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Coaching and Player Development

Thus far, we've looked at the Hornetscoaching candidates and how those with H.C. experience have fared in terms of offensedefense, and pace. Some results have been surprising, while others haven't- as fans, we may be overrating Jeff Van Gundy, underrating Avery Johnson, and missing out on just how amazing Tom Thibodeau's defenses have been in Boston, Houston, and New York.

But a key factor complementing these three coaching characteristics is the ability to develop individual players. A coach may bring in an amazing defensive system, but if the execution and implementation of that system drives away a young player who goes on to succeed elsewhere, that success is clearly tainted. Strategy and x's and o's can't exist in the absence of player development skills.

Unfortunately, as with pace, offense, and defense, I don't have the ability to churn out quantitative comparisons of our HC candidates and their player development abilities. 

But we've had enough statistics for one week, right? Time for some anecdotal evidence.

Let's tell some stories after the jump.

Mike Fratello: Mike Miller, Dominique Wilkins, Doc Rivers, Terrell Brandon

How's that for a list of players coached? Fratello, as we've seen, has coached extensively in the three decades of the three point era. 

Fratello's first full season as head coach coincided with Nique's rookie year. Wilkins started off relatively slowly, not the most efficient rookie in the league, and not really a great passer or defender either. But over his first few seasons, Wilkins' offensive game began to flourish. While he never really improved his jump shot, he became a far more aggressive player, annually ranking among the league leaders in trips to the foul line. Chided for his lack of passing ability (or desire) in his first couple years, Wilkins improved in that department too. The most important factor to note is that Fratello literally threw the weight of his entire offense onto Wilkins, from Year 1. Dominique was responsible for 24% of possessions as a rookie, 27% as a sophomore, then topped 32% for the next four consecutive years. Fratello's insistence on repeatedly going to a developing young player (albeit an extraordinarily talented one) is certainly of some note.

Doc Rivers joined the team during Fratello' second full year in 1984. And he too was given an immediate role. As a rookie, Rivers started more than half his team's games, and by his second year was the full time starter. It's important to note that Atlanta had entrenched, veteran guards on the roster. Rory Sparrow had started more than 100 games the past two years, and Atlanta also had Johnny Davis, who'd started 70 games just a year earlier. Rivers, like Wilkins, showed rapid growth as a player. Interestingly, when Fratello left the team in the late 80's, Rivers immediately began to decline and never repeated his former success.

Fratello took three years off from coaching before returning to coach the Cavaliers in 1993. In Cleveland, Fratello engineered one of the craziest turnarounds in a young player that I've ever heard of. Point guard Terrell Brandon was the Cavs' 11th pick of the '91 draft, and after two years had developed into a league average player. But during Fratello's time in Cleveland, Brandon turned in one of the most outstanding performances by a point guard in league history (25.2 PER in 1996) and consistently topped the 20 mark. What happened exactly? I'm not entirely sure since I didn't pay much heed to the 1990's Cavaliers. But it's a remarkable player development story on Fratello's resume. 

Doug Collins: Michael Jordan, Grant Hill

Pretty big names on Collins' list too, but decidedly more undecipherable results.

Collins was the first "stable" coach in Michael Jordan's career; when the Bulls drafted MJ, they were headed by Kevin Loughery, their fifth coach in three years. At the end of Jordan's rookie season, Chicago canned Loughery and hired Stan Albeck, who also lasted just a year. 

Unfortunately, it's hard to say exactly what role Collins played in Jordan's development. As a rookie, MJ was already close to being the best player in the league, and by the time Collins was hired, he was already on top. Plagued by an inability to win in the playoffs, Collins was fired after three seasons (in each of which Jordan dominated). 

In Grant Hill though, Collins builds a slightly stronger case. Collins was hired by Detroit at the beginning of Hill's sophomore season. Though Hill, like Jordan, had already posted an amazing rookie campaign, Collins oversaw Hill's development in various key categories. Under Collins, Hill became a significantly better rebounder (increased by 10 percent (!) defensively and another 5 percent offensively) and became one of the league's best (if not the best) passing forward. In fact, Hill posted arguably the best season of his career in his third year, under Collins. 

