How 7 teams are performing under new coaches this season
Breaking down the impact each new coach is having on his team this season.
Teams hit the quarter pole each season, approximately 20 games, and routinely undergo evaluations of their performances thus far.
Here at NBA.com, we opted to give a little more leeway and sample size to coaches who are new to their squads this season. So as we approach about a third of the way through a standard-issue 82-game season, it’s time to look at those seven men and seven staffs that have taken over seven teams.
First thing to note: Only two of the seven clubs have improved under their new coaches, at least in terms of won-lost records and winning percentages. Wes Unseld Jr.’s work with the Washington Wizards has been hailed since Week 2, while Boston’s Ime Udoka has made progress more slowly after a helter-skelter early go.
The other five teams currently rank in the bottom half, according to NBA.com’s Power Rankings, with four in the bottom nine. Which, to be fair, probably is appropriate, considering the issues — in fit, style, chemistry — that led to coaching changes in the first place.
For the record, we aren’t including Nate McMillan or Chris Finch in this, since they were in-season replacements during the 2020-21 schedule. They had more of a runway to this season, from what McMillan did in getting Atlanta to the Eastern Conference finals after taking over for Lloyd Pierce to the 41 games Finch put in with the Timberwolves post-Ryan Saunders.
Nor do we have enough of a sample size yet on Alvin Gentry, who took over after Sacramento management fired Luke Walton three weeks ago. But at 4-3, Gentry at least has the Kings above water compared to Walton’s 68-93 in two-plus seasons, including a 6-11 start before his pink slip.
Two of the coaching newcomers, Udoka and new-to-Mavs coach Jason Kidd, will be working the sidelines tonight in TNT’s doubleheader: Brooklyn at Dallas (7:30 p.m. ET) followed by Boston at the Los Angeles Lakers (10 p.m. ET).
For comparison’s sake, in Steve Nash’s debut season with Brooklyn, the Nets were just 14-12 before embarking on a 14-1 run that transformed their season. As for Frank Vogel’s first Lakers season in 2019-20, well, they were 24-3 before they hit a four-game skid, then reeled off nine more victories.
Here are their 2021-22 counterparts:
Ime Udoka | Boston Celtics
Impact: The level of churning and thrashing the Celtics did in their first month under Udoka and his staff — winning two, losing three, laboring to their 7-8 start — was not atypical for an ambitious team making this transition. The defense came first, the offense more recently, and it shows: Boston has gone 6-3 since Nov. 19. In that time it is tied for fourth with Milwaukee with 114.7 points per 100 possessions with a seventh-best net rating of 5.3. Prior to that, the Celtics were at 104.6 and minus-0.2. Udoka has gotten more expansive and creative with his rotations — Payton Pritchard’s and Aaron Nesmith’s minutes are up, for instance — and is calming the demanding fan base.
Jason Kidd | Dallas Mavericks
Impact: Only Boston, at No. 9, ranks in the top 10 of NBA.com’s latest Power Rankings — the other six teams that brought new coaches to training camp line up somewhere behind, including Dallas. The Mavericks vacated that spot and slid all the way to 16th. The roster has been injured and is limited in best of health. Kristaps Porzingis was crowing about new freedom on the floor until his left knee sat him down. Kidd offered wisdom to star guard Luka Doncic about picking better spots — which is to say, dead balls — to gripe at officials. The new coach recently questioned his guys’ ability to defend sufficiently, but Dallas’ offense is mired low in multiple categories. Kidd has heard criticism much as in his stops in Brooklyn and Milwaukee, but problems can be cited up and down the organization. West rivals’ injuries explain the Mavs’ spot in the sixth seed more than merit.
