A chief reason ‘coaching matters’ in the NBA

As the so-called “stats-based” analysis of basketball has proliferated in the on-line community, a popular mantra has developed which goes something like this:

Coaching, per se, does not really matter in the NBA. Instead, having enough ‘above-average-to-great’ players on your team is what really determines winning from losing in the game of basketball.
- Every Stats-based Basketball Guru Under The Sun

For further reference, please see the work of Dr. David Berri [and his disciples] and an ever-increasing variety of terrific basketball-focused web sites like:

Wages of Wins Journal
Basketball Prospectus

Well …



If/when you examine closely what actually happened during last night’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals what you should be able to see is a perfect example of why the people who consistently de-value the contributions made by an authentic elite level head coach to the success or failure of his team are not really worth listening to … as far as being able to accurately determine “Winners from Losers” in the game of basketball is concerned.

If the Mavericks’ stellar head coach, Rick Carlisle, did not make the proper offensive adjustment … which he made, in spades, coming down the stretch of the 4th quarter, in Game 2 … then, in all likelihood, Dallas would now find itself in a significant deficit situation [i.e. 0-2], heading home for Game 3, while the Miami Heat would be virtually guaranteed to win the 2010-2011 NBA Championship.


[NOTE: These video clips are from NBA Playbook, where Sebastian Pruiti has done a bang-on job of breaking down the Mavericks' use of the "Staggered Wing Picks Series" last night.]

What Dallas emphasized on Offense in Game 1


In contrast with …

What Dallas emphasized on Offense in Game 2 … with 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter


Yes, having enough “above-average to great” players on your team is most certainly a fundamental requirement in order to win a NBA Championship … but so, too, is it a fundamental requirement that your team also has an authentic “elite level head coach” who is able to see accurately what is actually happening on the floor in a game AND then make the right adjustments to put his players in the best position possible to succeed against a high calibre opponent.

Players make plays to win or lose basketball games … based on whether, or not, they are actually put into the most advantageous positions possible to succeed by their head coach and his staff.


PS. The proverbial “ball” is now back in the hands of Erik Spoelstra. It will be very interesting to see what adjustments he will make next to Miami’s defensive scheme.

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4 Responses to “A chief reason ‘coaching matters’ in the NBA”

  1. Scott G Says:

    the staggered ball screen and the screen-the-screener action seemed to have the Heat completely confused in the last 5 minutes. That said, I thought it was the Heat’s failure to get good looks at the rim over the closing minutes that was the biggest reason they lost. Terrible shot selection, stemming from a total lack of offensive creativity.

    As you say, it will be interesting to see how Coach Spo and the Heat respond.

  2. khandor Says:

    Spoelstra & Co. were more ready last night and made a solid defensive adjustment in the early stages of the game that involved the following:

    - the ball defender going under both picks
    - the 1st pick defender staying home vs Nowitzki
    - the 2nd pick defender soft hedging [to push Terry out beyond the 3PT-line] and then recovering back to Chandler
    - the low [i.e. Drift position] defender sinking into the lane to provide early help vs Chandler rolling to the basket]

    The late game offensive adjustment which Spoelstra ran was also highly successful, generating a high percentage catch & shoot mid-range jump-shot for Chris Bosh coming from the soft double team at the top of the key against Dwyane Wade:

    - Wade dribbled to the right FT-Line Extended [vs the double team by Kidd & Marion]
    - Chalmers was spotting up in the ball side Corner [vs Terry]
    - James flashed high to the Top Of The Key to get a pass from Wade
    - Haslem Screened-In on Dirk Nowitzki [who was left to defend vs Haslem AND Bosh when Chandler rotated to James]
    - James then passed to Bosh
    - Bosh nailed the game-winning jump-shot

  3. Statement Says:

    You misunderstand every “stats-based guru”

    The conclusion is not that coaching doesn’t really matter, it’s that the majority of coaches in the NBA tend to be of a simliar ability, such that they don’t differentiate themselves from each other.

    Coaches matter, the best coaches separate themselves from the pack.

  4. khandor Says:


    Although those might be the conclusions which you and I might be able to draw from an accurate evaluation of the available data, IMO, those are not, in fact, the conclusions which have been drawn by the likes of David Berri and his ilk.

    IMO, astute basketball observers would actually have this to say about the role which coaches play in determining winners from losers in the NBA:

    Since the vast majority of NBA head coaches fail to distinguish themselves in a positive way from the rest of the pack, it is MORE important rather than LESS important whenever a team is actually able to identify and then hire one of the exceptional [i.e. few/rare] head coaches who is, in fact, capable of making a substantive difference to the way that his team actually performs in games, on a consistent basis.

    Indeed, this is the exact opposite of what is customarily espoused by the “stats-based gurus”.

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