Player development is fast becoming a fourth pillar of NBA success, along with the draft, free agency and trades. If you can make what you already have better, it’s cost-effective and relieves pressure on the front office to hit home runs in the other categories. It can help in recruiting, too.
Development, of course, requires a coaching staff that’s at least as focused on improving individual performance as it is the x’s and o’s when players take the court. Does that require a tradeoff?
Adrian Wojnarowski, addressed that Friday when spoke with Brian Windhorst and Bobby Marks on his podcast about the hiring of Lloyd Pierce, a development coach, as the head coach of the Hawks. Pierce had been the development guy in Philly and Woj said look for more development coaches in the big seat, a trend he said began in Brooklyn.
But he noted, as well, that not everyone in the NBA thinks it’s a good idea.
“Kenny Atkinson is the new model for a head coach,” Woj told Windhorst and Marks. “The first [head] coach who came up as a player development guy who was known as a workout guy with teams and got guys better.
“He had a great reputation of making guys better, then developed on the bench and became a head coaching candidate.”
Now, Woj notes with Atkinson’s success developing young players and Pierce’s hire in Atlanta, a number of teams are considering other development types ... and are willing to sacrifice experience with x’s and o’s ... if that’s what it takes.
“You may see a new vehicle in the coaching profession because all these organizations are saying there are so many teams in rebuild,” Woj noted. “There are so many teams that are not trying to win and they’re saying for the next two or three years we’re gonna have a lot of young guys. We’re going to have some draft picks. And we feel like we’ve got to get those guys better.
“They’re less focused on how proficient a guy is tactically, x’s and o’s wise.”
And that has led to a debate inside the coaching community, which of course is dominated by guys who grew up with clipboards and might feel threatened. Those coaches, Woj noted, want to know, if a development coach isn’t a tactician, can’t handle on-court situations, does that hurt player development?
“Other coaches will say to you — I’ve had head coaches say to me — ‘that’s all great except that if you have a coach who doesn’t know what he’s doing, doesn’t know how to manage a game, doesn’t know how to organize a team on the floor --he’s just good in practice, he’s good in the gym, that is really holding back your development of players because you’re interjecting them into chaos on the court because it’s not organized or maybe it’s not organized and that defeats the whole purpose of growing young players.’”
Woj didn’t single out any coaches nor did he say the coaches he spoke to did. Instead, he described it all as “an interesting conversation,” adding “I think a lot of teams are having it as they’re going these searches right now.”
Before they hired Atkinson, the Nets went through eight coaches in seven years — Lawrence Frank, Tom Barrise (for two games), Kiki Vandeweghe, Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins and Tony Brown. All were clipboard guys with reps for x’s and o’s. How’d that work out?
- NBA player development coaches on life behind the scenes, training draft prospects and the biggest misconception about their job - Michael Scotto - The Athletic New York