Clifford What Charlotte Needs

By Matt Rochinski
May 29, 2013

Matt Rochinski is the Director of Interactive Media for the Charlotte Bobcats. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bobcats organization.

When I first heard the Yahoo! report on Monday that the Bobcats had hired current Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Steve Clifford to fill their vacant head coaching position, I was excited to hear Clifford would be making the move east to Charlotte.

Why? What was it about this 13-year NBA assistant coach that made me think this would be an ideal fit for the Bobcats? For the answer, you have to look back to June 23, 2010 when the Chicago Bulls hired Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. Much like Clifford, Thibodeau wasn't necessarily the most glamorous in the list of names for the Bulls head coaching gig, but those around the league who knew him - the type of coach he was and the style of play he favored - knew there were good things in store for Thibodeau in Chicago. And they were right. In his first season with the Bulls, he led Chicago to the Eastern Conference Finals and has put the Bulls back on track to becoming one of the league's elite teams through teamwork, in-your-face defense and by building a team that won't back down from anyone.

Don’t be surprised if Charlotte ends up with the next solid coaching hire in Clifford. Both Clifford and Thibodeau are branches of the Van Gundy coaching tree. They were both with Head Coach Jeff Van Gundy in New York (2000-02, with Van Gundy resigning early in the 2001-02 season) before moving with him to Houston in 2003 and spending the next four seasons (2003-07) with the Rockets. At the time, I was working on Houston's public relations staff and got to know both Thibodeau and Clifford. I developed a great respect for their dedication to the game, the endless hours they put in dissecting tape and the relationships they built with their players while demanding the absolute best from them. As part of JVG's staff, these two were being groomed to become two of the best, developing, defensive-minded coaches in line for upcoming head coaching vacancies.

Things started off well for Clifford and Thibodeau on Van Gundy's staff in 2000-01 as the Knicks established a then-NBA record by holding 33 consecutive opponents under 100 points. Things only got better as JVG's crew moved to Houston in 2003, where the Rockets averaged 93.0 points while holding opponents to 90.7 points (4th in NBA). Their +2.3 point differential was good enough for 10th in the league. Houston's work inside was also evident, as Clifford teamed with Patrick Ewing to work with the team’s big men, leading to an average of 42.5 rebounds (9th in NBA) over that four-year stretch.

From there, Clifford and Ewing joined Stan Van Gundy's staff in Orlando in 2007, and over the course of the next five seasons the Magic found themselves averaging 110.5 points while holding opponents to 95.1 points (7th in NBA). The Magic's +5.4 point differential was 6th best in the NBA in that stretch, and the string of strong work by Clifford’s teams on the glass continued, with Orlando pulling down 42.8 boards per contest - ranking 7th in the NBA.

Clifford found himself on his fourth NBA team to start 2012-13, as he was hired on the Lakers staff and retained by Head Coach Mike D'Antoni following Mike Brown's firing early in the season. Clifford was primarily brought to the Lakers thanks to his relationship with Dwight Howard, and the team’s effort on the glass was evident under Clifford, where the Lakers were 4th in the NBA with 44.8 rebounds. Los Angeles also finished 11th in the league in point differential (+1.2), marking the 7th-consecutive year a Clifford-coached team finished on the positive end in this category.

Now it is Clifford's time in Charlotte. He's been handed the keys to the Cats after more than a decade of preparation as an NBA assistant coach, 15 years of college coaching experience - including a year as an assistant at East Carolina University - and a four-year playing career at the University of Maine at Farmington, where he was twice named Defensive Player of the Year.

Arguably the top assistant coach mentioned to fill one of numerous head coaching vacancies in the league this offseason, Charlotte's front office deserves credit for targeting their guy and being aggressive to land him before he signed elsewhere. Clifford is just what the Cats need to put an end to their recent coaching carousel and take Charlotte to the next level in 2013-14 and beyond.

Here is a breakdown of Clifford's Coaching influence in the NBA

SEASON Rebounds Rank Scoring Opp. Scoring Rank Pt. Differential Rank
2012-13 44.8 4th 102.2 101 22nd Plus 1.2 11th
SEASON Rebounds Rank Scoring Opp. Scoring Rank Pt. Differential Rank
2011-12 42.5 12th 95 93.4 8th Plus 0.8 15th
2010-11 43.2 6th 99.2 93.7 4th Plus 5.5 5th
2009-10 43.2 5th 102.8 95.3 4th Plus 7.5 1st
2008-09 43.3 3rd 101.1 94.4 7th Plus 6.7 4th
2007-08 42 12th 104.5 99 11th Plus 5.5 5th
AVERAGE 42.84 7th 100.52 95.16 7th Plus 5.4 6th
SEASON Rebounds Rank Scoring Opp. Scoring Rank Pt. Differential Rank
2006-07 43.3 3rd 97 92.1 3rd Plus 4.9 5th
2005-06 41.6 11th 90.1 91.7 4th Minus 1.6 20th
2004-05 42.4 11th 95.1 91 3rd Plus 4.0 5th
2003-04 42.6 13th 89.8 88 5th Plus 1.7 10th
AVERAGE 42.475 9th 93 90.7 4th Plus 2.3 10th
OVERALL (Last 10 years)          
SEASON Rebounds Rank Scoring Opp. Scoring Rank Pt. Differential Rank
AVERAGE 42.9 8th 97.7 93.9 7th Plus 3.6 8th