Tag Archives: Larry Brown

Layups, Oct. 14

Sign we’re at the beginning of the season: Larry Brown is upset! He hates how his bigs are playing. Giving that he’s talking about Nazr Mohammed, DeSagana Diop, and Alexis Ajinca, I don’t know why he’s surprised. Anyway, watch him continue to complain about his bunch in Charlotte for the next little while until they start consistently playing good D, at which point he will gush about them.

Milwaukee is trying to decide whether to pick up Joe Alexander’s first option year. As Sham reminded me this morning, Milwaukee picked this guy over Brook Lopez and Anthony Randolph. This is a sad story. The guy is athletic (and damn well should have been in the dunk contest last season) and, I guess, he has some potential in him. Still, how is he going to realize it in Milwaukee? They’re not a great team, but I don’t see minutes for him. He’s a 3/4, just like Skiles’s defensive darling Luc Richard Mbah A Moute. Carlos Delfino is going to get minutes at the 3, too, and Michael Redd could as well if Skiles decides to go small. At the 4 spot, I find it hard to believe he’s going to get minutes unless one or two of Hakim Warrick, Kurt Thomas, and Ersan Ilyasova get injured. I’d say they should trade Jumpin’ Joe, but he has next to no value right now.

Finally! It looks like, after a summer of bickering to my friends and to random message-board people, I’ve found people (besides Kelly Dwyer) who actually agree with me about Marco Belinelli. Michael Grange of The Globe and Mail isn’t sold on him, as he thinks using possessions on Belinelli rather than other, more effective players is a bad idea. Mark Ginocchio of Nets Are Scorching points out that just about the only statistical thing he does well is shooting. This is what I’ve been saying for a while now. He’s a pretty damn good shooter, and he actually has a well above-average feel for the game. The problem is that he can’t guard anybody, he doesn’t take care of the ball, and he lacks athleticism. He’s skilled, but he’s quite a bit overmatched in the NBA. Point guard might actually be the best position for him, but then again, imagine him trying to stick Chris Paul or Rondo. Oof.

Den Feldman of Pistons Powered has a warning for people around the league buying into the new-coach hoopla. Very nicely done, that, although I think Pistons fans have reason to be excited about Kuester. While Curry had just a few years of assistant coaching experience since his playing days ended, Kuester has been in the coaching game since 1980 and in the NBA coaching game since 1995. This man served as Cleveland’s offensive co-ordinator last year, where he turned the NBA’s 20th-best offensive team into its 4th-best. I think Dumars chose the right guy this time.

Sekou Smith is talking about Marvin Williams’s aggressiveness in Atlanta. Here’s what I said about young Marv back in August: “Marvin Williams needs to get the ball more and he needs to be more aggressive. He’s an efficient young player, but he doesn’t assert his will on the game often enough.” It seems they’re recognizing this in Atlanta, and I really hope what they’re saying now translates into how they play in the regular season. Colour me skeptical, though, ‘cause with Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Mike Bibby, Al Horford, and now Jamal Crawford, that’s a lot of mouths to feed. If Williams is going become a bigger part of their attack, both Marvin and coach Woodson are going to have to do their parts.

Finally, if you haven’t read Adrian Wojnarowski’s excellent piece on the Warriors, you absolutely have to. This is normally where I try to add something, be it an extra piece of evidence or some criticism, but I’ve got nothin’ on this one. Just read it, he nailed it. Can’t stand seeing young talent continually wasted in Golden State.

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Filed under Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats, Coaching, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Layups, League-Wide Stuff, Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors

Looking Forward: Detroit Pistons

Old Huskies, New Pistons

The Detroit Pistons are in transition. We all know this. This is why they made the Chauncey Billups/Allen Iverson trade. This is why Rip Hamilton’s contract extension made no sense. This is why they signed two ex-UConn Huskies (Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva) who don’t quite fit the traditional Piston mold. Finally, this is why they probably should have grabbed Rajon Rondo from Boston earlier this summer.

You’re aware that mainstays Billups, Rasheed Wallace, and Antonio McDyess are gone. Amazingly, Ben Wallace is back, along with the aforementioned marquee free agent Huskies, big man Chris Wilcox, and rookies Austin Daye and DaJuan Summers. In addition to this, maligned head coach Michael Curry is gone, replaced by long-time assistant John Kuester, who was on Larry Brown’s staff when Detroit for their 2003-2004 championship season.

