Saturday, April 23, 2011

NBA Picks: Listen And Learn

Boy, did I get burned on some of my picks this year!

It was excruciating to watch as one team after another that I picked to do well performed below expectations.

At the same time, it was a valuable learning experience, one which I would like to pass along to all interested parties.

The most valuable lesson of all: consider the coach in your team evaluation!

My old method of analyzing a team was to look at the talent on the roster, see how much is there and how well it fits into traditional roles and positions and estimate a win total, with little or no regard for who the coach was.

But it's the coach who decides that Anthony Randolph doesn't deserve any playing time, who thinks Anthony Tolliver should be his first big man off the bench and who doesn't play Jeff Teague and goes with a seven-man rotation on the second night of a back-to-back.

The coach leads the team, evaluates the roster, sets the rotation, designs the plays, orchestrates the defense, hands out minutes, calls the timeouts, sets the strategies, approves the trades, guides the film sessions and everything else.

In short, the coach is everything!

You can have the most talented roster in the world and have them all fit perfectly together, but if the coach doesn't put the right players in the game at the right times, with a game-plan and a philosophy which produces wins, then it isn't worth a wooden nickel.

Whenever I write that certain things will happen, I feel a responsibility to explain things when they don't.

Even though all of the teams won more games than they did the year before, my expectations were much higher; so this is a look at the teams and what happened during the season to cause them to lose more games than what the talent on their rosters said they should have, with win improvement over the prior season in parentheses.


I take full responsibility for this one.

I knew this pick was in trouble from the moment I saw Detroit play its first preseason game against Miami and knew it minutes into the game.

The season-ending injury to Jonas Jerebko didn't help a team so thin up front.

But the bigger problems were a lack of early-season passion from Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince and disastrous coaching by John Kuester.

I had to dedicate two sections to Greg Monroe and his limited playing time by the end of November, and Kuester's rotation only got more puzzling from there, with players moving in and out of the lineup for no apparent reason even when they were playing well.

They gave New Jersey the first game of the season with a fourth-quarter meltdown and blew a 21-point lead to Chicago two games later.

A season which could have and should have started 2-1, maybe 3-0, started 0-3; and that pretty much set the tone for the season.

I could have never known that Hamilton and Prince would lie down and not compete like they did, but the failure evaluate John Kuester was all my fault.


Jonny Flynn's injury was the main factor in Minnesota's poor season.

Luke Ridnour doesn't have the athleticism to consistently beat his man off the dribble on offense or keep his man in front of him on defense.

This created a domino effect which hurt Minnesota on both sides of the ball.

A healthy Jonny Flynn, not the one we saw this season, gives Minnesota an advantage on almost every offensive possession because someone would be open on almost every play, either Flynn after he beats his man off the dribble or a teammate after a defender comes over to help after Flynn has gotten by his man.

That would then make the team virtually unstoppable with Flynn's court vision and passing ability and all of the weapons that they have.

It was a vision which never materialized due to Flynn being less than 100 percent.

Minnesota battled crucial injuries all season long, but once the team got relatively healthy, the real culprit came to light: Kurt Rambis.

There isn't nearly enough room in this section to fully detail all of the mistakes Kurt Rambis made this season, so I'll stick to one or two key ones and move on.

Rambis's offense is built to the weaknesses and not the strengths of his players.

Rambis has an offense which requires big men to handle and make decisions with the basketball and doesn't allow the point guard to freelance and improvise very much.

The problem is Darko Milicic, Kevin Love and Michael Beasley aren't very good at making decisions with the basketball; and freelancing and improvising are two of the things Flynn and Ridnour do best.

Rambis's rotation made you wonder what he was thinking, and his refusal to keep a shot-blocker on the floor at all times hurt Minnesota's defense as much as fouls and the turnovers caused by his sophisticated offense.

It wouldn't be fair to say Rambis will never succeed as a coach in the NBA, but he has a very long way to go.


Los Angeles is another team which got derailed by injuries.

Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and Randy Foye all missed significant time during the season.

Even with all of the injuries, it could still be said that Los Angeles played above expectations. But, in true Hollywood fashion, they did it in a way which wasn't expected.

In all of my writings, not one time did I mention the name DeAndre Jordan.

But his improvement and interior defense were huge factors in the team's turnaround.

I did evaluate Vinny Del Negro, and, appropriately, he was the only coach who didn't let me down, until they traded Baron Davis.


Jim O'Brien made me regret that I ever thought he was even a decent coach.

From benching TJ Ford, Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough to playing Danny Granger at power forward, O'Brien made more embarrassing moves than I care to remember.

He was rightfully fired during the season and replaced by Frank Vogel.

Vogel corrected every mistake except the TJ Ford one, but I've covered that so completely that there is no need to detail it any further here.

No injuries, just one poor coaching move after another continues to hurt this team.


There is a noticeable theme developing here: injuries and bad coaching.

And Golden State had a little too much of both this season.

There were times this year when Keith Smart had me so irate that I wished Golden State would hire me for an hour, so I could fire him myself!

He played Monta Ellis way too many minutes, had too many Don Nelson, small-ball tendencies; failed to utilize a bench which was good enough to be utilized and was highly unfair to rookies Jeremy Lin and Ekpe Udoh.

It took Smart until the last few games of the season to stop playing Vladimir Radmanovic off the bench at power forward and play Lou Amundson there instead, but he should have realized the need to do that after the game against Utah at the end of January, at the latest.

Non-starters Reggie Williams, Lin, Udoh and Amundson can all play; so Smart's limited confidence in them makes you question his ability to evaluate talent and his commitment to the winning philosophy of using a strong bench to keep the starters fresh.

And Lin and Udoh were treated like unwanted step-children, yanked from games for the slightest of errors while the veterans could make multiple mistakes without consequence.

For Lin, the benching might last weeks and include a trip to the development league.

Smart made almost as many mistakes as Kurt Rambis and most definitely held Golden State back this year.

And he most definitely makes you question whether he can win consistently in the NBA.

You live, and you learn.

And going into next season, you can bet that the coaches will be analyzed as thoroughly and completely as the rosters and the individual matchups on the court.

It is a process I already started going into this year's playoffs.

And if you are wise, you will do the same thing too.

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