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Fantasy Basketball: Coaching Concerns, Part I

by Dave Fuller

On Sunday, December 2nd, the Washington Redskins made one of the classiest moves I've seen in my history of following the NFL. In remembering deceased friend and teammate Sean Taylor, they sent only ten men on the field for the first play of the Bills' opening possession.

That very same play, Bills RB Fred Jackson ripped off a 22-yard run to the left. I'm not sure how Buffalo fans took this, but on a day where everyone in the NFL community grieved for the loss of this young defensive star, the least the Bills could have done would have been to take a knee or delay of game penalty.

I'm sure the Redskins would have declined. I know I'm a bit late in saying this, but rest in peace Sean Taylor.

Sorry to switch gears so quickly, but Isiah Thomas is my next topic of conversation. He hardly resembles a "class act". It might just be me, but it seems as though Thomas is trying to suck up to Marbury. Before the Knicks-Nets matchup on Wednesday night, Thomas said of Marbury, "A lot of what we do revolves around him, the point guard. You take it out of bounds, you give it to him. The leadership, the trust, the play-calling, a lot of that comes from the point guard position. It's the most critical position in the game.''

Funny, considering not too long ago, Isiah's "critical position" player threatened to dish some dirt on his coach after being relegated to the bench in favor of Mardy Collins. Stated Marbury angrily, "Isiah has to start me. I've got so much (stuff) on Isiah and he knows it. He thinks he can (get) me. But I'll (get) him first. You have no idea what I know."

Of course, Starbury was seen starting the following game. It's amazing how much control a player can have over his coach, but this type of control is on the verge being just plain insane. It's been quite a season for Thomas, Marbury, and the rest of the Knicks' squad. And while it's unfair to blame the Knicks' terrible play on Thomas's extra-curricular activities alone, it is often said that a team most closely resembles its coach. No wonder New York is in such turmoil following Isiah Thomas's sexual harrassment scandal earlier this season.

On a more positive note, a majority of the remainder of the teams in the NBA are playing entertaining basketball for yet another season. And no, entertaining is not synonymous with scandalous for the rest of the league. Sticking with the theme of coaching and how teams closely resemble their leader, let's examine how each head coach's philosophy and playing style affects their respective team.

I'll spare you this time and save my evaluation of Thomas's contributions for part II.

In alphabetical order by team location:

Atlanta Hawks :: Mike Woodson
Woodson is said to be an excellent motivator with a quality work ethic. More importantly, he's known as the defensive-minded coach who kept opposing teams to just 84.3 points a game last season as part of the Detroit Pistons coaching staff. This average was equalled only by San Antonio. With Bob Knight and Larry Brown as past mentors, Woodson has top potential as a coach specializing in defense and hustle play. The Hawks should eventually develop into one of the best defensive teams in the league. They already sport a 95.5 points-against-per-game average, good for 9th in the league, in Woodson's first season with Atlanta. It's not surprising that you'll find defensive freak Josh Smith on the Hawks, and you can expect to find more providers of blocks and steals as the young players continue to develop under Woodson's tutelage.

Boston Celtics :: Doc Rivers
Rivers has already won an NBA Coach of the Year award, albeit not with the C's. His last stint as a head coach saw him take the then-lowly Orlando Magic and turn them into perennial playoff contenders. He is also known for his strong 2nd-half surges. However, there is a slight difference between the Magic of the early-to-mid 2000's and the Boston Celtics of today: they have the Triumvirate. Regardless, The Celtics are playing with the same classic Doc Rivers attitude: play hard, play defense, and share the ball. The whole sharing the ball thing was a little sketchy coming into this season considering the new star-power the Celtics had acquired, but it's obvious that Rivers' poise and intelligence is rubbing off on Boston. Not only do they know how to score and play hard through all 48 minutes of every game, but they're leading the league in scoring defense (87.4 per game) as well thanks in part to Rivers.

Charlotte Bobcats :: Sam Vincent
Another ex-guard head coach, Sam Vincent relies more on guard play. He has an impressive résumé, as well: Euroleague coaching experience and an assistant to Avery Johnson's highly successful Dallas Mavericks. It comes as no surprise that he tried bringing that international, high-octane style of play (one similar to that of the Raptors) to his offense. The Bobcats would be scoring more than 92.4 points per contest if not for the right personnel. G Raymond Felton and GF Jason Richardson are notoriously low-percentage shooters, known more for their ability to attack the basket or shoot from mid-range. These two can hit from the outside when they're open, but the Bobcats lack that inside presence (Primoz Brezec, Walter Herrmann, and Emeka Okafor are not the answer down low) that can open up the outside. Vincent brings an exciting style to this team, he just needs the right players to make it successful.

Chicago Bulls :: Scott Skiles
After leading the Bulls to 49 wins last season (their highest total since the '97-'98 championship season), the Bulls respond this season by not responding to Skiles. At least that's the rumor. That would be unfortunate, because Skiles is a strong coach who learned a lot from Danny Ainge. Skiles and GM John Paxson, both former point gaurds, share the same vision of the prototypical Bulls player: a hard-nosed, hustling, and smart leader. For the past few years, this is the type of team that Chicago has developed into under Skiles. Through their intangibles, the Bulls will turn it around. As long as the former point guards are managing the Bulls, the focus will be on guard play. Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon lead the way in the Windy City, and you can expect both to produce a turn-around soon.

