Connect with us

NBA

Ranking the NBA’s Top 10 Head Coaches

Ben Dowsett ranks the top 10 current head coaches in the NBA.

Ben Dowsett

Published

on

Let’s get this out of the way from the jump: It’s not humanly possible to create a top-down list of the best coaches in the NBA that’s objectively correct. There’s simply too much unknown within their day-to-day responsibilities for us to judge their quality with 100 percent accuracy, and that’s before we even try to weigh various elements of the job by importance. Talk to 10 different league executives, and you’d get 10 different sets of rankings. Complicating matters is the fact that the league has perhaps never been so collectively strong behind the bench, with few true liabilities left as smart front offices pick the low-hanging fruit.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean we know nothing about coaches. As always, there are indicators here and there that, if properly utilized, can paint a broad picture and at least help us separate the best from the worst. Things like rotations, schemes, out-of-timeout plays, a track record of youth development and overall culture are all elements we can draw from to at least fill in the margins of the conversation.

Using these markers and a healthy dose of subjective preference (again, just to reiterate, a healthy dose of subjective preference), let’s rank the top bench bosses in the game as of this moment.

  1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

For as difficult as it can be to get NBA thinkers to fully agree on anything, this one comes as close to consensus as possible. Pop has been among the driving forces behind the most imitated team culture in professional sports over the last decade – one that produces other elite coaches (one of whom is on this list behind him) at nearly the same rate it produces championships. The Spurs are the model for player development despite never even approaching a rebuild during Popovich’s tenure. It’s certainly not solely on his shoulders, but no franchise has had as much consistent success persuading aging stars to put the team over themselves and take less money to stay in town. And, of course, he’s in the elite tier when it comes to the raw Xs and Os. Pop is the top head coach in the NBA, and arguably in all of North American team sports.

  1. Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks

Another coach with a former disciple listed beneath him here, Carlisle has become the league’s poster boy for doing more with less. Only the Spurs have been more consistent out West over the last 10 years, and Carlisle has done it with a single transcendent star (Dirk Nowitzki) rather than a core featuring a top-10 player ever (Tim Duncan) flanked by a couple no-doubt Hall-of-Famers (Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker). Carlisle isn’t flashy, but his ability to extract every drop of talent from often iffy rosters is unmatched in the league. He’s strong with Xs and Os and fantastic with rotations; he was an early adopter of staggered rest periods for star players, and the way he rotates Nowitzki may have helped extend the big German’s career. He’ll make your great talent elite and your marginal talent great.

  1. Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons

Van Gundy has been in and out of the league, but throughout his time he gets full marks in every relevant area. His youth development, particularly with gifted young big men like Dwight Howard and Andre Drummond, is top notch. His players generally love him (Howard saga aside), and he brings a solid mix of an old-school approach and modern thinking. Van Gundy is great as an in-game tactician, and he isn’t afraid to push unpopular buttons if they get the job done. There are no real weaknesses to his resume, and his track record is long and successful. Few others offer a combination of such a high floor and ceiling from the coaching position.

  1. Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers

Like Portland star Damian Lillard, Stotts is perpetually underrated and continues to fly under the radar for many NBA fans. He took a team some had penciled in for a high lottery pick last year to the second round of the playoffs, primarily behind an offensive scheme that perfectly maximized the talents of Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Stotts is quietly an Xs and Os wizard who commonly runs tactical circles around his counterparts. His ability to maintain these detailed systems without overloading his (mostly young) players is a careful balancing act many aren’t capable of. It’s no surprise he made his bones under Carlisle in Dallas before graduating to the head spot, where he’s a safe bet to remain for the foreseeable future.

  1. Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

Another play-calling maestro, Stevens was the star of a recent piece in this space that isolated individual out-of-bounds sets and the top coaches who call them. He has a flair even guys like Stotts or Pop don’t typically show off, frequently busting out genius-level calls that are visibly impressive even to casual basketball fans. He’s a strong coach elsewhere, as well; his track record naturally isn’t long yet, but he’s done very well with a blend of youth and savvy veterans in Boston to this point. His teams have generally operated as wholes greater than the sum of their parts, and Stevens could get his due in the public eye with more talent on board than ever this season.

  1. Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks

Long a behind-the-scenes guy for Pop as the Spurs became the most successful small-market franchise of all-time, Budenholzer has gotten his time to shine in recent years. His embrace of team-centric offense was brought on by the ostensible lack of a single superstar on his roster, but along with his former charges in San Antonio, it helped usher in a new way of thinking about ball movement and spacing within the league. Bud is known as one of the most player-friendly coaches in recent memory; you can’t find a single former player of his without several positive anecdotes up their sleeve. His work on the personnel side is a bit more questionable, but Budenholzer’s Hawks teams are in great shape behind the bench.

  1. Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets

With the possible future exception of Mike D’Antoni in Houston, no coach in the league brings with him a system that has such a notably visible – and efficient – effect on his team’s approach to the game. Clifford’s Hornets very rarely turn the ball over (they’ve posted the lowest turnover percentage in the NBA three years straight), dominate the defensive glass while punting the offensive boards intentionally and play a disciplined style of defense some might even call boring. In each case, Clifford’s strict principles have clearly trickled down and improved individuals on his roster: Kemba Walker, Nic Batum, Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson are just a few names who have seen easily the best spans of their careers once Clifford’s approach took hold.

