Monday, June 17, 2013

Jason Kidd and the NBA Coaching Conundrum

The Kidd stays in the picture, this time as a Head Coach

“I don’t know” is never a popular answer. It may connote unpreparedness or a lack of intellect in the speaker. Plus, it is rarely followed by “I told you so”, so obviously it has its limitations. But, in rare instances, it’s the right response to questions like “How do you think Jason Kidd will do as head coach?”

Let me be clear, I wouldn't want Jason Kidd to be the coach of my team right now.  I like my coaches to have...ya know, coached;  but Jason Kidd has been lauded as a basketball savant by most of the people of consequence in his career.  He is well liked and respected around the league. And why wouldn't he be? Kidd is a top-tier point guard and first ballot Hall of Famer. That said, he’s never coached and the rigors of that position differ greatly from that of floor general.

More analytically, writer Jared Dubin has a wonderful piece about “re-tread coaches” (or coaches with prior experience) and their winning percentages over the course of their contracts.  The conclusion he reaches, due to the winning percentages of all the coaches since 1996, is that it’s a wash.  It means that it isn’t about the KIND of coach you hire, but THE coach you hire.  Kidd’s basketball exploits are well chronicled, but how will he do as a coach? Only time will tell.  The staff that Kidd assembles will be of the utmost importance, he will desperately need experience to counter his dearth of it (he has already publicly asked for Lawrence Frank, one of Kidd’s former coaches, to join his burgeoning staff). I’ll be interested to see how eager former head coaches (who have been looking to resume their duties as head of a basketball team) will be to join the staff of a head coach who was a player a week ago. I’m not saying they would be resentful…I might be though.

The Coaching Landscape

There will be at least 12 teams with a different coach beginning this upcoming year than began last season. Some teams have become habitual changers (such as the Bobcats, who will have their third coach in as many years with the hiring of Steve Clifford), as a part of their continued futility.  Some franchises, however, experienced their best record in franchise history (hello Denver Nuggets) and still decided to change captains.

I don’t know to what to account the mass changes.  Perhaps owners are less patient given the higher salaries of coaches.  Moreover, the owners may look at the last two coaches (Rick Carlisle and Erik Spoelstra) and noticed it isn’t just about the big name coaches, it’s about the right personalities to fit your particular band of players.

These two may be making their way out of Boston together

Perhaps the best blend of personality of coach and players was the marriage of the original “Big 3” and Doc Rivers.  Over the past few days his name has been in the center of trade talks between the Clippers and Celtics (a note on logistics of “trading” coaches: the CBA doesn’t allow coaches to truly be traded, the discussions between the teams are actually discussing the release of Rivers from contractual obligation for the players the Celtics would receive). So far, they are just rumors and nothing can be confirmed (isn’t it cool that we know about these things as they develop now? My twitter TL read like an in-room stenographer). The fact that a coach that led the Clippers to one of the most successful seasons in franchise history may be replaced by a coach that gave the Celtics their first title in over twenty years shows that the coaching landscape has changed forever.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

NBA Finals Outlook

It has been 6 years since these two met, James is hoping for a different outcome

I love how the Spurs and Heat each sat their starters in the two meetings this year.  It makes the Finals the first time that these teams will see each other at full strength this year.  There will (rightly) be a lot of talk of the “Big 3” and how they will play vs their respective matchups.  But the Finals consistently show us that there is always an impact player that isn’t a superstar.  In 2011, Tyson Chandler’s defense was vital in the Mavs win vs Miami.  The Heat had 25 points poured in by Mario Chalmers against the Thunder on the way to LeBron James’ first ring.

Chalmers needs to stay aggressive to make Tony Parker (who would’ve been a legitimate MVP candidate had it not been for LeBron and a late season injury) play on both sides of the court.  Miami has shown a propensity to be vulnerable to top-tier guards (do yourself a favor and look up the games Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook had on Miami’s way to their title last year); so far Parker has averaged 23 points and 7 assists, but they must keep him from having those insane games where he is both a scorer AND facilitator if they hope to repeat.

