NBA Fantasy: How will coaching changes impact certain players?

Breaking down how new coaching hires may have implications on several players.

Mike Brown smiling in front of jumbotron with Sacramento Kings logo

Mike Brown takes over as the coach in Sacramento after winning the championship as Golden State’s assistant.

Four teams enter the 2022-23 season with new coaches. Let’s dive in, focusing on how each could utilize their respective roster. Some players will benefit, but others may take a step back.

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Mike Brown
Four-year deal as new coach of the Sacramento Kings

Brown migrates from Golden State, where he was a top assistant since 2016. Brown will look to lead the Kings to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Domantas Sabonis averaged a career-high 12.3 rebounds after being acquired by Sacramento last season. He accompanied that with 18.9 points and 5.8 assists.

Harrison Barnes averaged 16.4 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 39.4% from beyond the arc last season. Keegan Murray, the reigning Summer League MVP, will likely deliver shades of that production.

Sacramento has also built a unique collection of guards. Speedster De’Aaron Fox is the incumbent star, with Davion Mitchell his backup. Sacramento imported Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter for spacing.

Even after a revamp, Sacramento looks poised to be porous defensively. Mitchell is the outlier – a strong defender. When comparing Monk against Huerter, Monk is the superior athlete showcasing more defensive chops. These are essential factors in earning playing time on a competitive squad. Shooting guard may be an open competition.

Steve Clifford
Three-year deal as new coach of the Charlotte Hornets

James Borrego was canned just one year after receiving a contract extension. Clifford was Borrego’s predecessor in Charlotte and returns as his replacement. Charlotte has made the Play-In Tournament for two consecutive seasons, but they’ve been quickly dispatched both years.

The defensive-minded Clifford has successfully galvanized units in the past. Kelly Oubre will be an interesting defensive case study. Last year’s 1.4 steals-plus-blocks per game was the lowest since 2016. He and Gordon Hayward will lead Charlotte’s usage on the wings. If Clifford gets Oubre to buy in defensively, his steal and block percentages should climb, and he could deliver two-way upside. Hayward is a metronome when healthy.

Miles Bridges is presumably out of the equation. He was an oft-utilized ball handler and play finisher. His absence could create a trickle-down effect. Oubre and LaMelo Ball will be shouldering extra creation. Ball’s usage should hit new heights, but that might not yield a bump in efficiency, and he’s losing his top weapon.

The 2017-18 Clifford-led Hornets also featured the final iteration of a dominant Dwight Howard. Big seasons from Howard, followed by big seasons from Nikola Vucevic under Clifford’s watch in Orlando, bodes well for the development of 2022 lottery selection Mark Williams. His growth is a theme of the upcoming season as he fights for minutes against Mason Plumlee and PJ Washington.

Clifford also inherits talented scorer and ballhandler, Terry Rozier. Across his past two seasons, Rozier has averaged 19.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.3 steals in 142 contests. Charlotte needs him sans Bridges.

Consider the Hornets among the bottom-five teams in the Eastern Conference. Not playing for anything meaningful down the stretch is a red flag. If player development becomes a focus, shareholders of Charlotte’s veterans could be stripped of value. Additionally, Clifford’s prioritization of defensive development could come at the expense of run-and-gun offense. Charlotte ranked second in transition possessions last season, but Clifford’s teams from 2017-2021 all ranked bottom seven in that category. 

Will Hardy
Five-year deal as new coach of the Utah Jazz

Hardy takes over in Utah for perennial Coach-of-the-Year candidate Quin Snyder. Hardy’s roots feature over a decade in San Antonio, rising from a video intern to a member of Head Coach Gregg Popovich’s staff beginning in 2015. He followed former Spurs’ assistant Ime Udoka to Boston last season, spending 2021-22 as an assistant with the Celtics.

Hardy is just 34 years old and steps in as the youngest coach in the league. At the helm of a freshly-commenced teardown in Utah, Hardy’s primary focus will be player development. Be wary — a rebuild is a sketchy fantasy environment.

Collin Sexton is the star of the show. Sexton averaged 24.1 points and 4.4 assists during the 2020-21 campaign. The 23-year-old returning to that level after missing most of last season is a realistic expectation. Utah inked Sexton to a four-year, $72 million deal in a sign-and-trade. He will undoubtedly be a focal point.

Veterans such as Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley could be jettisoned to other franchises in the coming months, but their usage will suffer. Draft them with caution.

New addition Lauri Markkanen detonated in this summer’s Eurobasket. The 25-year-old averaged 27.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.0 steals-plus-blocks per game as the lifeblood of Finland. Markkanen riding this momentum into a career season is worth the flier. He’s also the sole big in Utah’s frontcourt that provides quality floor spacing.

Entering his fifth NBA season, Jarred Vanderbilt should receive ample run. Per 36 minutes, the 23-year-old averaged 9.8 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.8 steals-plus-blocks per game last season. Logging around 25 minutes per game is more realistic, as Vanderbilt has no floor spacing credibility (3-of-21 3Pt for his career). Nonetheless, his efficient interior scoring and fiery rebounding create a solid floor.

There is a myriad of other pieces to casually keep tabs on. Rookie Walker Kessler led the NCAA last year with a 19.1 block percentage. Malik Beasley and Ochai Agbaji are each capable of carving out a relevant shooter role. Talen Horton-Tucker could be an initiator on offense.

Darvin Ham
Four-year deal as new coach of the Los Angeles Lakers

Ham comes to the Lakers from the Bucks. He spent nearly the past decade on Mike Budenholzer’s staff in Atlanta and Milwaukee. The 49-year-old replaces Frank Vogel.

Ham inherits three stars in Los Angeles, with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and wildcard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is the elephant in the room, but Ham will have “power to bench Westbrook down the stretch of games” if Westbrook isn’t traded.

While Ham having power over his own lineups may seem obvious, tension-filled power dynamics with Russell Westbrook complicate matters, as do previous notions of LeBron-led teams having figurehead coaches.

Regardless, expect the offense to flow through Los Angeles’ stars. It’s a top-heavy roster. Newcomer Lonnie Walker had the most inefficient season of his career in 2021-2022, shooting just 40.7% from the field and 31.4% from three. Newcomer Patrick Beverley averaged a decent 9.2 points, 4.6 assists and 2.1 steals-plus-blocks in 25.4 minutes per game last season, but he now enters his age-34 campaign. Kendrick Nunn is the only other appealing fantasy asset to monitor. The 27-year-old missed last season with knee troubles but averaged 15.0 points on an impressive 45.8/36.4/88.1 percent shooting slash across his first two seasons.