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Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘Tom Thibodeau

The year of coaching narratives and the right fit

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Mike D'Antoni coaching the New York Knicks in ...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve made a handful of posts regarding the value of coaches in the NBA. My general belief is coaches are more often than not overrated. There is usually no escaping a team’s talent level in the NBA. Furthermore something I’ve been fascinated by is the connection of offense and defense in the NBA. I do not favor isolating team ORTG and DRTGs, because I believe teams can have “identities” or push their energy and planning towards one side of the court, elevating either the ORTG or DRTG, but at the cost of the other end. As a good example this year’s Indiana Pacers are 1st defensively and 29th offensively. Why so futile offensively with talents on that end like Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert? They’re probably playing below their heads offensively for the same reason they’re playing above their heads defensively: Because they’re a defensively orientated team. On the other hand, the Houston Rockets are 9th offensively and 19th defensively despite having one of the best defensive centers in the league in Omer Asik and little offensive talent outside of James Harden. Chances are with a different style of play they could be better defensively but at the cost of offensively. The end result of the Pacers and Rockets is that they’re playing almost exactly as expected, the Pacers in the mix for the 2nd-4th seed and the Rockets in the mix for the 8th. While I respect Frank Vogel and Kevin McHale, I see little reason to believe they’re coaching has made their teams better. It makes more sense to say Pacers are great because they have 3 all-stars at SF, PF and C in George, West and Hibbert, the Rockets because they have one of the league’s best players in Harden along with a few decent supporting pieces like Asik, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin – and the coach and system did enough for these rosters to play up to their ability, no matter whether it was with offense or defense emphasized.

Despite this being my general philosophy with coaching, there hasn’t been a year recently where coaching has seemed more relevant than 2012-2013. Coaching has been a crucial part of the story of the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Brooklyn Nets, 3 high profile markets and situations. Let’s start with the New York Knicks. A year ago they fired Mike D’Antoni with the middling results under him and have been playing like a top 3 seed ever since. Woodson’s approach has been to simplify the team. The Knicks understand that to win, they play defense first and then move the ball on the offensive end, from Melo to the array of 3pt shooters to Tyson Chandler finishing inside. A similar simplifying has happened in Brooklyn. Avery Johnson micromanaged his point guard Deron Williams and wanted to run a system heavy team. With Carlisemo the Nets seem freer to make their own decisions on the fly. What’s important about the Knicks and Nets improvement to me is that both teams seem happier. On the surface, to me much their improvement has been emotional. The Knicks have a perfect culture in the style they play. They seem to have great chemistry, share the ball and all commit on defense. The Knicks are now a bonded team in a way that should be emulated by other franchises. Likewise the Nets are playing together on both ends since P.J. took over. Importantly, Deron Williams is a player who’s numbers have greatly improved under their new coach. The freedom in style of play seems to have rubbed off well on him.

Another good example of a “free play” coach is Scott Brooks. Brooks has been criticized at times for being hands off on his players and letting them play. He doesn’t pull in Russell Westbrook’s boundless energy by making him walk up the court and run pick and rolls. He lets the players figure it out and makes sure they play hard and move the ball and this seems to fit their team the most.

But compare this to Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls, who are the posterboy for elite coaching in the NBA. What’s interesting is that Thibodeau has the mentality of a coach, that the Knicks and Nets arguably succeeded by abandoning. He’s the uber-intense, micro-managing system coach. Yet his style works perfectly for the Bulls. Perhaps it’s because they have the roster to pull it off, mainly thanks to the psychotic competitiveness of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah leading the way. Tom Thibodeau on another team may not have found any more success than Doug Collins in Philadelphia or Scott Skiles on the Bucks, but for the Bulls he is perfect.

Now let’s talk about the mess that is the Los Angeles Lakers. Mike D’Antoni has undoubtedly failed his second franchise in a row. If recent reports are to be true, they are a chemistry disaster. Pau Gasol is a headcase who’s gone off the deep end and the Kobe Bryant-Dwight Howard relationship sounds like it’s going as well as the one between Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano’s characters in “There Will Be Blood”. I believe D’Antoni is the wrong fit for this system that reasons that have little to do with his strategically system. He’s a bad fit because of how he’s clearly not the type who could keep Kobe’s ego, Dwight’s lack of assertiveness and Gasol’s sensitivity from sprawling the team into mental chaos.