Looking further into the numbers, the thing that Miami struggles with is rebounding; in fact, they are dead last in rebounds per game. Two things account for their ranking, 1) they are a relatively small team 2) they have the highest effective Field Goal percentage in the league, and have fewer opportunities to rebound the ball offensively.  Indiana exploited their size advantage and beat the Heat on the boards by double digits several times; the Spurs, however, are ranked 29th in the league in offensive rebounding and won’t hold the same disparity in this series that the Pacers did.

Where the Pacers lost the series was their inability to hold onto the ball, they were in the bottom 5 of the league in turnover ratio during the regular season.  The Spurs are much more judicious with the ball and are in the top half in turnover percentage in the league.  With their execution and All-Star point guard running the show, Miami will need to take advantage whenever they do get extra possessions on offense due to the Spurs negligence.

As important as the on-court collision of talents will be what the coaches do on the sidelines


Kawhi Leonard vs LeBron James

Leonard was taken in the 2011 NBA Draft out of San Diego St.  And while Leonard was heralded out of college, his maturation on the offensive end has improved drastically. While he is still working on expanding his game (namely creating his own shot off the dribble, and a post game), he came into the league with the ability to defend multiple positions due to his length and strength.  He usually guards the opposition’s best perimeter player, and is a dogged on-ball defender. He’ll have his hands full with James, who has had his best statistical season of his illustrious career, and has drastically improved his outside shot.  James is coming off a series where he averaged 29 points against NBA All-Defense 2nd team member, Paul George.
Look for James to attack Leonard with off-ball motion.  Leonard is occasionally susceptible to ball watching. James must use hard cuts and screens to get the ball in the best position to score.  It will be important that he never loses sight of James—laughable given his freight-train like size—and that the Heat allow someone else to initiate the offense.

Manu Ginobili vs Dwyane Wade

It has been interesting watching both of these “superstars” over the course of the year (the lack of health for both players makes the presence of the quotation marks necessary).  Despite most of the press being devoted to dissecting Wade’s right knee bone bruise and his subsequent poor play, Ginobili has only eclipsed 20 points once this postseason.  Wade’s play was directly tied to the Heat’s success last series.  In the Heat’s four Eastern Conference finals wins, Wade averaged 17 pts, 6.3 rebs, 4.5 asts on 50.9 FG %.  In the team’s three losses, Wade averaged 13.3 pts, 3.7 rebounds, 4 asts on 35 FG%.  The scariest thing about Wade’s injury has been that it has stopped him from even attempting shots.  Even in the decisive game 7 vs the Pacers, it was more his aggressiveness on the boards and high activity that picked up Miami than his sharpshooting.
Both players have struggled offensively, and their injuries have slowed them on defense. Watching which player can get back to their top form will determine who wins this Finals.

Chris Bosh vs Tim Duncan

Bosh was awful against the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.  Alternating between guarding David West and Roy Hibbert exposed the lack of physicality that has long followed Bosh as a criticism.  While Duncan and Splitter are legitimate threats to score on offense, neither is the bruising interior player that will demolish Bosh on the boards or relegate him to the perimeter.
Tim Duncan is the man, and has been for years.  How many names of big men do you call before you get to him? Wilt, Kareem, Russell…and? That could very well be it.  This year he was 18 pts and 8 rebounds a game in his 17th season.  Moreover with his high basketball IQ and length, he is an underrated defender (he laughably finished outside the top 5 for Defensive Player of the Year this year) that guards the post and pick and roll as well as any big man in the league.


Heat in 7.  I go with the best player in the series nearly every time in playoffs because stars win out in the end.  I am not sold on Wade’s health, but I feel the same about Ginobili’s.  Tony Parker is going to be a problem because regardless of how many quality defenders the Heat possess (and they do have a good number) Parker runs the high screen and roll better than any PG in the league.  Norris Cole did a great job on a similarly-quick Nate Robinson, but the Heat won’t be able to trap Parker as easily.  Bosh needs to play Duncan a helluva lot better than he did the West/Hibbert combo—and I expect that he will.

So Sportshop fans, who ya got?