Basketball U on NBA Coaching Styles
Posted Oct 8 2003 5:54PM
From former NBA players to coaching lifers, and from a player-coach to a player's coach, there have been many different coaching styles in the NBA.
Former Players as Coaches
Many NBA players become coaches once their playing careers are over as a way to stay involved in the game. These coaches, such as the Orlando Magic's Doc Rivers, command respect from their players, who remember watching and admiring them as players. Such coaches' playing experience provides a distinct credibility at practice, in the locker room and during a game's final minutes. They understand how hard the sport is and what the players are going through.
Like Rivers, many current NBA head coaches are former point guards, who often are referred to as the "coach on the floor." This list includes Rick Adelman and Larry Brown.
Some other NBA head coaches were bench players who may not have had the success of star players, but understood the game. As coaches, they are able to relate to non-starters and understand the importance of role players. They learned the game by sitting and observing, and have become students of the game. Such coaches include Don Nelson, Paul Silas and Phil Jackson. Although bench players, each of these coaches experienced the NBA Playoffs and winning an NBA title as a player.
Similar to Scott, former NBA player and current Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle served as an assistant coach in Indiana, Portland and New Jersey before becoming the head coach of the Detroit Pistons. Like Rivers, Carlisle won the NBA Coach of the Year award in his first coaching season.
Carlisle and Rivers surrounded themselves with experienced assistants to ease the transition into the head-coaching role. Some of the best assistant coaches in the business are Tex Winter, a master of the triangle offence who joined Phil Jackson in both L.A. and Chicago, and Dick Harter, a defensive specialist whose trapping style and full-court pressure have transformed Boston into a playoff contender.
As a player, Larry Bird was one of basketball's most fiery competitors. However, as a coach, he was much like his former coach, K.C. Jones – calm and collected. A quiet, steady presence, when Bird chose to speak, his players listened.
Bird was positive and upbeat, encouraging his players to believe in themselves and their abilities. In his three years as a head coach, Bird led the Pacers to two Eastern Conference Finals appearances and one visit to the NBA Finals.
Chuck Daly, who led the Detroit Pistons to three NBA Finals appearances and two NBA titles, was not the optimist Bird was, despite his success. He once was quoted as saying, "A pessimist is an optimist with experience."
One of Daly's greatest achievements was winning the gold medal with the U.S. "Dream Team" at the 1992 Olympics. Daly showed that sometimes being a great coach is allowing your players to play, as during the course of the Olympics, he did not call a single timeout.
The Pistons' Larry Brown is a great teacher who develops young players. Brown is a proven winner, providing discipline and fundamentals coaching, while also being an astute evaluator of talent.
As practiced by Brown, the best basketball teachers use verbal descriptions, visual props and physical examples to convey their game plans. They provide one-on-one sessions with the players, team meetings and practice walk-throughs, and simulate game situations where possible.
Former Toronto Raptors coach Lenny Wilkens, like Celtics great Bill Russell, was one of the game's first player-coaches, playing and coaching an NBA team at the same time. The dual role of authority figure and teammate is a delicate balance that demands the utmost respect from the players and coaching staff.
Some NBA coaches are referred to as a "player's coach." Wilkens described this reference as follows: "To me, being a real player's coach is a compliment, because it means you understand the players, can relate to them and communicate with them. It also helps to have been a good player in the league."
The Zen Master
The L.A. Lakers' Phil Jackson, known for his innovative coaching style which encourages player meditation and gives players the opportunity to learn for themselves how to succeed, has been acknowledged as a coach who has the ability to take a good team to championship heights. NBA stars such as Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant had not won an NBA title before being coached by Jackson.
Though Jackson is not perceived to be the developer of young talent that Larry Brown is, he worked very closely with a raw project from Central Arkansas – Scottie Pippen – who developed into a star for the Bulls and one of the NBA's 50 greatest players.