I'm sorry folks, but mere hours into the new ushering of Pelicans basketball, I'm having trouble letting loose like the cast members on an episode of Glee. Less than two weeks ago, I took a hard look at Alvin Gentry, and although there were a lot of positives, his negatives were glaring. For now, we're only going focus on one because hey, we've got the rest of the summer to analyze Gentry, what he'll bring to the team, how it'll all unfold, etc.
Defense: it's been strikingly absent from Gentry's performance record.
In twelve seasons as head coach, his team has finished in the top half of the league's defensive rating just once, way back in 1998-99. Yet, he is seemingly getting a pass for this deficiency today. Just have a look at all the positive tweets David listed in his article published late last night: from Ziller to Lowe to Pflanns.
Consequently, I feel as though I'm being some sort of a Debbie Downer. The Pelicans are a young team with the most exciting big man in the game. Anthony Davis excels in the open floor because his speed and quickness are unparalleled at his position. With numerous capable ball handlers, the team should be running in transition and pushing the pace at every turn.
But, guys, what about the other end of the floor? Does it not trouble anyone else, that in all of Gentry's head coaching stints, the defensive ratings of his teams arranged from best to worst read 9th, 19th and everything else in the 20's, the bottom third of the league?
My favorite explanation is that the last two seasons in the NBA have somehow taught Gentry concepts and schemes which should help nullify the results of his first 24 years. Having served as an assistant to Doc Rivers on an 8th rated Clippers defense and then Steve Kerr and his top ranked defensive Warriors unit is shiny stuff to point to, yet are we sure enough information became permanently ingrained in the knowledge base of New Orleans new man at the helm?
If one isn't the top dog, roles are purposefully quite specialized, even among lead assistants. Just have a look at what Gentry said in an interview with Tim Kawakami earlier this month.
-Q: Luke, you and Steve talking during timeouts, and Ron is talking to the team about defense?
-GENTRY: Yeah, he talks defensive stuff. And we talk about maybe substitutions and rotations; we also talk about the play that we might want to run or who do we need to go to or who needs to have a shot, stuff like that.
Guess what, this has been Gentry's modus operandi before this season in Golden State.
It’s the same kind of thing that I did as a head coach; you have a couple of guys offensively you depend on and you have someone defensively that you can depend on. Usually they spend the first half of the timeout talking to the team while the other coaches are talking about what they’re going to do offensively.
With how intricate the game has become, this news shouldn't come as a total surprise. Personally, I don't think enough credit has been given to Steve Kerr for successfully divvying up the responsibilities on the Warriors: Gentry focused on offense and Ron Adams on defense.
But Kerr has the advantage not only of multiple Hall of Fame mentors but also a respected offensive sidekick in Gentry, whom he hired last June. Together, they created what Gentry calls a "melting pot" system on offense. Watch Warriors games and you’ll see the high-post action of Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, the drag screens and sideline tilts favored by Mike D’Antoni’s Suns (where Kerr served as GM from 2007-08 to '09-10), the low post splits from the old Jerry Sloan Utah handbook, and, most prominently, the motion offense and loop series of Popovich’s late-generation Spurs.
Under Adams, the Warriors run a "shell" protection scheme predicated on length, anticipation and the ability to think and act decisively. They switch most every pick and roll, taking advantage of all their interchangeable parts, and Adams expects everyone to contribute. To him, there’s no such thing as an innately poor defender.
Another argument that bothers me is that any defensive shortcomings will be better hidden next season when Gentry turns the attack into one of the most efficient offenses in the league. It is en vogue nowadays to say that a good offense is more important than a good defense, but unfortunately the facts don't agree. Here is a list of NBA champions since the turn of the century. All statistics are courtesy of NBA Stats.
|2014 Spurs||108.2 (6th)||100.1 (4th)||8.1 (1st)|
|2013 Heat||110.3 (1st)||100.5 (7th)||9.9 (2nd)|
|2012 Heat||104.3 (6th)||97.1 (4th)||7.2 (3rd)|
|2011 Mavericks||107.6 (8th)||102.3 (7th)||5.3 (7th)|
|2010 Lakers||105.9 (11th)||101.1 (5th)||4.9 (6th)|
|2009 Lakers||109.8 (3rd)||101.9 (5th)||7.9 (4th)|
|2008 Celtics||107.6 (10th)||96.2 (1st)||11.5 (1st)|
|2007 Spurs||106.7 (3rd)||97.4 (2nd)||9.2 (1st)|
|2006 Heat||106.4 (6th)||101.7 (9th)||4.7 (5th)|
|2005 Spurs||104.9 (8th)||95.8 (1st)||9.1 (1st)|
|2004 Pistons||99.1 (18th)||92.5 (2nd)||6.6 (3rd)|
|2003 Spurs||103.1 (6th)||96.6 (3rd)||6.5 (3rd)|
|2002 Lakers||106.5 (2nd)||98.7 (7th)||7.8 (1st)|
|2001 Lakers||105.6 (2nd)||101.7 (18th)||3.9 (8th)|
|2000 Lakers||104.6 (4th)||95.6 (1st)||9.0 (1st)|
With just a cursory glance (that's all that's needed), which of the three categories above has consistently the highest rankings? Yep, Net Ratings. For the last 15 years, NBA champions have proven that it is better to be good overall than fret about dominating one side of the ball.
This past season, the Pelicans finished with the league's 9th highest ORtg (105.4), the 9th worst DRtg (104.7) and the 15th best NetRtg (0.7). In the list above, have a look at the worst figures in each category. You should see the 2004 Pistons had the worst offense of the group (99.1), the 2011 Mavericks the worst defense (102.3) and the 2001 Lakers the lowest net rating (3.9). The Pelicans best chance for bumping up their Net Rating is through defensive improvement, no?
My favorite paragraph from last night was by Kevin Pelton: Gentry ready to speed up the Pelicans.
Typically, fast-paced teams struggle to also lock down at the defensive end. Golden State stands as a giant exception. As Insider Tom Haberstroh noted midseason, the Warriors became the first team in modern NBA history to lead the league in both pace of play and defensive rating. Gentry can draw on that experience, but he also needs defensive expertise on his coaching staff, as Golden State has with veteran assistant Ron Adams, Gentry's counterpart on the defensive side of the court. Until we know who will fill out his staff, it's hard to properly evaluate the decision to hire Gentry.
Yeah, I know, I've often disagreed with Pelton's assessments in the past, but I think he's absolutely on the money with this one. It's too soon to get excited. We've only read the first section of a book that contains two parts.
Think of Alvin Gentry as the yin, and for the Pelicans to achieve the goal of feng shui, they need to hire the perfect complementary piece, a defensive mastermind to fill the role of the yang. If the hire ends up being the wrong one, the regular season rides may end up fun, but sadly, they'll never result in going home with the girl, an NBA trophy.