Tuesday, April 29, 2008

NBA Playoffs 2008: The Power of Coaches

The 2008 playoffs in the NBA has shown us once again, that no matter how talented a team you have, in the end, coaching is always going to be a huge reason for teams winning the NBA Championship. The Celtics and Lakers were each picked to easily sweep their series as the #1 seed over the #8 seed opponent. The team led by Phil Jackson did just that, while the team led by Doc Rivers is struggling with an upstart Hawks team and is tied 2-2 after 4 games. Seriously, how can anyone think to claim that Boston and Detroit are the favorites to win the championship this year when the coaches for those two teams are Doc Rivers and Flip Saunders? Both coaches have proven once again that it takes coaching to win in the NBA, as we see both the Celtics and Pistons having trouble with much-less-talented teams in the Hawks and Sixers, respectively. If you don't believe in the power of the head coach, just look at the head coaches of the teams who won the last 20 championships:
  • Phil Jackson
  • Gregg Popovich
  • Pat Riley
  • Larry Brown
  • Rudy Tomjanovich
  • Chuck Daly
That's a list of 6 coaches who all are or will be in the Basketball Hall of Fame. This isn't a list such as Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, where a solid quarterback who doesn't make mistakes can end up leading a team to a championship. In the NBA, head coaching makes the difference more times than not. Take for example the Detroit Pistons; here is a team that won the championship in 2004 with Larry Brown, has many of the same players, has arguably more depth, yet has had only one finals appearance since and is in trouble of not making it to the finals again this year.

So, as the NBA playoffs continue, remember that while the power is in the Western Conference for player talent, it's also there for coaching talent as well. The best teams in the Eastern Conference are led by Doc Rivers, Flip Saunders, Stan Van Gundy, and Mike Brown. In the Western Conference, the coaching ranks are loaded with Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Byron Scott, Jerry Sloan, Rick Adelman, Mike D'Antoni, George Karl, and Avery Johnson. The worst of those coaches are the ones going home after the first round, yet most of those coaches would be leading one of the top teams if they were coaching in the East (as we've seen with Byron Scott, who led the Nets to the NBA Finals).

The Celtics and Pistons still have the talent player-wise to win the NBA Championship, and very well could, but if it came down to putting my money on the Celtics and Pistons or Spurs and Lakers, I would put it on the teams led by the better coaches, not the team with the better players as all of the teams mentioned have the talent to win the championship, it's the coach that puts them over the top, just look at the past 20 years.

(Side note: One of the youngest teams in the NBA just hired Larry Brown as its coach today. Now I'm not saying that the Charlotte Bobcats are the team to beat in the East, but if Larry Brown is given a few years in Charlotte, this is a team to fear in the Eastern Conference)

Edit (comment response): Charlotte is a very good team, I view them the same way I viewed New Orleans before they got Chris Paul. They are one great player away from being a top team, and with the addition of a great coach, they will be able to make the next step from lotto team to playoff team in the East, now this upcoming draft could give them the player that makes them that much better. Imagine this roster if Charlotte gets a little lotto luck: Felton at PG, J-Rich at SG, Gerald Wallace at SF, Okafor at PF or C, Beasley at PF or Lopez at C, with Jared Dudley, Earl Boykins, Matt Carroll, and Nazr Mohammad coming off the bench. Are you telling me this team couldn't make the playoffs in the East next year? Are you telling me that in a few years, after some playoff experience this team couldn't take the leap forward?


Anonymous said...

CHARLOTTE?!?! are you kidding me?!? They don't need Larry Brown, they need Jesus. A team with J Rich as their go to guy, an underachieving Okafor, and a wasted draft pick in Morrison? They don't have a prayer. It's just another team that Jordan has wrecked from within the front office.

Matt Boyer said...

I agree with Andrew. I like the talent, but you gotta remember something: LB can't coach young kids. He did a terrible job in developing Darko Milicic for the Pistons and couldn't do anything with the young talent of the Knicks (yeah, its the Knicks, but he had a hard time dealing with the young talent on that team). The talent could be a lotto pick away from the posteason, but I'm not sure Brown and his sloooooooooooooowwwwwww (even that exaggeration doesn't do it justice) offense is the best fit for such a young team.