Kuester, the architect of Cleveland’s much-improved offense last season, will be charged with improving what was the league’s 21st-best offense in 2008-2009. He’s got the tools to do it, I tell ya. Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, and Chris Wilcox all have their faults, but they can score. Despite appearing to be a chucker, Gordon is quietly one of the most efficient scorers in the league, and Charlie V. turned in an impressive 21.7 points per 36 minutes last season in Milwaukee. Wilcox, in the East, will be serviceable at both the 4 and 5 spots. His inconsistency, especially on defense, will likely remain, but so will his excellence in pick-and-roll situations. Point guards Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum can put the ball in the basket, too, and you don’t need me to tell you what Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton can do.

Does this mean they’ll be better this season?

Probably. They should be far better on the offensive end, but questions remain. What will happen to Rip Hamilton? He obviously shouldn’t have had his contract extended, and it’s probably going to be tough to move him in this economic environment. We know Gordon is the future of the Pistons’ 2-spot, but Kuester has already committed to bringing him off the bench while Rip is around. A big challenge for this new coach is going to be to allocate minutes in a way that keeps everyone happy and doesn’t leave guys playing out of position for so long that it puts the team at a disadvantage.

Kuester’s also going to have to put some thought into how to get these guys to play D. This squad was average on that front under Michael Curry last year, finishing 16th in the league (down from 4th the previous year). With a bit of luck, they’ll sustain something close to that mark this coming season – Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva are certainly not defensive-minded players, but I don’t think their efforts will be significantly worse than what we saw from Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace last season.

If all goes right, then, we’ll see an elite offensive team and an average defensive team. This is the opposite of what we saw from Larry Brown’s championship-winning team (it should be noted that the great Flip Saunders had them playing elite-level ball on both ends) and it’s why I must stress again that this team is in transition. There is some serious talent in Detroit, some of it young and some of it old. Pieces remain from the perennial Eastern Conference Finals teams earlier in the decade, but they don’t represent the majority of this roster anymore. It’ll be interesting to see how this franchise negotiates this tricky terrain of trying to rebuild while staying in the playoff hunt, rather then tearing everything down and starting again. Grabbing at least one post-season victory this time would be a good start.

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Filed under Detroit Pistons, Free Agency, Looking Forward, Trades

A Closer Look: Coaching Matters

VDN UPSET!

This is a guest post by my buddy Julian, who writes the blog Comedy Landfill. Like me, he’s a huge NBA fan, so sometimes we have arguments that end up in one of us wanting to write a blog post defending our case. So, here ya go. Also, tell him to start tweeting again.

I recently had a discussion with the creator of this blog, about the effects of coaching on a team. VDZ wasn’t convinced that coaching had all that much to do with a team’s fortunes in the NBA. I agreed that the NBA, unlike many different sports in the world, was player-driven, where the teams with the best players, in virtually all cases, were the best teams in the league. Kobe, Pau Gasol and Odom on the Lakers? Championship. Phil Jackson (one of the greatest, if not the greatest coach of all time) tried and failed to make Kobe plus a bunch of scrubs successful in the mid-2000s. Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen? Championship, and that was with oft-disrespected Doc Rivers at the helm. The year before that, they were one of the worst teams in the league.

My argument, however, was that coaches DID play an important part in the success and failure of a team. I pointed to Stan Van Gundy as a guy who made a significant, real impact on the Orlando Magic, turning them from an also-ran eastern conference team into a legit contender through a great rotation, a great gameplan, and some expert play-calling. This debate intrigued me enough to do a rundown on coaching changes that happened last season, in order to get a better idea of how coaching can change a team, for better or for worse.

Mike D’Antoni (NYK):
Offensive Rating Before: 104.7 (23rd)
Defensive Rating Before: 111.9 (29th)
Pace Factor Before: 91.6 (15th)
W-L Before: 23-59
Offensive Rating After: 108.1 (17th)
Defensive Rating After: 110.8 (23rd)
Pace Factor After: 96.7 (2nd)
W-L After: 32-50

After several outrageously poor seasons under the helm of Isiah Thomas, New York Knicks GM Donny Walsh decided to bring the Zeke era to a close, by demoting him and hiring recently fired Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni’s system is a pretty intriguing one, and judging by his statistics, it’s not hard to see why. Take a look in the difference between the pace of the Knicks before he got there, and after he got there. Going from middle of the pack to the second-fastest team in the league (only behind warp-speed Golden State) in one season is incredible. The offensive rating, while making a jump, obviously did not increase by as much as the pace. The problem here, in my opinion, is that while the offensive structure was re-vamped for the better, the team still didn’t have players that were efficient enough on the offensive end to complete Mike’s vision of a Pheonix Suns east. Defensively, they improved as well, but I think that I’m going to chalk that up to Isiah Thomas being terrible, and Mike D’Antoni steadfastly refusing to play notorious non-defender Eddy Curry, as well as adding a defensive scheme that made at least SOME sense. The win differential was +9. That’s pretty darn good, but with the caveat that they won only 23 games the prior season, and the improvement landed them 9 games under .500, which isn’t something you can brag about to your friends if you’re a Knicks fan.

