, generally, it’s a pretty uncontroversial list of the 20 best players in the playoffs.  With that as background, the teams generally fall into a few groups:

NO STARS – Philly and Denver:  Both of these teams are athletic, exciting, and deep.  And neither has a chance to win more than one round, because they don’t have the necessary star-power.

ONE STAR – Dallas, Memphis, Portland, Boston, Indiana, New Orleans, Orlando and Chicago:  This is an interesting group. To me, the critical distinction among the teams in this group is that some of them have big guys who operate in the paint, playing alongside dynamic small guys.  Some do not.  The teams that do — Chicago, Memphis, Portland, and Indiana — are legitimate threats.  Dallas is better than it has been in years past because Tyson Chandler is an effective presence in the paint. But, Dirk, as great as he is, is not a traditional PF, and Kidd is no longer a dynamic PG.  New Orleans would be a threat, but for the crippling injury to David West.  Without him, there’s just not enough horsepower there.  Orlando, in my eyes, just doesn’t have the guards to go deep.  That leaves Boston and Chicago.  Before the Perkins trade, Boston had intimidating big guys and dynamic small guys.  Now they’ve lost the intimidation.  All is not lost, because, though they only have one of the top 20 players, it’s possible that they have four of the top 25.  They might be able to get by simply because they have so many guys who can win a game for them, but that’s less likely than it was before the trade.  Chicago is unique among this group, because it has a superstar guard playing alongside big guys who dominate the paint.

TWO STARS – Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Miami, and San Antonio:  The primary distinction among the teams in this group is that some have superstars and some do not.  Neither Atlanta nor San Antonio have superstars, but both have two stars playing with capable supporting casts (with all due respect to Tim Duncan, he is now a part of the supporting cast).  It’s rare for a team to win without a superstar, but Atlanta and San Antonio are threats — San Antonio specifically because it has the best backcourt tandem, and a very capable frontcourt.  New York is the wild card in this group, because, if Carmelo and Amar’e play like superstars, they might be good enough to make up for the glaring shortcoming on that roster; no big guys who intimidate anyone to play up front with those two.  Miami is the only team with two superstars, and also the only team that relies on Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony for major minutes.  That leaves Oklahoma City and LA, both of whom have a superstar and a star.

In light of all of that, I’ll make this prediction: I expect Chicago, LA, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City to rise above the rest. Chicago and LA both have superstar guards playing alongside big men who dominate the paint.  San Antonio and Oklahoma City both have overpowering perimeter tandems playing alongside big men who, while not as good as the bigs on Chicago and LA, are effective down low.  Which of those four will emerge as champion?  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

4 Comments:

  • ZachNovakJr.

    No love for Chris Bosh or Josh Smith? How do you see those two vs. Granger? Based on the stars model, it seems like ATL over ORL in game one was no fluke (especially if Jason Richardson is not going to play like he did in PHX). Maybe we should be taking the Hawks and the points (8.5) tomorrow night…

  • Angry Young Man

    Comical to me how much the Knicks have sucked. I told you all CarMElo was not the kind of guy you want on a winning team. Of course he’s an amazingly talented athlete and scorer, but is he an amazing basketball player? Also, Amare was the force behind the Knicks’ turnaround, but he took a backseat once carMElo came to town, and look what has happened.

    Also, I think the Heat are going to win the whole thing. Which will serve only to prove the NBA regular season is a colossal waste of time, along with being a fabricated sham.

    Have a nice day.

  • Tweener

    Thanks for the comment, Novak.
    Nope, no love for Chris Bosh. Never have, never will.
    Josh Smith? That’s an interesting question. Looks like ATL might surprise a few folks, but, with two All-Stars, we probably shouldn’t be surprised to see them win a series.

  • Tweener

    Yeah, you sound angry.

    Comical that the Knicks have sucked? They were a team with a dangerous top-3, and a bunch of barely-adequate parts around them. Only one of those 3 was healthy for the whole series. This counts as comedy to you?

    Do you watch college hoops, Mr. Angry? If so, you certainly remember Carmelo’s team doing quite well when he was on it, don’t you?

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