One-On-One With Johnny Davis
Before the start of training camp, Jay Satur sat down with the new members of the Raptors' coaching staff to discuss an unusual start to the 2011-12 season and their plans for getting started in Toronto. Next up is lead assistant coach Johnny Davis, who discusses how his last team turned the corner and lessons learned about the importance of team play.
Jay Satur: What was the appeal in coming to Toronto and working with Coach Casey?
Johnny Davis: I've worked with Coach Casey before in Minnesota and I knew what kind of a quality coach he was and the type of person he is. You couple that with a nice core of young players and I know what he's trying to do here and it was a situation where he invited me to come up with him and everything worked out so here I am.
He's a very thorough, caring person. Very detail-oriented, hard-working and he's an excellent coach. Being part of his staff is really an honour.
JS: You mentioned that young core here, does that seem similar to your last stop?
JD: Prior to coming here I was with the Memphis Grizzlies for four years and we had a lot of young players as well. With young players it's very challenging, but very rewarding as you see them make progress and mature into very good basketball players and a very good team. So it's a step-by-step process. It doesn't happen overnight, you just have to take the steps necessary, understand what your goal is, what you're trying to achieve with them and then do the things necessary to get there.
JS: At what point did you notice that the Grizzlies were starting to buy into the system and were capable of making a run like last season?
JD: What happens initially is that you have to get them to believe in terms of what you're doing and how you're going to get there, the steps necessary. As they begin to have success at it, their confidence grows and once they have the confidence within themselves that they can get it done and then you start to see it out on the floor a little bit. The games start getting a little more competitive, you start having a chance towards the end of ball games to win and then the next step is understanding how to win, how to finish a game.
So the first few years with Memphis we were learning those things. We started to become a much more competitive team. We would go in and really protect our home court and we started to become competitive on the road. The players started to really gain confidence in what we were doing with our process and our philosophy and then we started to understand how to close a game out, how to finish a game, to sort of run through the finish line. Once they did that and started understanding it, they took off.
JS: OJ Mayo was one of your former players who had very high praise for the work you did with him heading into the playoffs last season. Can you talk about how you helped change his game and his mindset heading into the postseason?
JD: OJ's a very good basketball player. A very intelligent player. He’s very dedicated to the profession and to becoming as good as he can be. We had OJ starting and he did a wonderful job, he was averaging 18 point per game and playing real well. But our bench players weren't as strong offensively and we needed a good strong offensive player to go into that unit and build them up. The logical choice was OJ and for a young player that's not an easy thing to do to give up a starting position and have the maturity to understand that this is not a demotion, this is really in the best interest of the team. It's not going to affect how you're perceived as a player.
So that was one of the things with him to get him to understand that this doesn't decrease your value, this increases it. Now, not only can you start, you can come off the bench, you're coachable, you're team-oriented and it says a lot of good things about you. As soon as he really grasped that, he went and accepted it and really took off again.
From a playing standpoint, there were a few things that he needed to work on. He had to become a better mid-range shooter off the dribble. Defensively, he needed to learn how to get better. How to play the angles. How to create situations for himself from an offensive standpoint and also how to pass the ball effectively and not where a guy had to reach for it and those sorts of things. So we spent a lot of time developing his individual game and by the time we got to the playoffs he was really a pivotal player for us and played well. But he wasn't a hard guy to coach. He was very easy to coach, he showed up early and he stayed late working on his game to improve.
JS: You had a similar opportunity as a rookie with the Blazers during their championship run in 1977. Did you take anything from that lesson throughout your coaching career?
JD: I did. When you're a young player, you think that every situation is so monumental, but in reality, it's just another piece of the puzzle as you move forward. So I was like most young players, really wanting to play a lot of minutes and I felt like deserved a lot of minutes and wanted to be a starter. But the team was better with me coming off the bench even though I was capable of being a starter. I gave the second unit a lift by being with them and so it was very similar with the situation with OJ, where it's not about you per se, it's about the team. As the team does well, you're a part of that. So whatever it is you're looking for from an individual standpoint, you find those things within the team. No one's bigger than the team, no one's less than what the team is.
When you truly and fully understand that, the reflection of how we do as a team touches everyone on it and whatever it is you're looking for -- be it a better contract, notoriety, respect, whatever it is in your mind you're looking for internally -- you find it with the success of the team. When you try to do it by yourself, it's just too difficult a process.
JS: What's going to be your approach to teaching this group of Raptors?
JD: There's a big difference between a uniform group of guys and a true team. From an offensive standpoint, when everybody feels like they have a part of the offence, it lends itself that ‘I am a part of this team’. So when they have an opportunity to do what it is they do best and you put them in a position to do what they do best, now they become much more reliable, enthusiastic and a part of it because they see where their part of it is.
Obviously, it's for the best players to get the bulk of the shots, but we want the guy who's not as gifted offensively to also understand how what he does well impacts the guy who is doing the bulk of the scoring.
An example of that could be if Andrea Bargnani is having a wonderful scoring night, well there's other things going on that's allowing him to do that. So when he scores the bucket, everyone involved in that possession shares in it. He most likely got a good screen from someone, he got a good pass from someone or another teammate spaced the floor for him to give him room. When all of those things take place and Bargnani scores a basket, which is what he does best, the newspapers will reflect that, but all those other guys did the things necessary for him to score that basket.
It's never an individual thing, it's a team thing. When the guys understand that and apply that to both ends of the floor, offensively and defensively, now you have a team.