From: Las Vegas
A well-thought out and reasonable take:
I think the point being missed about the Saunders hire is that the criteria that determines a successful HC in the NBA is changing. You’ve got guys from the G-League leading teams to the Finals in their first year. You’ve got retread experienced HCs mired in perennial mediocrity.
It seems like it used to be that the best coaches needed to have playing credibility and a fair amount of experience. They needed to be masters at X’s and O’s, or supreme motivators. Common to all, though, was the perception that the HC is the primary basketball strategy and coaching leverage point. I don’t think that’s true anymore.
The most forward thinking teams lean on their analytics, predictive modeling, and scouting to inform the actual strategies used on the floor. The Rockets have a made a living off doing this. You think D’Antoni is solely responsible for the strategy and tactics used?
I think what you see around the League is a mix of necessary components for success: scouting, analytics, X’s and O’s, player development (these are the big ones off the top of my head). You need to have a great person (or people) covering all of these to have your foot in the door, and you need all of these working together to achieve a synergy greater than the sum of the parts. Otherwise you end up with the Wolves or Pelicans, or last year’s Bucks. Talented teams that can’t quite put it together (I’m referencing underachieving more than competing for a title, as the Pels and Wolves obviously need more pieces to compete for a championship, and arguably they underachieved given what talents they did have).
I don’t think it matters as much who covers which component as long as someone does. As a result, it seems as though the new model for success in pro sports is a marriage of two executives: one on the FO side and one on the coaching side. I say executives because these guys need to be on the same page and establish the culture and business practices – the how – that everyone will use. What they actually do is often farmed out to the best people you can get, if it’s not in your skillset.
So the Vikings have Spielman and Zimmer, and Spielman has a bunch of great scouts and Bryz (salary cap genius). Zimmer is great at defense, and gets the best offensive coordinator he can. BUT, Zimmer is a master communicator and sets the entire culture of the team, and can tell Spielman exactly what he needs in players.
The Twins have Falvey and Levine. Falvey is an analytics guy, with a specialty in pitching. They hired Rocco Baldelli this year to establish the culture they wanted in the clubhouse, AND because Baldelli is a master communicator with players. Baldelli is 37 and has never been a manager before, so the Twins hired great coaches around them, and this year the Twins are a top 3 team in all of MLB.
So the Wolves hire Rosas, who hires Pascucci and Gupta, and also sticks with Saunders, whose chief skill is as a master communicator. Rosas has stated over and over again that Saunders will be surrounded by great coaches, and that Saunders chief responsibility is to establish culture and oversee all of these pieces working together – just like Baldelli or even Zimmer (although football isn’t quite so analytically driven). Kerr is a master communicator. So is Nurse, Bud, and many of the others.
These guys (HCs) don’t have to brilliant themselves at coming up with stuff – they need to be brilliant at sorting through all the insights your analytics staff is providing you and getting your team of coaches to put it together into something coherent and then message it to players and get them to buy in. The skill your analytics staff can’t give you is the communication/collaboration part. Can you imagine trying to get Smitch to partner effectively with Rosas? Or Thibs? So I think you see Rosas choosing to hire an innate skill that’s really hard to teach (communication/collaboration) that is a prerequisite for success on the floor when using analytics, and bank on his (Rosas’) ability to hire enough good people to cover any lack of experience or knowledge sets.
The Twins pulled a great pitching coach from the college ranks. These guys are out there – innovators who simply need a chance to prove their ideas and not get caught in the aristocracy of pro sports (where there are still a lot of decision makers who are very traditional – so you get idiot former players offering hot takes on national TV and then being considered as a GM for no other reason than they were once a good player?). It’s ridiculous.
I don’t know if Saunders will be successful. I fully buy into Rosas’ other moves, and am reserving judgment until we see the Wolves on the floor (and we see who is brought in as assistants). I think Rosas believes in himself and his own ability to tell any HC what works and what doesn’t. Saunders seems like a hire in line with that, and seems like the kind of thing you will see more and more in sports – HC as an executive rather than a tactician.
Posted by Dr. Wolfenstein on May 29, 2019 | 9:42 AM