Player development profile: Bryan Gates

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Bryan Gates is a busy man.

Think you’ve got a lot on your plate? Gates is a New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach known for logging considerable hours at his full-time job. He’s also the father of 3-year-old triplets.

“He’s an unbelievable family man,” said Pelicans head coach Monty Williams, himself a proud dad to five children. “To have triplets and also be able to put the time in he does here, it’s tremendous.”

Among New Orleans’ assistants, Gates has perhaps the widest array of experience, having worked in Lebanon, the D-League, USBL and CBL. Gates, who debuted as an NBA assistant with the Sacramento Kings in 2009-10, joined Williams’ staff the following season. Williams appreciates Gates’ path to the NBA, which could one day lead to a head coaching job in the league.

“I like the fact that he wants to be a head coach,” Williams said. “Young guys who are in (coaching as assistants) who don’t want to be a head coach, I look at it like, what are you doing it for, if you don’t want to achieve the highest level of coaching? He wants it. But he goes about it the right way. He’s not trying to promote himself. He’s a grinder.”

Gates has already enjoyed considerable success as a head coach in his previous stops. He was a two-time winner of the D-League’s Coach of the Year award and led the Idaho Stampede to the circuit’s 2008 title.

A closer look at Gates’ player development subjects and areas they’ve focused on improving:

Tyreke Evans
Shooting
As was the case in just about every area of his game, Evans improved his mid-range and perimeter accuracy during the second half of 2013-14, when he was moved into the starting lineup. However, one glance at his NBA.com shot-chart data shows he clearly must make major strides in this area. Evans was 341-for-679 (50.2 percent) last season on shots in the paint below the dotted line, but a combined 50-for-218 (22.9 percent) from everywhere else.

One flaw in Evans’ jumper is that he tends to drift backward as he fires, lacking the straight up-and-down posture that aids a shooter’s consistency.

“It’s about getting his form and his posture right,” Gates said. “You could ask 1,000 coaches about shooting and you might get 500 different answers, but the one thing I know is that when you play golf, for example, if you fall back, it will mess up your stroke. In basketball, when you fall back, you’re taking energy off the ball. That’s why most of Tyreke’s misses hit the front of the rim. Sometimes he’s kicking his legs out on his shot, because he’s trying to get balanced while he’s falling back. For him it’s about repetition, because when his form is right, he’s pretty good.”

Making quick decisions
Williams and his staff mentioned during the season that they want Evans to either make an immediate move to attack his defender, or swing the ball to a teammate. Evans, who is an outstanding one-on-one player, sometimes pounds the ball without moving, which can stagnate an offense.

“We want him to play quicker and not hold the ball,” Gates said.

When he’s at his best, Evans is a handful for opposing defenses, which has been the case since he debuted in the NBA in 2009-10 and earned the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

“Tyreke offensively is just really naturally gifted,” Gates said. “I think there are guys in the league that you know what they’re going to do and you try to stop it, but they still do it. Dirk Nowitzki’s going to be on the right block, dribble with his left hand and shoot a stepback. Tim Duncan’s going to use the glass. Kyle Korver’s going to shoot a three-pointer. Tyreke’s going to try to get to the rim, and the defense does everything it can, but he still gets there.”

Luke Babbitt
Ball-handling
The Pelicans believe the combo forward has more upside in his offensive game, that he can add some off-the-dribble options to his bread-and-butter of spot-up shooting. Of Babbitt’s 60 baskets he made in a Pelicans uniform, 36 were three-pointers.

“He’ll be working on playing off the bounce,” Gates said. “So he can incorporate a little more (small forward) stuff and face-up stuff, and not just being a stretch (power forward). Also catching the ball in the lane on the move and being able to do something with it.”

Gates credits Babbitt with making a rapid adjustment in 2013-14 under circumstances that were less than ideal. Babbitt signed with the Pelicans in February and almost immediately was thrown into the mix, due to the team’s rampant injuries.

“He came in in a tough situation,” Gates said. “Anytime you come to a team in the middle of the season, every team has a different philosophy and principles on what they do when a play breaks down. It was a tough challenge for him when he got here, but he adjusted great and got caught up to speed. He got an opportunity and did a great job.”

Footwork
The 6-foot-9, 225-pounder causes matchup problems at the offensive end when he’s lined up as a power forward, because opposing fours often don’t want to stray from the paint to defend Babbitt’s outside shooting. Defensively, improved quickness and lateral movement will help Babbitt better hang with small forwards.

“That’s going to be a challenge, something he’s working on to guard (small forwards),” Gates said. “But Luke is always going to accept any challenge you throw at him. And the one thing about him is he’s never going to lack confidence. (In April) we had a game against Phoenix and I thought Luke did a nice defensive job on the Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus, who play both forward spots). That was a very good battle and they went at each other.”

Jason Smith
Offensive versatility
Early in his New Orleans tenure, Smith often scored virtually all of his baskets on mid-range or deep two-point jumpers, an area in which he excels. However, as his career has progressed, he’s added more diversity to his game, something that will continue to make him a better offensive player.

“You’re going to see him shooting mid-range jumpers a lot, and he’s really good at it,” Gates said. “But when defenders close out at him or switch on him, he’ll rip through and play one-on-one without a bounce. He shoots the ball so high, it makes it tough to contest his shot. He has a lot more to his game than shooting jumpers.”

A free agent this summer, Smith’s field-goal percentage in 2013-14 dipped to 46.5, his lowest rate in three seasons, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Gates pointed out.

“Sometimes when you add stuff to guys’ games, sometimes his field-goal percentage goes down, because he’s taking more shots, but he also can make more (types of attempts),” Gates said. “(Implementing new ways to score) sets up his jumper, which obviously is really good.”

Despite only playing in 31 games before season-ending knee surgery, Smith delivered some of the best games of his NBA career. He tallied 22 points and 16 rebounds in a December win over Detroit, facing the Pistons’ big-man duo of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

Darius Miller
Confidence/aggressiveness
The forward has shown flashes at times during his two seasons with New Orleans, followed by stretches where he’s made a minimal impact and blends into the background on offense, lacking aggressiveness. Miller compiled seven double-digit scoring games in 2013-14, but also had 17 games in which he attempted two or fewer shots (in fairness, his playing time was limited in many of those cases).

“His big thing is consistency,” Gates said. “The last two years, he’ll put five or six games together, but then he’ll miss a shot and get down. I think it’s something every young player goes through.”

The Pelicans also want Miller to display more confidence on the court.

“I think Darius is a very talented kid,” Gates said. “He’s the one guy who we all think he’s better than he thinks he is. A lot of it has to do with confidence, to be able to say, ‘OK, I can do this.’ But anyone can say they can play in the NBA. When you’re out there and the crowd is going nuts and it’s a two-minute game and you’re looking across from LeBron James, it’s a different story. With him, it’s a lot about confidence.”

Monty Williams on Gates, two-time D-League Coach of the Year and ’08 champion:
“He’s been a head coach in some different situations – minor leagues, overseas. He’s a grinder. He’s all-in. One thing about Bryan, he doesn’t care what he looks like (when he’s working with players). He wants to be effective and is trying to help us win. He’s great in player development, and his preparation for games is second to none.”