New Hornets Assistant Steve Hetzel "Exceeded Expectations" in NBA D-League

Hetzel, hired by Charlotte on Wednesday, built an unselfish, defensive-minded team with the Canton Charge

Canton Charge GM Mike Gansey remembers hearing a common refrain from his team’s head coach this past season, Steve Hetzel: “Man, I love this job.”

The NBA D-League and Hetzel, a basketball junkie who spent five years in NBA video departments while in his 20s, were a perfect match.

For all the focus on uncovering hidden-gem players -- the next Jeremy Lin or Danny Green or Troy Daniels -- the NBA D-League has been just as successful in developing the Association’s young coaches. A total of 46 NBA D-League coaches have earned “Call-Ups” to the NBA; Hetzel, hired as a Charlotte Hornets assistant on Wednesday, is just the latest.

The success, said Gansey, stems from the nature of the minor league.

Coaching staffs are small, media responsibilities are minimal, pressure is low and the spotlight is off. “All you have to focus on is coaching, coaching, coaching,” Gansey said.

That’s what Hetzel, with no prior head coaching experience, did in establishing a defensive-minded team in a league dominated by offense. Sixteen players who played at least 20 games in 2013-14 averaged at least 20 points. None of them played for the Charge, who’s go-to scorer by the end of the season averaged 14.2 points on 10.6 shots per game.

Playing unselfishly with attention to detail on the defensive end was Hetzel’s focus, Gansey said, and Canton did both better than almost any other team. Though the Charge’s stout defense fell apart in the final weeks, they still finished with the league’s fourth-best defensive rating (102.9) and seventh-best record (28-22). Arinze Onuaku and Shane Edwards earned Call-Ups to the affiliate Cavaliers, while Jorge Gutierrez signed with the Nets through the remainder of the season.

Canton Charge 2013-14 Statistics (League Rank)
DefRtgOpp FG%Opp 3FG%DREB%Opp 2nd PTSOpp PITP
102.9 (4th)45.8% (8th)34.4% (5th)76.5% (1st)12.6 (1st)45.7 (5th)

“He exceeded expectations,” Gansey said of Hetzel, who replaced 2012-13 Coach of the Year Alex Jensen when he was hired as a Jazz assistant. “All of the players on our roster from day one got a little bit better. That says a lot. That’s what the D-League’s about.”

Hetzel’s background in player development, after spending 2009-12 as a Pistons player development coach, certainly helped him in that area. His experience working under Greg Popovich (as a Spurs assistant video coordinator in 2005-06) and Tom Izzo (as Michigan State’s student manager from 2003-05), in addition to Mike Brown and Lawrence Frank, gave him a coaching foundation.

“That’s a lot of experience, a lot of wins, a lot of knowledge,” said Gansey. “He put all that together.”