Larry Brown (CHA):
Offensive Rating Before: 104.6 (24th)
Defensive Rating Before: 109.4 (20th)
Pace Factor Before: 91.8 (14th)
W-L Before: 32-50
Offensive Rating After: 104.7 (27th)
Defensive Rating After: 106.1 (7th)
Pace Factor After: 88.3 (27th)
W-L After: 35-47

Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown took the reigns of a struggling Charlotte Bobcats team, and incorporated the players into his well-worn system. His system, of course, being a no-nonsense, defense-first, play-call-on-every-possession, slow, deliberate game. He also got a big overhaul midway through the season, landing the dynamic Boris Diaw and tough as nails defender Raja Bell for the chronic underachiever Jason Richardson. As a result of both coaching and personnel changes, the team’s defensive efficiency skyrocketed from 20th to 7th in the league, and it’s offense languished from and already miserable 24th in the league, to a near-bottom 27th. To no-one’s surprise, their pace factor also went from middle of the pack to slower than molasses. Even with that massive defensive improvement, the Bobcats went 35-47, improving by a meager 2 games (unimpressive considering how inept the guy Larry replaced was) and missed the playoffs yet again.

Rick Carlisle (DAL):
Offensive Rating Before: 111.1 (8th)
Defensive Rating Before: 106.1 (9th)
Pace Factor Before: 90.2 (22nd)
W-L Before: 51-31
Offensive Rating After: 110.5 (5th)
Defensive Rating After: 108.4 (17th)
Pace Factor After: 91.5 (16th)
W-L After: 50-32

Mark Cuban, the fiery owner of the Dallas Mavericks, hates, and I mean loathes losing. If you’ve ever seen him on the sidelines playing your favourite team, you’ll instantly realize that he both takes the game waaaay too seriously, and also that he would do anything to make his Mavericks a better team. That’s the main reason why he sacked the former Coach of the Year, elf-voiced Avery Johnson after getting (Marv Albert impression) REJECTED by Golden State in the first round two seasons ago. Enter Rick Carlisle, another former coach of the year, and regarded by most as an all-around good coach, albeit with a reputation of alienating his players after a few seasons. In any case, as you can see, the team got a bit better on offense, and a lot worse on defense. One of the reasons for both of those things might be the acquisition of Jason Kidd during the offseason. Jason Kidd used to be one of the best defenders at the PG position in the league, but Father Time has waved his magic time staff and slowed Jason Kidd down considerably. Especially laterally. Father Time hates side-to-side movement. Anyway, they sped up marginally and won 1 less game. Pretty much treading water. What does that say about Rick Carlisle? I guess it says that he’s a mediocre coach? That may be a bit harsh, but I’m sure that Mark Cuban expects a better result than treading water. The huge drop in defensive efficiency from 2 years ago to last can’t be considered good, and it can’t all be blamed on personnel changes.

Vinny Del Negro (CHI):
Offensive Rating Before: 103.9 (26th)
Defensive Rating Before: 107.2 (14th)
Pace Factor Before: 93.0 (11th)
W-L Before: 33-49
Offensive Rating After: 108.4 (14th)
Defensive Rating After: 108.7 (18th)
Pace Factor After: 93.1 (9th)
W-L After: 41-41