One thing this situation made me appreciate is Phil Jackson’s greatness. Look at that Lakers core from a few years ago with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Metta World Peace. Based on what we know about those players, that’s a ticking time bomb mix of alienating ego (Kobe), mental fragility (Odom and Pau), distracted immaturity (Bynum) and an actual crazy person (World Peace). Kobe, Odom, Pau and Bynum have befallen to the absolute worst of their character flaws without Jackson, while MWP funnily enough has been the most sane. Phil managing to keep a team with THOSE 5 players afloat from a chemistry and emotional perspective, has to be one of the most underrated coaching achievements of all time. And this is not the first time Phil has done a great job keeping locker-rooms with big heads together, turning the uneasy Shaq-Kobe relationship into 3 titles, as well as keeping Scottie Pippen on board with playing #2 for 6 titles with Michael Jordan (and later, getting Dennis Rodman on track after he had gone off the rails in San Antoni). This is ultimately why Phil Jackson is the greatest coach of all time. Although he had more talent than any coach in history, he did an amazing job playing caretaker to some situations that may have blown up without him.

What this all tells me is that coaching is important, but perhaps coaches shouldn’t be judged in a vacuum. Instead it’s about fitting the players to the coach. Both in style of play and in the way those players approach the game. Sometimes you need a Scott Brooks to leave his hands off and sometimes a Tom Thibodeau to put his hands on.

But with that said. While he’s not in the right spot, let’s face it. Mike D’Antoni is still doing a really, really bad job.

Written by jr.

January 24, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Kobe Bryant: the most overrated defender imaginable

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Kobe Bryant subs out vs the Washington Wizards

Image via Wikipedia

Alright, the 2010-11 NBA All-Defensive Team has been announced, and with Kobe Bryant receives his NBA record 9th 1st Team award by that voting body.

Let me tell you a story, about a player who has strong overall impact, great team success, and a kickass narrative that says he always gives 110% on both ends of the court when it’s quite clear that he let’s his defense slide a large chunk of the time.

I don’t enjoy singling someone out in hater fashion, but it needs to be pointed out how glaring things have become in this case. People are going to look at Kobe as one of the great perimeter defenders of all time because of this metric, and the truth is, it’s based almost entirely on reputation. It’s impossible for me to imagine a player in modern NBA history whose defense has been this overrated.

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Written by Matt Johnson

May 9, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Why the Bulls will be in trouble after the 1st round

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Derrick Rose

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

Despite an evenly played series, the Chicago Bulls jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the Indiana Pacers – now 3-1, and should close it out in Chicago in Game 5.

There have been teams who’ve looked shaky in early rounds but still proved title winners or contenders. The 2008 Celtics needed 7 games to dispatch the Hawks in their 1st round. The 97 and 98 Bulls had low margins of victory in their first round sweeps. But I believe the Bulls struggle to dominate the Pacers indicate flaws that will likely come back to haunt them.

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Written by jr.

April 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Understanding the scale of the Bulls’ success

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Image via awesomestories.com

I want to take a moment to hammer something in that I don’t think people have quite grasped. That being: What the Bulls have accomplished in the last 4+ months is absolutely staggering.

First let me give some credit to our commenter lpb who made me really start thinking about this. He responded my first post analyzing how elite teams (top 8 in the league) were doing against each other before the all-star break noting that while the Bulls overall record was nothing terribly noteworthy, the team was undefeated against the other elites since Carlos Boozer joined the starting lineup (on Dec. 4th). It was a good point then, but I wanted to see them keep it up (and figured they probably couldn’t). Guess what? The Bulls have completed the last of their regular season games against the other elites, having gone 12 & 0, undefeated against the elites in the over 4 months of play since that date.

In the time span, their overall record has been 51 & 12. That’s a 66 win pace with their average margin of victory in that time has been 9.14 points per game. If that last number doesn’t mean anything to you, just know that there has only been one team in the post-Jordan era to have an average margin of victory north of 9 points per game (the ’08 Celtics).

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Written by Matt Johnson

April 12, 2011 at 6:57 am

Everyone needs to pay attention to the Nuggets right now

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Nene Hilario

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

As an analyst, I love it when players change teams. I know, it goes against the very core of what fans do, and I feel that typical pull as well, but when a player changes teams we get to see what he really meant to his old team, as well as what he can do in a new situation. This is why I’ve been looking forward to Carmelo Anthony being traded ever since the rumors of his discontent surface. He in particular has always had a reputation among the general populace as a superstar that there was never any statistical basis for.

He is a very skilled scorer, but has never utilized it do produce great efficiency. The rest of his game has never had the breadth of impact the top tier of stars have. And then this season, a weird conversation began happening based around the idea that he makes his teammates shooting skyrocket. I commented on this and on him generally in my Carmelo Conundrum piece. The most amazing fact was that if you actually looked at his effect on teammates shooting efficiency, it was negative. While true superstars tend to indeed help their teammates get easier looks, Melo didn’t.

