Before we dive in, take the time to read Oleh's outstanding look into Jeff Van Gundy for the New Orleans Pelicans if you haven't already. There are a number of excellent videos embedded in that piece where JVG really explains some of his overarching philosophies as a coach that you don't get during a standard telecast with ESPN. Now, with that under your belt let me take a hard look at the numbers behind Jeff Van Gundy the coach.
First and foremost, a Jeff Van Gundy candidacy is about defense. All the stats below I pulled from JVG's last six full seasons as an NBA coach. Going one more year back brings the 1998-99 lockout season into the discussion. That year was really weird thanks to the 50 game schedule. The rankings of the team are still in line with everything else here, but a number of the percentages and numbers are terribly skewed.
In his last six full seasons a JVG coached team has never finished worse than sixth in defensive rating or defensive effective field goal percentage allowed. His worst season as a head coach, the 2005-06 Houston Rockets, finished sixth in both categories. A 32 year old Juwan Howard led the team in minutes. Rafer Alston (29) and our current color commentator on Fox Sports New Orleans David Wesley (35) were second and third in minutes. That team had no business being a solid defensive team; yet they were anyway. Yao Ming and Tracey McGrady missed a combined 60 games.
|Knicks 1999-2000||1.30 (11th)||102.5 (21st)||100.9 (6th)||89.2 (29th)||0.147 (20th)||45.5% (5th)|
|Knicks 2000-01||1.98 (11th)||101.2 (19th)||98.2 (3rd)||86.7 (29th)||0.180 (11th)||45.3% (3rd)|
|Houston 2003-04||2.28 (9th)||100.9 (24th)||99.0 (5th)||87.8 (25th)||0.227 (4th)||44.7% (4th)|
|Houston 2004-05||4.27 (5th)||106.2 (15th)||101.7 (4th)||88.8 (24th)||0.237 (7th)||45.9 (3rd)|
|Houston 2005-06||-1.30 (19th)||101.6 (29th)||103.3 (6th)||88.0 (25th)||0.226 (11th)||47.2% (6th)|
|Houston 2006-07||5.04 (4th)||106.0 (15th)||100.7 (3rd)||90.7 (21st)||0.290 (1st)||46.6% (1st)|
Stats from Basketball Reference
Another huge point for me is Van Gundy's rapid acceptance of both pace and three point shooting far before its time. In his final six seasons 3-point attempts became a much bigger part of his offensive attack; culminating in leading the NBA in 3-point attempt rate (3PAr) in his final season in Houston. This was not just about Daryl Morey, although his hire as an assistant GM in 2006 certainly had some effect. Of course, Morey's ascension to General Manager in 2007 may have a something to do with Jeff Van Gundy's firing nine days later.
The 0.290 3PAr the Rockets put up in Van Gundy's final season would rank 11th (and much higher than the Pelicans 0.233) during the past season. This is important as all four participants in the conference finals rank within the top seven (Houston 1st, Cleveland 2nd, Atlanta 4th, Golden State 7th) in 3PAr for the year.
That brings me to pace. Notice that, relative to the league, Van Gundy's teams slowly but surely got faster. Those first two seasons with the Knicks there were only 29 teams in the league (pre-Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets). In 2006-07 the Rockets under Van Gundy played faster (90.7-89.8) and took far more 3-pointers (0.290-0.247) than the Gregg Popovich coached San Antonio Spurs. Do I expect JVG to coach one of the fastest teams in the NBA? No. Would he come close to, or possibly exceed, league average pace? Considering the direction his coaching has gone and the roster in New Orleans, I think it is a strong possibility.
JVG's acceptance and implementation of analytics on offense and defense is clear. Not only did that team lead the league in 3PAr, they were fifth in fewest long mid-range jump shots. Not only that, but as has usually been the case with great defensive teams, they force opponents to take the most of these inefficient shots while allowing the fewest attempts in the restricted area. The drum I have pounded all season, quit allowing shots at the basket, is a strength.
|Defense||0-3 %FGA||10-16 %FGA||16 < 3 %FGA|
|Houston 2003-04||0.256 (28th)||0.152 (7th)||0.266 (1st)|
|Houston 2004-05||0.257 (30th)||0.136 (10th)||0.271 (1st)|
|Houston 2005-06||0.252 (30th)||0.148 (3rd)||0.250 (7th)|
|Houston 2006-07||0.267 (30th)||0.142 (2nd)||0.259 (1st)|
Look at that! For three consecutive seasons no team in the NBA allowed fewer attempts within three feet of the basket than the Houston Rockets coached by Jeff Van Gundy. The worst they did, 28th, was in the last season with just 29 teams. All the while the Rockets forced opponents to take bushels long mid range jump shots. That's not just good defense; it is ideal defense.
When we weigh Van Gundy's age (he is only 53 despite being in a limelight for decades), his acceptance of analytics far before they became popularized, and his cost relative to other candidates (Tom Thibodeau could cost a basketball asset beyond his contract) I think the choice becomes clear. Does any of this mean that Van Gundy will take the job? Of course not. His position with ESPN is undoubtedly a lower stress position and I am sure the Worldwide Leader compensates him handsomely.
If Van Gundy is truly interested in coming to the Crescent City? Where's the dotted line for me to sign!