Off-Season Coaching Moves
Carousel. During the past few years, no word has been coupled with the phrase "NBA coaching" more frequently. This off-season, however, instead of coaches switching clubs, losing their chance after one year and being replaced for seemingly personal reasons, most of the masterminds have found stability with their current team – at least for now.
Two notable head coaching shifts did occur after Dwyane & The Heat won it all. The one in the Big Apple made national headlines as Isiah Thomas replaced Larry Brown. The other move went more unnoticed, however, as Rick Adelman is out in Sacramento, and former Warriors' head coach Eric Musselman will take the reigns of a team that consistently produces fantasy performers. In Golden State, Chris Mullin and crew decided to go in a different direction and brought in Don Nelson, who came out of coaching retirement for his second stint of duty with the Warriors.
How, then, does a coach affect his players' stats, since that's what we're most concerned? Well, as we all saw with Mike D'Antoni in Phoenix, a coach's strategy and philosophy can improve a team's production tremendously, thus bolstering individual players' stats. Furthermore, certain coaches have a tendency to rely upon a scoring guard or a post-focused big man, and their emphasis upon defense has a direct impact upon rebounding, steal and block totals.
So let's take a look at the three head coaching changes so far as well as players who could be affected by the change in leadership.
Don Nelson, Golden State Warriors
In yet another instance of a top college coach struggling in his transition to the NBA, Mike Montgomery was ousted from his head coaching job in late August and replaced by Don Nelson. Nelson most recently spent time with the Mavericks, where the trio of Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley and Steve Nash punished opposing defenses. Nelson also coached the Warriors during the Run TMC days, was the head coach of the Gold Medal-winning 1994 Dream Team and the third coach in NBA history to amass 1000 total wins. However, he’s also never taken a team to the NBA Finals and likely won’t change that with the lackluster Warriors.
There is ample room for improvement for the Warriors as players are said not to have committed to Montgomery’s style. There were also questions about Monty’s locker room presence and criticism that he seemed overmatched and had difficulty mastering aspects of the game on the big stage - notably with substitutions.
Enter Nelson, who will command respect because of his lengthy resume. Nelson is credited with defining the role of the point forward and likes to utilize such players to stretch out opposing defenses. Mike Dunleavy is the obvious choice to assume the role, which would benefit his fantasy value. Dunleavy, who has frustrated fantasy owners with his unfulfilled multi-category fantasy potential, would find himself more involved in the offense if Nelson uses him as a point forward. That would translate to an uptick in assists, points and threes, since the ball would be in his hands more than ever before.
Andris Biedrins could turn out to be the Warriors’ C-Team version of Nowitzki, and although his shooting touch is far inferior and he’s a terrible free throw shooter, he’s efficient from the floor and scores at a very high clip. Jason Richardson will be the centerpiece of this offense as he emerges as an All-Star-caliber player, but with Nelson around, Dunleavy and Biedrins will profit on the periphery and have the potential to put up better numbers than if Montgomery were still around. Expect Nelson to establish a more consistent rotation that features one or two key guys off the bench who are consistently getting significant minutes, instead of last season’s ever-changing game plan. With that in mind, Mickael Pietrus could be one of the better sixth men in the league. Keep an eye on how Nelson uses ‘Air France’ in the preseason.
Eric Musselman, Sacramento Kings
Musselman comes from coaching pedigree and first coached for the NBA under his dad, the late Bill Musselman, who coached in the NBA, ABA, WBA, CBA and NCAA. The two make up the only father/son coaching tandem in NBA history, and the younger Musselman has eaten, slept and breathed basketball since he was born. During his first season as the Warriors' head coach, the team was second in the league with an average of 102.4 points per-game, won seventeen more games than the year before and broke the .500 mark for the first time in nearly a decade.
He finished that season as runner-up in the NBA Coach of the Year voting. But his second year, the team dropped to 14th in scoring at 93.3, lost many key players, and Musselman was ousted in favor of Mike Dunleavy, who brought a high-profile name to the struggling franchise. Musselman has been an assistant with Memphis for the past two seasons, where he likely learned a thing or two about defense. He basically locked the job in Sacto during his second interview with the Maloofs when he brought in a personally-prepared, 100-page scouting report on the Kings.