Jeff Van Gundy: Yao Ming

Van Gundy dealt with fewer rookies and young players than perhaps any other coach with HC experience on the candidate list. Here's a number for you: from 1995 to 2002, JVG coached a combined four (4) rookies, who cumulatively started 6 total games. (An interesting aside: this is neither here nor there, but one of the young players JVG did coach was Monty Williams, a first round pick of New York in 1994).

Van Gundy arrived in Houston a year after one of the most anticipated rookie seasons in league history- Yao Ming's. Yao remained virtually steady across the board with Van Gundy as his head coach- scoring, rebounding, blocking, shooting, etc. Van Gundy did, however, increase Yao's role in the offense (although, one might argue, this was going to happen with any coach as Yao became more comfortable). 

Van Gundy did go on to coach Chuck Hayes for a couple years. Overall though, the absolute lack of younger players on his rosters and in his rotations is startling. Let me be clear- a lot of that can't be held against him. For whatever reason, the Knicks' front office didn't give him much young talent at all in the 1990's, and Houston didn't draft many good young players outside of Yao and Hayes, either. But it's still an odd, odd mark on his resume, one that I'm surprised to have run across, and one that the Hornets are hopefully well aware of. 

Avery Johnson: Devin Harris Jason Terry

Avery Johnson doesn't feature too extensive a player development history, counting D.J. Mbenga, Pavel Podkolzin, Josh Powell, Rawle Marshall, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, J.J. Barea, and Nick Fazekas among his rookie talent. 

Of course, he also had Devin Harris. Numerous reports of Johnson holding the reigns too tightly on Harris emerged during DH's time in Dallas and upon his trade. Harris developed into the league's top backup point guard, but when Johnson promoted him to a starting role in 2006, he regressed. And though Harris regained his form in 2007, Dallas decided to trade Harris, allegedly against Johnson's wishes. 

The fact that Harris and Johnson did clash is undeniable. It's something New Orleans will need to take into close consideration. One of the biggest critiques of Johnson is that he stripped Harris of play calling responsibilties in 2008. While I don't buy that his controlling offensive style is the worst thing in the world (his offenses were wildly successful), it's always important to notice when players are put off.

Interestingly, this April, Harris took the blame for those clashes, also stating: "I love Avery. Love him. [He] would be a good coach anywhere." So there's that. 

Ultimately, I think the Johnson-Harris dynamic was a lot more complex than people paint it. I don't believe it was as perfect as Johnson or Harris portray it today, nor do I think Johnson's style drove Harris out of town. At the end of the day, I put weight in the fact that Devin Harris progressed perfectly well as a player under Johnson.

The other player defining Johnson's player development skills might be Jason Terry.

Jet arrived in Dallas from Atlanta in 2004, coming off his worst season since his rookie campaign. Essentially, Terry was caught in no-man's land, a cross between a point guard and a shooting guard. He had some degree of passing success, but he also had a shoot-first mentality. Johnson allowed Terry's aggressive scoring mindset to develop to a degree it couldn't in Atlanta. Case in point: Terry's eFG%'s in his final three years with the Hawks were 50%, 49.8%, and 47.8%. In his first three years with Dallas, he shot 57%, 54.7%, and 56% and really hasn't looked back since. And while Johnson's efficient handling of Terry could possibly be written off as a one time success (honestly, how often will a coach be asked to identify the true position or offensive role of an established NBA player?), there could be huge implications in the form of Marcus Thornton.

From the moment scouts started watching Thornton, they compared him to Jason Terry. They cited his ability to create shots quickly and to convert difficult shots at high efficiencies as indicative of his ability to grow into a player of Terry's skill set and ability. Before Thornton joined the Hornets, I didn't really like the comparison. But a year in? Wow, are they similar.

Both feature low turnover rates, both execute the curl off screen extremely well, both have three point range but often shoot long twos, both move constantly off the ball, and both function as instant, efficient offense off the bench. Thornton is a little bigger and probably offers more defensively, but offensively, they're extraordinarily similar. The fact that Johnson not only coached Terry, but also directed him toward the extremely unique style he plays is pretty intriguing. 

Other Candidates, Thoughts

Many of the assistant coaches, especially Ty Corbin of Utah, Monty Williams of Portland, and Dwane Casey of Dallas, are well known for player development. I'll try to cover them as much as I can as the week wears on. In the meanwhile, please feel free to augment this current list of coaches' player development with stories/myths/Terrell Brandon fairy tales of your own.