Rick Carlisle | Indiana Pacers
Impact: Any change from the desultory one-season stay of Bjorkgren would have been welcomed. However, the addition of a ring-bearing, former Coach of the Year hasn’t shown up in the standings any more than the alleged fresh air wafting through the team’s gyms, locker rooms, planes and buses. It’s hard to say what’s worse, a 3-10 road record or getting booed by home crowds. Carlisle has had to slalom around injuries and work with a talented roster with many solid players but no real star, neither in personality nor leadership. The lineups tend big with Domantis Sabonis and Myles Turner, now bench catalyst T.J. McConnell is out, and Caris LeVert consistently hasn’t regained his form of his last four Brooklyn seasons. A lot is riding on T.J. Warren’s return sometime before the All-Star break. Carlisle has been appropriately encouraging and critical with a team in need of traction.
Willie Green | New Orleans Pelicans
Impact: Now this is what you’d expect from a team that was a stylistic disconnect from veteran coach Van Gundy last season. The Pelicans are where Green is at as an NBA coach — just getting started, eager for growth. Being saddled with Zion Williamson’s troubling foot issues from the start, as well as Brandon Ingram’s seven-game absence, didn’t help despite Green’s early work on fundamentals and so-called culture. But New Orleans has gone 6-7 since Ingram returned to give 21.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 4.6 apg, and the Pelicans are 4-3 in their past seven. They don’t shoot the ball well but they take care of it nicely and are rebounding it well despite Williamson’s lost boards. Green’s upbeat style has found ways to unlock parts of Josh Hart’s, Nikeil Alexander-Walker’s and Jonas Valunciunas’ games.
Jamahl Mosley | Orlando Magic
Impact: No surprise, when you’ve got a true rebuild on your hands, that there’d be a step or two backward before many forward. Mosley has rolled with the mistakes, notably turnovers, while patching together a backcourt with some overlapping strengths — Cole Anthony earning away reps from Jalen Suggs — and a fleet of injuries. He also is charged with folding in two lottery pick players, No. 5 Suggs and No. 8 Franz Wagner. One thing that’s clear so far: He and his players work till their shift ends. Their performances in fourth quarters has been impressive: 113.5 offensive rating, which ranks fifth, and a 107.4 defensive rating that is 15th. It’s not all garbage time, either. In their five victories, they have outscored foes by 63 points. “Just the energy,” Mosley recently said in praise, “and the attention to the physicality and the fight defensively.”
Chauncey Billups | Portland Trail Blazers
Impact: It’s hard to tell the Billups from the bath water in Portland, with turmoil at the top, uncertainty and even lack of vigor on the court and the Blazers’ rookie coach in the middle somewhere. Billups wanted to boost this team’s defense but, aside from marginal improvement contesting shots, has them down at the NBA’s bottom overall. Offense hadn’t been an issue in recent years but that has slipped too. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are personnel questions seemingly above the new coach’s pay grade, and he’s had his best impact on players around the edges like Anfernee Simons. Billups also has fallen into a former player’s mild trap of ripping his group more than they’re probably willing to listen. Whatever Stotts wasn’t doing to get shown the door, what’s going on now makes his tenure look like a golden era.
Wes Unseld Jr. | Washington Wizards
Impact: Last but not least, we get to the other (with Boston) team that has bumped up its winning percentage, and the one in this group headed for both the best record and the biggest leap. If, that is, Unseld can stop the bleeding. What was a surprising 5-1 start and encouraging 13-7 at the 20-game evaluable mark has dipped further, with offense sliding faster than defense for the Wizards. They were plus-4.2 in their ratings during the opening six games, and minus-2.5 ever since. Per our John Schuhmann’s numbers-crunching, their 116.4 points yielded per 100 possessions is their worst stretch to date. As a result, the return of some injured or absent Wizards such as Rui Hachimura and (in a while) Thomas Bryant now seems like the cavalry rather than happy transfusions. Unseld recently said securing a top-4 playoff seed was more important than ending a decades-old 50-victory drought, a pace that’s been lost anyway. Washington’s players are happy with the Hall of Famer’s son, which is the best (if sometimes perfunctory) early review of a new coach. “Once you’ve got a guy like that, who’s the head of his snake, as far as his coaching staff and the way things are being ran, you can’t ask for anything any better,” big man Montrezl Harrell said.
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.