Jeff Van Gundy hasn't coached in the NBA for eight years, but that hasn't stopped his name from surfacing among numerous open opportunities during the last several seasons. Before Derek Fisher and Byron Scott were hired, he was rumored to return back to the Knicks or go to the Lakers out West. Yet, the norm has been that come time for any big NBA matchups on ABC or ESPN, Van Gundy could be found in his typical color commentator's chair.
So, why would a highly sought after former coach, who has turned down the biggest markets in the past, be willing to come to New Orleans? According to his brother, it's because he's finally found his perfect situation.
Dan asked Van Gundy if his brother Jeff was going to coach. Stan said that he’s waiting for a great situation and those are hard to find in the NBA. "I think he’s in the exact same siatuion I was," Van Gundy said. "I think there are a lot of bad jobs in the NBA right now where there’s a disconnect between the owners and the coaches."
If there's one thing that's been stated over and over by the vast majority, there couldn't be a more enticing coaching vacancy than the New Orleans Pelicans. Of course, the reason being is superstar Anthony Davis. He's only 22 years old and he's already knocking on the door of the best player in the league.
Why should the Pelicans chase JVG?
So, let's get to the meat of the article. Why should the Pelicans strongly consider Jeff Van Gundy, my favorite candidate for the Pelicans position?
1. He's a winner. JVG has coached professionally for 11 seasons and compiled an impressive record of 430 wins against 318 losses. Only 12 coaches in NBA history have had a better winning percentage (57.5%) during the regular season, having coached 10 or more seasons.
If you exclude his final campaign in New York City, where he walked away from the game due to burnout, he made the postseason every single time but once. The most memorable run came in 1999 when his 27-23 team got into the playoffs by a single game advantage over the Charlotte Hornets.
As I'm sure you know, the 8th seeded Knicks went all the way to the NBA Finals, losing to the Spurs 4-1. However, their journey during the lockout-shortened season was incredible, especially when you consider they lost Patrick Ewing to injury in the Eastern Conference Finals.
2. Defense. Van Gundy has an impeccable record on the defensive end, the side of the floor that coaches can make the biggest impact. In his very first full season (1996-97), the Knicks had the best defensive rating according to NBA.com. The next four: 4th, 3rd, 7th and 3rd. In his final season in the Big Apple, he quit just 19 games in but the defense was the 8th best in the league before he handed the reins to Don Chaney (who watched the Knicks finish 23rd).
In his Houston stint, JVG immediately made his presence felt. After the Rockets finished 19th, 29th (dead last) and 14th under Rudy Tomjanovich, the Van Gundy teams placed 5th, 4th, 7th and 3rd. There is no doubt about it, Van Gunday's defensive philosophies should be considered the gold standard. Why has he continually been so good?
First, he learned from some of the best like Rick Pitino and Pat Riley. Second, he has preached an inside-out approach whereby the power forwards and centers were the captains of the defense. Third, JVG was adamant about defensive rotations. Any team can defend the first option, but his schemes were adept at handling multiple offensive actions. (Ie. his specialty is where Monty's teams experienced too many breakdowns.)
Among these basic concepts, there are loads of other smaller things Van Gundy demanded: allowing pick and rolls to go in only one direction, pressuring shooters but laying well off poor perimeter players, beating offensive players to spots to pick up charges, and many more. If you've got the time, I strongly urge you to watch the video below through it's entirety.
3. System. Jeff Van Gundy does not have a one size system fits all mentality; he doesn't believe pushing square pegs through round holes. With the Knicks, his defenses were more aggressive and applied a lot of pressure on guards and wings. Once he was running the Rockets, he reduced the activity outside of the paint because of the defensive anchor Houston had in Yao Ming. It made more sense to be more conservative.
To further display JVG's penchant for flexibility, he has always been open to analytics. At a time (mid 2000s) when most scoffed at the idea, Van Gundy embraced Daryl Morey. No, he didn't suddenly start preaching the numbers to his players, but instead, like any good analytical mind should do, he evaluated his belief system against the new data he was given.
"Morey realized, I think, that there was some art to the job of coaching and it wasn’t just a number-based approach," said Van Gundy, who is now an ESPN NBA analyst. "But I found the numbers that he presented to make you really self-evaluate.
"Let’s say they brought up a scenario, and the numbers said you should obviously do something, and your philosophy was something else. It made you sit there and analyze why you believed what you believed. I think that's good. Now whether you changed your philosophy or not, that’s really secondary. But it did make you think."
4. Offense and pace shouldn't be a glaring issue. For as well as Van Gundy's teams played defense, the statistics point out oftentimes the opposite was true when it came to offense or pace. The stigma is that he's inept on that end of the floor. He may have not been D'Antoni-like but scanning the rosters says plenty.
During his time in New York, Patrick Ewing was well beyond his prime. Through the years, the offense relied on the production of perimeter wing scorers like Allan Houston, John Starks and Latrell Sprewell. The rest of the roster was quite bland, especially at point guard (Charlie Ward and Chris Childs). In Houston, he had Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, but largely the rest of the time, the third best players were Bob Sura and Rafer Alston? Ouch.