Musselman, much like his father, is known for his fiery attitude and no-nonsense coaching style. He rides players and focuses on motivation and relationships, relying on providing incentives for productive play and exhibiting raw emotion on the sideline and in the locker room. Erick Dampier once called him 'Musselhead.' He has no fear of conflict or confrontation, so it'll be interesting to see how he meshes with Ron Artest.
Rick Adelman was a player's coach who succeeded without a superstar but was sometimes criticized for being hands-off and not putting enough focus on basketball fundamentals. Musselman is 180 degrees from that and will chide a player for his errors, which could be beneficial for Kings' vets who have grown comfortable in their role.
Expect to see a departure from the Kings' patented half-court approach of feeding it inside to Brad Miller so he can use his passing skills to kick it out. In a more typical NBA-style offense, Mike Bibby's assists could increase and Miller's boards and points could go up as well, offsetting the potential dip in dimes. Musselman's first year with the Warriors coincided with Gilbert Arenas' breakout sophomore season, when he averaged 18.3 points and 6.3 assists. Those types of point guard numbers are a good sign for Bibby, who is the player that should benefit the most from the Musselman administration. And if either he or Miller has developed bad habits, Musselman will be the first to scold them for it, opening a potential for specific improvements, especially if Musselman places added focus upon fundamentals.
As for Artest, a coach can only have so much impact upon him, although Musselman immediately made an attempt to develop a relationship with his star forward -- an encouraging sign. Artest is the definition of a high risk/high reward player, and a motivational coach might help Artest focus but runs the risk of an explosion of epic proportions, either from Artest or Musselman. Overall, the coaching change shouldn't affect Artest as much as it will Bibby or Miller, since Artest himself is the primary determiner of his destiny.
Isiah Thomas, New York Knicks
We all know all about him and how he got the job, so let's get right to it. Thomas took the Pacers to the playoffs in each of his three seasons as coach but never got past the first round with a team loaded with talent in the weaker Eastern Conference. His shaky relationship with Larry Bird and inexperience in coaching are often cited as reasons for why he was replaced by Rick Carlisle in 2003. He certainly has a job on his hands with the Knicks team he assembled as the team's GM.
Now, this is a man who scored 25 points in one quarter on a bum ankle in the 88' championship, so he knows about adversity. But he has an array of issues to immediately tackle if the Knicks hope to bounce back. First, with a glut of scoring guards, his back court rotation immediately becomes an issue. Stephon Marbury is the only one who will surely start, leaving Steve Francis, Nate Robinson, Quentin Richardson and Jamal Crawford to battle for about 60 total minutes of playing time per game. The last time Thomas coached, he had Reggie Miller cemented at the two and focused the offensive attack through him, so it'll be interesting to see his approach with a dissimilar situation on his hands. Target Marbury and stay away from the rest unless there's a trade or signals that one will start and get the majority of the minutes.
Isiah will not succeed in New York unless Eddy Curry does. The Curry blockbuster was Isiah's trademark move as GM, and he'll do everything in his power to make it look like a good one. With a convoluted backcourt situation as well as confusion at both forward positions (especially if a rumored Crawford-for-Darius Miles trade comes to fruition), Curry at center is the only sure thing for the Knicks.
Steph will start, run up and down and feed Eddy in the post more than ever before. I don't think Eddy's level of play will increase as dramatically as his role with the team or amount of shots taken, but the latter is hugely significant in the fantasy realm, especially for a guy who always shoots more than 50 percent from the floor. I look for an uptick in Curry's points per game as well as his turnovers. If Isiah has his way, this will be Curry's best season ever. He still won't block as many shots or rebound as much as you’d like from your fantasy center, though, so look for this impact to be primarily on the scoring end.
Brown was also known for his fondness of established veterans and rarely gives rookies a chance. He had a rocky relationship with former U-Dub star Robinson, who could benefit from Isiah taking the reigns and has enough energy for an entire starting lineup. Although you shouldn't expect anything spectacular from Robinson, an increase from his rookie numbers is likely. If Thomas is able to harness his talent and athleticism, he has a high ceiling for somebody shorter than me, especially as an offensive sparkplug off the bench.
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