A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The collapse of the Philadelphia 76ers and why Scott Brooks is outcoaching Doug Collins

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Doug Collins, coach of the Philadelphia 76ers ...

Doug Collins, coach of the Philadelphia 76ers at Verizon Center. Washington Wizards v/s Philadelphia 76ers November 23, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the more relevant stories in the NBA post All-Star break is the crumbling of the Philadelphia 76ers season. After a phenomenal start to the season, they’ve lost their division lead and may even be in a struggle to make the playoffs. For an excellent post on the behind the curtains reasons for this fall, I suggest Kate Fagan‘s post from earlier this week.

In short, what appears to be the situation is the team checking out mentally on Doug Collins due to his hyper-emotional, micromanagement style. This short fuse is not a huge surprise for those familiar with Collins’ history, or similar coaches like Larry Brown and Scott Skiles. A new coach with an uber tight leash can get maximum effort out of players for some time, but eventually they stop enjoying playing the game and without that, the motivation to win and compete slides away.

Essentially, it’s using the stick instead of the carrot. Mike D’Antoni lost the New York Knicks for the same reason earlier this season.

On the other end, the coach I see as the most underrated in the league right now is Scott Brooks.

The reason people disrespect Scott Brooks’ abilities is they see a coach who doesn’t seem that involved from an Xs and Os, managing the game perspective. The Thunder’s system is fairly loose and let’s the players on the floor make the decisions. Other coaches using this strategy involve types like Mike Brown and Mike Woodson.

But what’s underrated about the job Brooks has had is keeping the team rolling emotionally. The Thunder are a team that could’ve been an emotional nuclear bomb under another coach. Russell Westbrook is a superstar talent who’s pushed into playing 2nd fiddle to Kevin Durant, and who always seems to get the short end of the stick from the media. James Harden is an all-star caliber player who comes off the bench. The rest of the team is full of young players like Cole Aldrich, Eric Maynor (when healthy), Reggie Jackson, Daequon Cook, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha who are needed not as featured players, but in a more selfless supporting role with as much effort defensively as possible. The team plays hard every night, has no sign of ego or strife between them, has nobody acting out. One of the reasons why players are happier under Brooks is their minutes are constant night to night. This has drawn criticism about his lack of adjustments, including from me in the playoffs last year, but the appeal is clear. It’s for the benefit of a happier roster. Part of the Thunder’s success has also been the character of the players they drafted and the leadership from veterans like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collision, but a looser coaching style arguably benefits them.

Phil Jackson is the greatest coach of all time from my perspective not because of his Xs and Os (although wonderful), but because of ego management. Between superstar combinations like Jordan/Pippen, Shaq/Kobe and Kobe/Gasol, or mental loose cannons like Rodman, Odom and Artest, he’s been in a way, the ultimate ego babysitter, motivating but not losing his players.

This ability to emotionally connect with his players is what Doug Collins has missed in his career. Getting Philadelphia to play a defensive system that precise was good, but it could only last so long. The biggest reason for this perhaps, and the reason I’m not impressed by Collins work in Philadelphia overall, is that it just didn’t fit the roster. The strength of the Sixers’ roster is athleticism and length, and they have one of the league’s youngest rosters. If Collins coached the San Antonio Spurs, their age and skill level would likely respond well to his perfectionism and emotional response to every mistake. However for the Sixers I believe a Scott Brooks type is a much better fit. The Sixers likely win with a more loose, motivated style of play than what they’re showing right now – the way the Thunder play. I see the best coaches as building a system around their style of roster, rather than inflexibly responding the same way to different rosters. Different rosters require different types of coaching. When a coach tries to teach a system to a roster who doesn’t fit, is when the biggest failures often happen.

The best analogy I’ve heard for coaching is to treat it like another job. The bosses people do their best work under are usually not the ones with micromanaging, negative responses to their mistakes, and pushing too much workload on them. Under those types, employees stop enjoying themselves, become cynical about their job and start blowing it off. Neither is the answer to let the employees do anything without discipline – there needs to be some authority and direction from the top. The best employers are usually in the middle, having enough authority for people to listen to them, but not enough to make them lose their heart and enjoyment of their work. There are systems where I believe Doug Collins would fit more than Scott Brooks, but I believe Scott Brooks fits the Thunder far more than Doug Collins fits the 76ers.

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Written by jr.

April 7, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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