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Fantasy Basketball: Coaching Concerns, Part II

By Dave Fuller                   

Now that Stephon Marbury is taking his third leave of absence while grieving for his recently-deceased father, Isaiah Thomas has no problem letting his temper get the best of him. In a recent report, Thomas...

Just kidding, I won't subject you to more Knicks gibberish. As I evaluate below, Thomas is actually a fine coach. Instead, let's look at changes made by two of last week's featured teams: the Charlotte Bobcats and Detroit Pistons. In the trade, the Pistons and Flip Saunders received Primoz Brezec and Walter Hermann. The Bobcats and Sam Vincent received Nazr Mohammed. Who won? Well, both teams did really. Detroit will end up saving $20M once Brezec's and Hermann's contracts expire (the end of this season), so essentially they acquired cap space and got themselves further from the Luxury Tax figure.

Charlotte, on the other hand, got the big man they needed. I can't tell you I would have said Mohammed was the big man the Bobcats needed right when they acquired him, but after two starts, I can tell you something else. They will use him like the big man they needed, and he will post the best statistical numbers of his career because of it.

In three contests with the Bobcats, Nazr has posted 14.3 points and 7.7 rebounds, along with 0.7 steals and 2.3 blocks. He's also shooting lights out with 62.1% from the field and 87.5% from the charity stripe. He's only started the last two nights for them, and his numbers (and minutes, of course) as a starter only get better: 18.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 62.5% from the floor, same free throw percentage, 1.0 steals, and 3.5 blocks. His TO count will decline as soon as he familiarizes himself more thoroughly with the offense, but those in need...well, who am I kidding? Anyone could use these types of numbers. Make the pick-up before someone else does.

And now on to the coaches. Maybe another trade will occur next week involving two of this week's teams. Never know.

In alphabetical order by team location:

Indiana Pacers :: Jim O'Brien
O'Brien has coached with various other teams, most recently leading the 76ers to a 10-win improvement (43-39 record) on their way to a playoff berth during the '04-'05 season. His most notable coaching experience, however, in terms of his coaching style? Probably a stint with the Kentucky Wildcats as associate head coach under Rick Pitino. O'Brien is best-described as a coach with no specialty: Paul Pierce claims that O'Brien "preaches a lot of defense" and that he "looked at him as one of those old-school coaches". On the other hand, Pierce says that O'Brien is "a straight shooter type of guy", and other sources have noted him as a proponent of shooting the 3. Due to personnel reasons, Indiana is the best in the East in terms of offense and worst in terms of defense. Without a true focus, however, the team could have gone either way dependant on players' skills.

Los Angeles Clippers :: Mike Dunleavy
Mike Dunleavy, Jr.'s father ranks ninth among active coaches for all-time NBA victories and holds other impressive coaching marks to go with it. One of the major reasons may be the fact that he takes the time to go over films and specific plays with his players. Clippers' VP of Operations Elgin Baylor calls him an "excellent teacher" (now that's a compliment). However, a connection has been found to the success of the Clippers when there's ample time to prepare and no time to prepare (second of a back-to-back): they win more when there's no time to prepare. Dunleavy just may be spending too much time going over each individual team with his players. Dunleavy coached defensive aggression with the Trail Blazers in '97-'01, and that has carried over to the Clippers.

Los Angeles Lakers :: Phil Jackson
Now, let's just establish that Phil Jackson may be the best coach of all time. NBA.com calls him "a study in adaptability", having been able to bring a team centered on a guard (Michael Jordan, no less) to six NBA championships before winning championships with the dominance of center Shaquille O'Neal. They also claim him to be "remarkably consistent" with self-possession, focus, and confidence. Jackson's coaching style cannot be described with a single phrase, but thanks to the help of Tex Winter and the triangle offense, Jackson creates complex offensive and defensive plays that invoke the development of every player on the court -- not just his stars. It's no wonder Andrew Bynum is developing into a star (on both ends of the court) so quickly. And Kobe? Well, he's not MJ, but like with MJ, his overall efficiency has soared thanks to Phil Jackson's coaching.

Memphis Grizzlies :: Marc Iavaroni
Iavaroni is a little like Eric Mangini. Well, sort of. Iavaroni served as the assistant to Mike D'Antoni with the Suns before joining the Grizzlies as the head coach, and has brought the same high-octane/high-defensive-scoring style to Tennessee. Both coaches played in Milan, Italy, so you know they implement at least a little of the European style into their games. And, actually, if Memphis were to acquire a quality pass-first point guard similar to Steve Nash, these teams would be exceedingly similar: 3-point shooting SG (J.C. Navarro vs. Raja Bell), athletic and scoring SF (Rudy Gay vs. Shawn Marion), athletic big men who can score and rebound well (Pau Gasol vs. Amare Stoudemire). Both teams even try to play defense, but just give up so many possessions, it's impossible to hold opposing teams under 100 points a game. They can both play some offense, though.