Need further proof that JVG actually understands offense? Have a listen to the interview below.
What you should take away from this quick and generalized interview is JVG has a very good grasp on concepts:
- Pace is dependent on personnel. In his stops with the NYK and HOU, he had plodding centers in Ewing and Ming and PG's who were not lightning quick nor offensive dynamos. The Pelicans would give him his first opportunity to coach more than several very good playmakers.
- Creating quality shots is key. In NYK, there was a wealth of jump shooters + Ewing; in HOU, two superstars. Naturally, he played through both of these strengths, but they were far from being ideal scenarios because there wasn't a whole lot of diversity nor offensive talent overall. In New Orleans, he will not have a big that needs to be spoon-fed down low, but rather a diverse and potent roster.
- Passing and player movement. JVG says he is a proponent of motion. In just one of his full seasons in New York did he have a player average over 6 assists a game (96-97 Childs). In Houston, McGrady, Alston and Francis all had one season where they averaged over 6 assists. None of those players ever amounted to pass-first players outside of his system. With the Pelicans, Van Gundy would get the best chance he's ever had in his life with Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and several other good passers.
5. Genuine intensity. Jeff Van Gundy's burning desire was born long before he became a head coach.
Its building blocks were formed in thimble-sized gyms in places most Knicks have never heard of, towns like Greece, Spencerport, and Gates, where Jeff Van Gundy picked up floor burns as a hustling high-school point guard. "No matter who Jeff might ever have on a team, he'd always be defense first," Stan says. "You play defense, you rebound the ball, you take care of it, and you don't turn it over. A lot of coaches think that, but it's what he grew up with."
Passion can be a useful trait if it positively motivates a group. JVG is intense because he inherited a passion for competition from his family, namely his father. Winning pushed him to work 14 to 16 hours a day. Thus, when you're not only fiery on the court, but off of it as well, players will notice.
Ask the Knicks why they've come to respect a man so different from themselves and they all speak a version of Marcus Camby's words: "Because we know how hard he works and how bad he wants to win," says the Knicks' rubber-limbed center. "When your coach is like that, it trickles down to the team. You don't just want to win for yourself; you want to play and win for your coach. You can tell by the permanent bags under his eyes -- all he does is eat and sleep basketball. We want to play hard for him because we know how much he puts into it."
On more than one occasion in the past, I've mentioned Monty Williams quiet personality may have failed the New Orleans. Whether the referee's were unintentionally calling a biased game or one or several Pelicans were playing without much energy, Monty's demeanor wouldn't allow him to light that much needed fuse.
Well, JVG is cut from a different cloth and he has never had any trouble speaking his mind. Sometimes, though, physically fighting on behalf of his players has nearly gotten him killed!
Odds of JVG coming out of retirement
Recently, Van Gundy was a guest on the Lowe Post and he mentioned:
"Last thing anybody is going to get me do, on a day a good friend of mine lost his job...Anybody would love an opportunity to coach Anthony Davis...I have never been a part of or will be make my interests known publicly."
Not surprisingly, the Advocate printed that Van Gundy wasn't leaning one way or the other several days ago. However, a little over a week ago, he answered the question a little differently when he was asked about Orlando's head coaching vacancy.
ESPN and ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy jokingly pulled himself out of contention for the Orlando Magic coaching vacancy Thursday, but then he seriously said Scott Skiles would be a great hire.
He went on to mention that both Scott Skiles and Tom Thibodeau would make for fine candidates. In the back of my mind, I wondered why the difference in responses (offering alternatives to the Magic media but not the Pelicans) but dismissed the notion until late last night when Marc Stein broke the following news.
Going online now: ESPN sources say Jeff Van Gundy has expressed interest in Pels' coaching job and under consideration for post. Link on way— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 23, 2015
Ahhhh, maybe there might have been an ulterior motive after all! Either way, it truly doesn't matter as the thing to take away from this is that Jeff Van Gundy probably feels the Pelicans head coaching job is the one he's been awaiting some time now.
Someone pinch me, because I'm giddy with glee. The coach I want to see above all others driving the next Anthony Davis bus, one who I feel has all the right characteristics to take the Pelicans to the next level and maybe to the top, is standing in line. He seems like a safer choice than Kenny Atkinson and possesses a less off-putting manner than Thibodeau (before even getting to the fact Thibs may be too costly for the organization in terms of salary, necessary team control and possible compensation for the Bulls).
Dell Demps, go sign the notorious JVG.
How excited would you be if Jeff Van Gundy is named the next coach of the New Orleans Pelicans?
This poll is closed
5. Ecstatic - it doesn't get any better than this
4. Satisfied - not my top choice but I don't mind this ride
3. Eh - completely indifferent
2. Meh - I'd rather look behind door #2
1. Ugh - I fear another Titanic on the horizon