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Rating A Coach

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Rating A Basketball Coach (2001 NBA Finals)
by Sidney Goldstein Copyright © 2001 (revised)

There are at least 3 ways to rate a coach. One, game coaching ability is the least important, because coaches usually plan strategy ahead of time, not invent it during the game. Coaches with less experienced players have virtually no chance to strategize. Instructing more knowledgeable players in a game falls into a different category.
second way to evaluate a coach is his teaching ability. How much does each player improve individually. Consider moves, passing ability, decision making, shooting, foul shooting, and each other skill. Improvement should be dramatic.

third is understanding the game. What is most important for your team to play well and win? The answer to this one is simple, yet pro coaches regularly do not heed these maxims:
1. basketball is a physical game: at the pro level, if you are ready to win the fight you are ready to win the game. No finesse please.
2. only the conditioned will survive: players need to be as strong and fast as possible. Weight training and cardiovascular conditioning (running) are essential.
3. the team that owns the area around the basket, I call it the "blood and guts" area, wins the game. Offensive and defensive rebounding are critical.
4. the team with the most 3 foot or less shots usually wins: you always need to push the ball inside on offense.
5. a good defense can mute a good offense, not the other way around.

How do pro and college coaches measure up and what are some indications? Most college and pro coaches have absorbed tons of information about basketball. However, much of this info is bogus, not essential, and misses the point. Some indicators to look for:
A.The Big Play is the most notable myth, because execution determines offensive success, not the magic of a play. The bigger the play book, the less the understanding of the game.

B. Players tiring out in the 2nd half because of a lack of conditioning. Defense is nearly 100% conditioning. On offense, the ability to run past defenders is an important facet, maybe the most important part, of a player's game. Conditioning is the number one job of a coach.

C. All pro and college players need to be in weight training programs, so if you don't see players' muscles enlarging or more muscle definition then we have another indicator.

D. If a coach expects to win games based on 3 point shooting without an inside game, there is a problem. Add up the numbers: the 3 pt shooting average is usually under 40%; the 3 foot shooting average is probably double.
Working the ball inside (and out) has other beneficial effects:
* defense collapse allowing outside players less contested or uncontested shots.
* puts the defense off balance, so inside cutters can be more effective.
* prevents opponents from a quick transition to offense because the defense is out-of-sync or stressed.

E. If a coach does not send players under the offensive boards then there is a problem. Believe it or not, many teams rebound poorly because they just do not send players to the boards. Like Woody Allen says,"Showing up is 70% of success."

F. Consistency of play. Do players play the best way all the time? Does the offense flow? Do players look inside or just settle for an outside shot? Do players always go for offensive rebounds? Do shooting and foul shooting averages vary greatly? And so on.

G. Probably the best way to rate a coach is to determine how much the last ( or worst) players on the team develop. With sensible effective training methods these players should greatly improve.
How I rate coaches?

The two areas of most importance are understanding of the game and teaching. Most pro coaches range between an A and C on understanding, between C and E on teaching. College coaches usually fair lower in both categories.
Of the two coaches in the 2001 finals, Phil Jackson, LA Lakers, gets the highest grade on understanding. His teams usually do it right. He gets the most from each player. He does a half decent job teaching: Shaq has improved his game tremendously, yet unfortunately has still not learned how to shoot well.
Larry Brown, Phila 76ers, receives an B+ to an A for understanding and much less for teaching. He may know how the team is supposed to play, but inconsistency shows that his training methods leave a lot to be desired. One minute they look like a great team, the next minute they look like they need help.
If I had more information on a team's practice methods I could give a more accurate rating. Of course, both coaches have teams that revolve around young superstars (Iverson and Bryant) that regularly need calming down. And great athletes present formidable defenses that greatly effect offensive play, especially if team play is lacking. However, these coaches have the best players in the world available for at least 4-8 hours a day about 9 months a year. So, I expect they could do better.

Your comments are welcome.

Sidney Goldstein, author of The Basketball Coach's Bible and The Basketball Player's Bible, has successfully coached both men's and women's teams over a period of 15 years.

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