After reading these stats to my friend, who hates Vinny Del Negro, he instantly said “THEY GOT DERRICK ROSE STUPID” (Ed.: That was me). Well, I suppose that’s true, but the Bulls still jumped up a very impressive 12 spots from 26th to 14th in the league, while only dropping about 4 spots on defense (which also might be “Derrick Rose stupid!” considering how poorly he defended last season). Another reason for the uptick in offense was the brilliant trade made halfway through the season, where the Bulls shipped out an underperforming and overpaid Andres Nocioni for the versatile and efficient John Salmons. The difference in speed between the two seasons was almost negligable, but the massive jump in offensive efficiency was enough to catapult them out of the basement of the Eastern Conference into the middle of the pack, and coupled with their relatively middle of the pack defense, gave them the ultimate middle of the pack record of 41-41. The reviews coming out of Chicago were mixed. Some were forgiving of Vinny’s rookie-coach mistakes, while others were not. They said that his rotations left a lot to be desired, and that the plays he drew up out of time outs rarely worked. However, the offense looked a lot better, and he put the ball in the hands of Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon, which seemed to work pretty well. He also wrung a pretty great season out of Joakim Noah, allowing him to play through his mistakes, while keeping a lid on the dressing room drama. While he may have his detractors in Chicago, he certainly had quite an impressive season for a rookie coach (making it to the playoffs, giving a shorthanded Boston a run for it’s money).

Scott Skiles (MIL):
Offensive Rating Before: 105.3 (21st)
Defensive Rating Before: 112.8 (30th)
Pace Factor Before: 91.3 (17th)
W-L Before: 26-56
Offensive Rating After: 106.7 (23rd)
Defensive Rating After: 107.9 (15th)
Pace Factor After: 92.6 (11th)
W-L After: 34-48

It’s interesting that we get to examine how an outgoing coach does on another team after analyzing his replacement, and we get to see that with Scott Skiles on the Bucks. Now, to be fair, Skiles is getting a bit of a raw deal here, because the ratings on offensive and defensive efficiency during his last season with the Bulls are tainted by a dreadful interim coaching job done by a man by the name of Jim Boylan, who coached the team for 56 games in 2007-2008. Milwaukee has been one of the worst run franchises in the league for a while now, and looking at the stats, it’s not hard to see why. Dead-last in defense, bottom ten in offensive efficiency, one of the worst W-L records in the league; Scott Skiles had his work cut out for him when he arrived. What happened was a pretty impressive turnaround, not unlike Larry Brown’s, where the Defensive efficiency went through the roof, and the offensive efficiency increased as well, but actually slipped in the rankings (I suppose the league in general was less efficient in 2007/08). Unlike Larry, they didn’t play at a super-slow pace; in fact, the pace went up under Skiles! In fact, in his time coaching the Bulls, the pace factor never dipped below 11th in the league. This may be surprising, because most people equate excellent offenses with speed, and speed with a porous defense, when in fact, it’s the opposite under Skiles. The formula worked, at least partially, because like Mike D’Antoni, his team improved by 8 games, from 26 to 34 wins. It’s amazing what a functioning system and identity can do for a team, isn’t it? With D’Antoni, the Knicks became a run and gun squad, and with Skiles’ Bucks, they became a gritty, hard-nosed defensive team, when before, they were simply floating around, amorphous and directionless.

Conclusions

From this list, I think you can make a couple of intriguing observations: one is how much a coach can change how a team operates. Mike D’Antoni’s system had a real, observable effect on how his team played. The pace went through the roof, as did the offense. Skiles increased the pace, and made the defense much stingier. Larry Brown slowed the game down to a crawl and instituted a defense that was one of the best in the league. These aren’t just small swings, some of them are 15-ranking swings, which can’t just be attributed to personnel changes. The style of ball changed when the new coaches arrived. In terms of actually winning games, the evidence is not as strong. Skiles and D’Antoni boasted large improvements in this category, but from god-awful to merely “poor”. A more impressive jump was Mike D’Antoni’s second season in Pheonix, where he took the team from under 30 wins to over 60. That is obviously a result of the system matching the players perfectly, as well as the addition of a pointguard that could actually carry the gameplan out.

I think that by looking at these new coaches, we can actually see that coaching does have an observable effect on the fortunes of a team. Sometimes dramatic ones. I think that it’s at least evidence towards teams performing better when they have an identity, rather than directionless. It’s certainly very strong evidence that coaches are very good at implementing their system. Most importantly, I think that this illustrates why the NBA isn’t just a “player’s league” like so many people seem to believe, and that coaching has a strong influence on how the game is played.

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Filed under A Closer Look, Charlotte Bobcats, Chicago Bulls, Coaching, Dallas Mavericks, Guest Posts, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Stats

Looking Forward: Charlotte Bobcats

The Charlotte Bobcats did not have a very good or deep team headed into 2008-2009. They started off poorly, as their young group had to adjust to head coach Larry Brown. As the season went on, though, they improved, much thanks to the Brown-endorsed personnel changes that added veterans to the line-up. Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, and Vladimir Radmanovic immediately helped the team, playing significant roles. Diaw was particularly instrumental, as he handled the ball a lot more than he had in Phoenix for the last few years and relished in his larger role. This all added up to a scrappy, unselfish team that was surprisingly fun to watch as they made an inspired but unsuccessful playoff push before finishing with a franchise-best 35 wins.