Cleveland Cavaliers :: Mike Brown
Another defensive specialist, Brown is having a tough time implementing that defense-first mentality into his Cleveland club (101.2 points-against-per-game). Granted, he's only been the head coach of the Cavs for two seasons. The problem with these Cavs (much like Vincent's Bobcats) is that the personnel isn't there. LeBron James can only do so much by himself. This team will be much better off now that the hustling and defensive-minded F Anderson Varejao is back, but it took a 3 years/$17M offer from the Charlotte Bobcats for the Cavaliers to decide to give in to Varejao's ridiculous request. The Cavs will immediately see their defensive intensity rise just as soon as soon as Anderson and LeBron are playing consistently. Brown is a great communicator and coach, having aided in the development of NBA stars Ron Artest, Tim Duncan, and Jermaine O'Neal. If Varejao and Brown stay together for a few more years, expect Varejao to develop into a top defensive star. Until then, the wrong personnel will keep Brown from making the most out of this team.

Dallas Mavericks :: Avery Johnson
Johnson has a load of energy, all of which he channels to his team in the form of defensive intensity. After Don Nelson resigned as head coach in 2005, Johnson implemented his own style into these Mavericks and won himself a Coach of the Year award in '05-'06. It's likely he took his "mechanics and defense" coaching style from the '99 San Antonio Spurs team with which he won a championship (yes, Greg Popovich coached that team). It's clear that Johnson has a big impact on his team from both the defense and mechanics view-points. Johnson's Mavericks lead the league in FT% (84.5) and shoot a respectable 46.3% from the field. As for defense, opponents average 98.1 points, good for 14th in the league. Not bad considering Johnson has only been coaching Dallas for a few seasons. Like Don Nelson before him, Johnson's style causes a higher number of possessions as well. Generally, his Mavericks will contribute solid percentages, points, and blocks to fantasy teams.

Denver Nuggets :: George Karl
Since Karl's arrival, the Nuggets made a 180-degree turn from one of the West's worst to perennial playoff contenders. In fact, Karl is well-known for his quick turn-arounds with teams he inherits. Some of his most noted accomplishments are taking the Cavs, Warriors, Sonics, and Bucks to the playoffs in just his first year with each franchise. With Cleveland, GS, and Milwaukee, each of those playoff trips ended droughts for each respective team. Karl is an offensive-minded coach, directing little of his coaching toward proper fundamentals. As a result, the Nuggets don't take care of the ball well. Even though Karl's Nuggets lead the league in steals and blocks per-game, they relinquish their offensive possessions because of their high turnover rate. A Karl-led team will be giving the ball up, which is a big negative in fantasy basketball, but they'll contribute a lot of positives across the rest of the board as well -- as will their opponents.

Detroit Pistons :: Flip Saunders
Saunders was one of the most winningest coaches in the franchise history of the T'Wolves, and he brings the same productivity to the Detroit Pistons. Since joining them in 2005, he has posted a .714 winning percentage. His style of choice is defense-first with a focus on guards. His Pistons give up only 91.9 points per contest, second in the NBA to the Boston Celtics. Thanks to strong defense from G Chauncey Billups and G "Rip" Hamilton, Detroit's opponents shoot only 43.8% from the field. The big men play a large role too, as their blocks-per-game average puts them at No. 4 in the league. Fundamentals are key for Saunders, however, as they give up only 12 possessions a night and don't foul often. Facing Saunders' team, you won't come away with a lot of free throw attempts, points, or rebounds. For fantasy, the low TO number and high assist count are pretty things to look at as well.

Golden State Warriors :: Don Nelson
Enter Nellie: the second-winningest head coach in NBA history, the first head coach to lead a No. 8 seed to a victory over a No. 1 seed in the laegue's history, and the architect of perhaps the most dynamic offense in the league. His secret? The small-ball, "any-open-shot-is-a- good-shot" mindset. When Nelson is your head coach, you can expect to be running quite a bit every game. You can also be expecting to tally and give up a larger number of possessions, and perhaps until this season, you can expect to put up over 100 points a game just to compete. Golden State's addition of Don Nelson as head coach in 2006 may have been the single greatest thing to happen to fantasy basketball in years. A matchup with the Warriors is a gold mine for points, 3's, steals, rebounds, blocks, and assists for either team. With Captain Jack back, however, less points and lower shooting percentages are going around for the other team. Nelson is an offensive genius, but here's my theory: he's a fantasy sports addict who drafts every Warriors player in all of his leagues.

Houston Rockets :: Rick Adelman
Instead of pounding the ball to 7'6" center Yao Ming like past coach Jeff Van Gundy, former Sacramento head coach Rick Adelman utilizes both of Houston's top talents. And as was the case with the Kings, Adelman does so using the Princeton offense. It's clear Ming can't pass like Chris Webber could, because the Rockets aren't scoring as much as Adelman would like. He can't quite run the offense through his big man like he wanted to, so Adelman is forced to run the ball through his guards. This causes more turnovers than one would like. This team isn't exactly a product of its coach at this point, however, and until Adelman can find Houston's identity these Rockets will likely spiral downward in the tough Western conference. It's too bad, because a big man with good court vision and passing abilities would thrive in this system. Hmm, Chris Webber to the Rockets? We'll see.