Miami Heat :: Pat Riley
Pat Riley, Heat President and Head Coach, is one of the more proficient coaches in history. His 1,151 regular season wins put him at third all-time, while his 171 postseason victories are second all-time (ironically, to Phil Jackson). Riley has seven rings, and has always been able to take the most out of his players. He has drafted players like Caron Butler and Dwayne Wade while serving as president, showing his ability to assess and judge talent. On the court, Riley coaches a tireless work ethic and (also like Jackson) adapts his style to his personnel. Also like Jackson, somewhat complex offensive and defensive schemes are the key, and Dwayne Wade's overall development has clearly benefitted from that.

Milwaukee Bucks :: Larry Krystkowiak
Krystkowiak is next in a line of coaching that has declined slowly since George Karl in the early parts of the decade, but when you're comparing to George Karl, it's difficult to expect improvements. It was more a result of injuries that have allowed the Bucks to decline a little, but Krystkowiak has brought an attitude of hard work that allowed Milwaukee to start fast out of the gates now that most of their players are healthy and developing. The team is talented and has had to grind through seasons recently, and Krystkowiak knows what it's like to grind your way through the NBA. He, like Don Nelson, Scott Skiles, George Karl, Larry Brown, Phil Jackson, and Pat Riley were grinders. It's this knowledge and intensity that he brings to the court that will be the deciding factor of this team's near future.

Minnesota Timberwolves :: Randy Wittman
Wittman has been an assistant coach twice with the T'Wolves, and this time he's running it on the court. Speaking of running, that's just what Wittman did in his first year as the Cavalier's head coach. The problem is, as with a lot of inexperienced players who run a high-tempo offense, is that players take the opportunity to pad their stats and get away from the team game. That includes a lack of team defense and a lack of hustle. Also, the style of coaching allows for quick lead changes (double-digit being a common occurrence). Without an experienced offense or defense, it's tough to keep these leads are cut the deficit. That's exactly what Wittman has in Minnesota. Now, looking at Don Nelson's Warriors, certain variances of this style can be sustainable. It's just tough without the right personnel.

New Jersey Nets :: Lawrence Frank
Frank took over as interim head coach late in the '03-'04 season. From late January to late February, Frank set a record for most consecutive wins by a coach just starting his career (13; 13-0 record). Frank served for three-and-a-half years under Byron Scott while Scott was the head coach, and that connection provides a strong sense of how Frank coaches: energy and a true understanding of the game. Frank is often found by his wife to be watching game film in the middle of the night. Fortunately for the Nets, they are often able to take the energy and understanding that Frank brings to the court. Unfortunately, they just don't have the correct combination of players to take it anywhere exceedingly impressive.

New Orleans Hornets :: Byron Scott
How ironic; Scott's name pops up again. This brings a bit of proof that the Nets don't have the correct personnel for Frank's/Scott's type of system, as well, because the Hornets are 16-10 while the Nets sit at a lowly 11-15. As for Scott's actual style, he profited from two of the best coaches ever: Pat Riley and Larry Brown. He played under both coaches, and Brown allowed him to come into Indiana and teach the players how to win and how to play the game. Scott would know; he won three rings with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Scott has a lot of basketball knowledge and can coach defense; the Hornets are giving up 94.2 points per game thanks in part to Larry Brown's tutelage. Their offense isn't bad, either.

New York Knicks :: Isaiah Thomas
Ah, at last, Isaiah Thomas. As you've likely seen over the past few weeks, Thomas has great tenacity and a strong will to win. The only problem is, the Knicks are not a winning basketball team and Thomas' emotions are getting the best of him while they slump. The real problem likely isn't Thomas' coaching  style as much as it is the players he's gathered to the court. As NBA.com notes, "Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, Steve Francis, Eddy Curry, Jalen Rose and Quentin Richardson" are not the answers. Thomas actually had relative success with the Pacers, a testament to just how bad a GM he is but just how well he can coach given the right players. His emotions should be channeled to the court, but with selfish players and only David Lee, Renaldo Balkman, and Quinton Richardson to play any sort of defense, once again, the wrong personnel for an otherwise fine coach.