Coach: 3 Draft Winners, Lesson for Scott Brooks
Three Winners in the 2012 NBA Draft
Golden State Warriors
Just a few years ago, Harrison Barnes was listed by man as a “can’t miss” prospect and eventual NBA star. Long, rangy and athletic, with a great stroke, pleasant demeanor and impressive intellect, Barnes looked the part of a press-savvy professional who just “got it.”
In the intervening years at UNC, his game has been picked apart and dissected by many, and rightly so. Barnes simply has not produced to the level of expectations set for him. He does not possess overwhelming quickness and only seems to scratch the surface of his considerable athletic prowess.
It is important to remember, though, that Barnes is coming out of a program in North Carolina that does not typically feature the strengths of its wing players. In the Roy Williams era with the Tar Heels (as it was during Williams’ long stretch at Kansas), the most active initiators and finishers in the secondary break system are the interchangeable post men, and the rest of the roster is designed to feed off of their constant handling of the ball.
Because of this, Barnes’ true strengths did not come out as cleanly at UNC as they might in the NBA. While he does not have great top speed quickness, Barnes is very good at changing speeds and using his body to create attack angles. Always a good shooter, the wider three point line and his new backcourt mates in Golden State will ensure he has more opportunities to attack hard closeouts, where reading the defender’s balance and timing is much more important than speed.
In fact, as my mentor David Thorpe has said on more than one occasion, the player who Barnes reminds him of is the same for me: Paul Pierce. Pierce similarly put together a strong but not overwhelming career at Kansas, and had a number of opportunities taken away by big forwards like Raef LaFrentz and Scot Pollard. Pierce was selected #10 in the draft – with major questions about his quickness and ability to create his own shot.
I’m sure the Warriors would be very happy if Barnes turned into even a poor man’s Paul Pierce.
It’s not easy to thrust Obi-Wan Kenobi-like expectations on Bradley Beal (“you’re my only hope”), but that may be the reality of the situation for Beal coming into Washington. The Wizards have continued their bad apple purge and seem to be willing to sacrifice some roster flexibility for a less volatile and easier-to-manage locker room environment.
Beal’s entrance will undoubtedly take some strain off of John Wall’s shoulders and they should immediately make each other more effective. Their overall roster is still a little mismatched, but they should defend at a much higher level, especially if they can move or simply staple Andray Blatche to the bench.
One of Wall’s biggest issues has been adjusting to a role of leadership amongst players that are older but not wiser. Now, Washington has a core of older but self-aware and mature players, and Wall has a young and potentially very good backcourt mate to support his journey toward leadership. Things look up in our nation’s capital.
New Orleans Hornets
It would have been pretty easy to label the Hornets draft a success simply by virtue of their #1 overall pick, Anthony Davis. Davis has a chance to be a complete game changer – 7-footers who can move that appear to enjoy playing and are willing to do anything to win don’t come around too often – and Monty Williams is a great fit to guide Davis as he grows.
Where the New Orleans draft got interesting, though, was in the selection of Austin Rivers. Back in November, I broke down both Davis and Rivers in the same article (divine providence?). At the time, my assessment of Rivers was similar to what I’d say about a lot of guards making the transition toward the professional level: they play at only one speed, with little understanding of the appropriate use of burst or the subtle nuances of shot selection.
My central concern for Rivers was that he needed a place where he could be taught and would not just be allowed to continue the bad habits he had succeeded with up to that point. Thankfully, he has a great environment in New Orleans to learn. Rivers best fit is likely as a unit’s third scorer, and coach Monty Williams will likely keep him in that role.
The Big Lesson for Scott Brooks
If Scott Brooks is wired similarly to me, he would have forced himself into seclusion for the last week following OKC’s loss in the NBA Finals. However, my seclusion would not have been to review game tape or consider what went wrong, but rather to create an atmosphere for relaxation away from the game at least a little bit.
By this time, however, the itch to get back at the game would have been impossible to resist, and I would have sat down to watch the game to get one or two big takeaways – not necessarily nuts and bolts, they would come through repeated viewings and study – but rather one or two big themes that I could use to help myself become a better coach. They wouldn’t likely have anything to do with strategy or tactics, but rather would be issues of approach or philosophy.
In Brooks case, I think the major lesson that I would take watching the NBA Finals again is that sometimes it is right to do what works, and keep doing it until it doesn’t work. Too often in these Finals, Brooks would call a play or run a set that would work, only to not return to it for another quarter or more.
The big danger is to start out-coaching yourself: to assume you have to change things before your opponent figures it out. While this sounds fine in theory, when you get to the level of the NBA Finals, when something works, you have to go to that well until it goes dry. There is not enough time to experiment or mix it up: find a combination or an action that produces value, and run with it.
Two easy examples: in the few times that Oklahoma City inverted their screeners (i.e., when they used Russell Westbrook or James Harden as interior screener/cutters), the Miami HEAT had a very tough time switching effectively and would often get caught ignoring the screener. The Thunder would run a set that looked like this once every other quarter – far too seldom for an action that appeared to work.
Another example is in his roster deployment. Now I do not presume to know what happened behind closed doors in practice, and I hesitate to write this for fear of being critical about an area of control that most coaches hold sacred, but the simple fact is that some combinations worked better against Miami’s unconventional lineups than others. By sticking with his more formal substitution patterns, Brooks was not able to utilize the most pragmatic lineup: the one that worked the best.
As he heads into the offseason, there is little doubt that Scott Brooks will improve as a coach and be more ready the next time as this situations present themselves. Just like we look forward to and expect players to improve, the same should be said of NBA coaching staffs and especially head coaches.
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Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Macri is a consultant to the ASEAN Basketball League (the first regional pro sports league in southeast Asia), offering strategic analysis on basketball and business development, league operations, and marketing. Previously, Macri served as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, as the business manager at the IMG Basketball Academy, and has coached at two nationally ranked high school programs. The Coach’s Notebook is a weekly feature on HOOPSWORLD.