It’s nice that they improved throughout the season, sure, but I have to ask Charlotte fans this: What was the point? Yep, they played hard and almost made the playoffs. They missed out on their chance to get swept by Cleveland. Now, playoff games are a lot of fun. I’ve had the good fortune to have been able to attend a few playoff games in Toronto in the Vince Carter area. The home playoff games generate some extra money for the franchise, too. This is great. Does that mean it’s worth it to max out as an 8th seed, though? I say no. I am essentially saying that it was fun to watch this group play last season, but in the big picture it doesn’t matter and wasn’t smart.

At the end of the season, I had a look at the Bobcats’ salary picture. They had Emeka Okafor locked up until 2014, Gerald Wallace and DeSagana Diop until 2013, Diaw until 2012, and Nazr Mohammed until 2011. The majority (but not all) of those guys are good players ,but these are the type of guys that will lead them to a lot of 35-45 win seasons. These guys are tied up for a long time and some of them have hard-to-trade contracts. For a fan dreaming of playoff success in Charlotte, this stinks.

Since the season has ended, the Bobcats have made two off-season moves worth mentioning. The first is the selection of Gerald Henderson with the 12th overall selection in the draft. He might be a solid pick; a lot of people think he’ll be able to help right away. He’s another in a long line of college standouts from successful programs taken by Charlotte. He’s not the type of guy that’s going to turn the team into contenders, though. That’s what happens when you have the 12th pick, especially in a weak draft.

The second move was just completed a couple of days ago. The Bobcats traded center Emeka Okafor to the New Orleans Hornets for center Tyson Chandler. I’m sorry Bobcats fans, but I just can’t defend this one. Sure, Okafor isn’t perfect. He’s got bad hands and isn’t good on the pick and roll. He’s not a natural on offense and is slightly undersized for a center. He is a good player, though – he’s 26 years old, about to enter his prime, and has now played two straight seasons injury-free. The incoming Chandler is another defensive-minded player that isn’t a huge threat on the offensive end. Before his injuries, you could probably justify this move. Sure, Okafor was still a better scorer, but Chandler was great on the defensive end of the court. Now, though, even the most optimistic Bobcats fan can’t imagine Chandler bouncing all the way back to his former self. Even though he is the same age as Okafor, he has three more years of NBA wear and tear, as he came out of high school. He has had significant injuries recently, the kind of injuries you don’t easily come back from. Back problems, turf toe? This is never, ever what fans want to see when it concerns a starting center making 12 million dollars a year, especially when that player relies so heavily on his athleticism. Last year, Chandler never played anywhere near the level NBA followers were used to seeing. He didn’t have his quickness and didn’t have his hops. He’s not the type of guy that can make up for this with his wits and veteran know-how, at least not yet. I certainly don’t expect him to duplicate his atrocious 2009 playoff performances next year, but I’d be shocked if he played the full season at a high level.

Make no mistake about it, this trade was about cash. It’s never good when a non-playoff team has a high payroll. The trade took place because Chandler has a shorter contract than Okafor – the team will now get some cap relief two years from now. I kind of understand it, for the franchise, but I hate it as a basketball fan. Is this really what they had to do, trading a good player for a not-quite expiring contract? How about not going after Radmanovic, Diaw, and Bell in the first place? How about not giving Matt Carroll and Jason Richardson big money in the summer of 2007? This is a band-aid move that is the result of a few years of bad moves and it must leave the fans with a bitter taste in their mouths. This team and ownership group is so starving for financial flexibility that their only hope is hoping to get some cap relief two seasons from now.

The Bobcats are an example of a franchise stuck in 40-win hell (even though the team has yet to win 40 games in a season). If a few things go their way this year, they could make the playoffs. If not, they’ll be on the outside looking in again, likely just a bit too good to get a real difference-maker in the draft. I don’t envy this situation. If I was in charge, I’d be trying to kick-start the rebuilding process yet again, as fast as possible. This means trading anyone not named Augustin, Henderson, and Wallace. Hell, I’d listen to offers for Wallace. I think they need to get some young guys and give the fans some hope for the future, no matter how Larry Brown feels about the moves in the short-term. Some major changes are needed here, as the outlook is looking pretty bleak right now.

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Filed under Charlotte Bobcats, Looking Forward, Trades