So now, Anthony is traded to New York, and we’ve seen the new look Denver Nuggets for 10 games. You probably already know that the Nuggets are doing well and find it interesting even before you get to the entertainment aspect of things (Denver just plays some pretty, pretty ball now), but I don’t think it’s obvious to people how glaring the success has been.

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Ranking the NBA title favorites before the ides of March

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After a day of elite on elite action on a Sunday with a little more than a month to go in the regular season, seems like a good time to evaluate the title contenders.

First let me give an updated chart of how the elites have done against each other. (My original table from last month was in the Guts & Domination post.)


 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s ordered by the significant margin wins based on the theory that those are the truly telling results. This seems fine to me generally, but reader lpb has pointed out that Chicago’s record is heavily skewed based on what happened early in the season. In the last 3 months, the Bulls are a remarkably 10-0 against the other elites, with half of those being >5 margin wins. Damn impressive. Still not enough for me to pick them to win the title.

The Favorites, from most to least

1. Boston Celtics

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Derrick Rose, the MVP race, and the Isiah-Iverson Team Model

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Derrick Rose

Image via Wikipedia

With Derrick Rose‘s continued improvement, and the Chicago Bulls‘ emergence as a championship contender, Rose has received quite a bit of discussion as an MVP candidate. At the most superficial level, the argument for Rose goes something like this:

Rose is doing it all by himself. Yeah, there’s Boozer & Noah, but they’ve been injured and the Bulls still were great. Yeah, Rose’s efficiency isn’t the best, but they’ve got no one else to go to when they need a bucket. If it weren’t for Rose, the Bulls would be terrible.

ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh just wrote a piece that goes significantly more depth on Rose’s MVP candidacy, and it’s good.  It’s focused on one really key point that is crucial to understand: The Bulls are winning because they have great defense, not because they have great offense – and Rose is absolutely not the primary reason for the defensive success since he’s very much an offensive oriented star. So that’s the trick, this isn’t a case of one player so unstoppable on offense that his team’s offense thrives even without supporting talent, it’s a story of a defense so good, that they can get away with a mediocre offense run by one ball dominant player.

As well as Haberstroh stated that though, he’s still not going as deep as is needed, and he’s making some mistakes along the way.

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Written by Matt Johnson

February 25, 2011 at 1:07 am

Dissecting Jim O’Brien’s 2010-2011 Pacers failure

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This morning the Indiana Pacers fired Jim O’Brien. O’Brien had a target on his back for years by Pacer fans and their collapse out of a playoff spot the last few months after a good start finally did it.

Much of the O’Brien criticism were based on inconsistent rotations involving players like Darren Collision and Josh McRoberts. But I’d criticize O’Brien more for a stubborn coaching strategy, shown by some team contradictory team peripherals which caught my eye:

First of all, the Pacers are a defensive orientated team. They have one of the largest gaps between defensive rebounding % (6th) and offensive rebounding % (25th) in the league. The low ORB% indicates leaving players back for transition defense instead of sending them to grab offensive rebounds. The high DRB% indicates sending everyone to grab defensive rebounds instead of having leakouts for fastbreak points. Defense first coaches like Scott Skiles, Larry Brown and Tom Thibodeau have their teams play a similar way. The idea is that while they give away these high efficiency shots at the rim from fastbreak and putback shots, they prevent the other team from getting them just as much. This pushes their DRTGs up and their ORTGs down. Unsurprisingly, the Pacers are 9th in DRTG and 24th in ORTG.

But here’s the contradictory part: The Pacers are 7th in pace as of this morning. Usually defense first teams play at a snail’s pace, especially the ones emphazing DRB% over leaking out. With their defensive rebounding focus the Pacers aren’t scoring a ton of easy fastbreak points, so what explains the fast pace? Rather, rushing the ball up the court and taking quick 3s. The Pacers have one of the largest disparities between shots made from 3pt and at the rim, ranking 7th in 3PM and 27th in FGs made at the rim, according to hoopdata.com. The Pacers ranking 29th in FTs per FGA according to basketball-reference.com also shows their lack of offense inside. This 3pt heavy offense is no surprise for those who’ve followed O’Brien’s career. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

January 31, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Greatest SRS Improvements in NBA History; Notable Players & Coaches

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I wanted to follow up on the Fall of the Cavaliers post, where I posted the 10 greatest falls in NBA history.

First, I compiled that list, and the list below by hand.  It’s possible I missed teams, especially those from defunct franchises.  I’d welcome any corrections.

The 10 greatest SRS improvements in NBA history and the notable changes those teams:

Note that the improvements from Oakland and New Jersey (known at the time as New York) occurred in the ABA before their NBA-ABA merger.

Seeing these top 10s obviously begs the question of who was involved in multiple massive changes in team performances.  Observations I’ve made looking at SRS changes of 6 or greater (which is roughly the 100 biggest changes in history):

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