  1. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

Some might argue Kerr belongs higher given his significant success over the course of his two years as a head coach, but it’s important to remember that some areas of his coaching repertoire really haven’t been tested at all. His smart tweaks and perpetuation of a freer system deserve a ton of credit for unlocking the juggernaut in this group, particularly with regard to Draymond Green’s ascent as a player, but Kerr has yet to be asked to develop true youth or work with a lesser roster to achieve success. This isn’t his fault, of course: he chose a great destination for his first coaching job, and deserves the success he’s earned on top of that. But he hasn’t been so perfect in observable areas that he deserves the nod over guys with more diversified track records, even if it’s likely he’ll shoot past several of them over the next few years due to the sheer volume of his potential success. Think of this as an “Incomplete” grade with a built-in nod to his undeniable achievements.

  1. Erik Spoelstra, Miami HEAT

It’s fair if one chooses to knock Spo a bit for a relative lack of success since LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, but this is both overstated and not enough to cancel out his other strengths. Spoelstra took a huge leap of faith a few years ago in pioneering a small-ball style that’s swept the league ever since, and this sort of willingness to think outside the box pervades his entire coaching style. Spoelstra doesn’t care if his approach is traditional or totally off the wall, as long as it gets the job done. No coach has had to deal with the loss of more talent over the past few years; the HEAT have done about as well as one could have hoped weathering the storms of James’ heartbreaker and Chris Bosh’s devastating health situation. How the next few years go as Miami looks to build its way back to the top of the heap could determine whether Spo remains on this list or slides back.

  1. Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota Timberwolves

A few years ago, rating Thibs this far back would have been a near-crime in some NBA circles. He’s taken a bit of time away, though, and it’s worth noting that he’s another head coach whose entire resume is from a single, highly specific situation. Some of that is because Thibodeau made it that way; he tailored his Bulls teams to his defensive ingenuity, which has infected the entire league since he became the first coach to fully grasp the ramifications of defensive rule changes over a decade ago. He starts here for now, but could rise or fall quickly once we see him with his new personnel in Minnesota.

Honorable Mentions (in no order):

Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz: Snyder already has the player development side locked down, doing a fantastic job with numerous Jazz youngsters. He’s yet to take a team to the playoffs, though, even if there’s injury context at play.

Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers: His personnel boss alter-ego damages his reputation, but Doc is still an excellent players’ coach who pulls a nice tactical rabbit out of his hat on occasion. His offenses are consistently simple but excellent – exactly as they should be given his personnel.

Michael Malone, Denver Nuggets: Malone didn’t deserve the way he was treated in Sacramento, and he’s quietly done a great job with every roster he’s been given in a still-young head coaching career.

Frank Vogel, Orlando Magic: Vogel is another coach who could move up or down quickly depending on his job with the Magic, but his teams perform consistently above expectations on both ends. Several notable Pacers players left town and saw their level of play drop sharply.

Dave Joerger, Sacramento Kings: Let’s all take a moment to pray to whichever basketball gods we worship for Joerger’s sanity and health in Sacramento. If he can affect real change where so many others have failed for reasons often outside their control, he too could move up the list in a hurry.

 

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

NBA Daily: Tank Tracker 2018

Basketball Insiders looks at the NBA’s race to the bottom as teams jockey for lottery position.

Buddy Grizzard

Published

on

With the NBA All-Star game behind and the home stretch of the regular season ahead, this is the time of year when contenders contend and pretenders stop pretending. It’s time for the NBA’s annual race to the bottom with a crowded field featuring four teams from each conference with better odds of getting help through the draft than making a playoff run.

Although Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for public statements detrimental to the NBA for saying the Mavericks should tank, the assumption here is always that players play to win. Every year the NBA Draft brings 30 new first round picks with guaranteed contracts into the league (minus any players that opt to play overseas). That’s 30 NBA jobs that will be taken away from veterans and given to rookies, not counting second-round picks and undrafted free agents who will take still more jobs. Rank-and-file players are playing for their place in the league, not to help their team get in position to draft a potential replacement.

Here we’ll look at teams that are clearly out of the playoff race and factors that could impact draft position as the final stretch of the season unfolds. Below is a tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski from September showing odds to land a top-three pick. This is the final season under the old lottery system (odds in parenthesis) before the new system takes effect next season.

Starting next year, the four worst teams will have nearly-identical odds to land a top-three pick. Since this is the last year in which teams dramatically increase odds of landing a top-three pick the more they lose, the race for lottery position could be as fun to watch as the race for playoff position. With a deep talent pool for the upcoming NBA Draft, the plot gets even thicker.

The Playoff Contenders

Before we look at teams that are clearly not contending for a playoff spot, we’ll mention teams that are out of playoff position but fighting to get in. In the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Pistons acquired Blake Griffin before the trade deadline and are only 1.5 games behind the Miami HEAT for the eighth playoff seed. If Detroit can get point guard Reggie Jackson back healthy — a big if — then the Pistons could get into the playoffs and constitute a scary match-up in the first round.

Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post tweeted Wednesday that Jackson has been cleared for light running and shooting as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.

Also in the East, although the Charlotte Hornets appear headed nowhere, it’s a veteran-heavy squad that will do all it can to claw its way to a playoff spot. With point guard Kemba Walker making a second All-Star appearance and veterans Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum uninterested in building through the draft this late in their careers, expect Charlotte to do everything in its power to close the five-game gap with the HEAT.

In the West, although the Clippers moved on from Griffin, the team remains just one game behind the eighth-seed Pelicans with a 7-3 record in its last 10 games. The Clippers are another veteran-laden squad with too much pride to play for lottery balls. However, the Clippers’ hopes of being a playoff spoiler are complicated by the league’s hottest team, the Jazz. Utah owns a league-best 11-game win streak and sits a half game behind the Clippers.

Honorable mention goes to the Lakers, which sit a dismal eight games behind the Pelicans in the Western Conference standings. The Lakers have almost no chance to make the playoffs but won’t be participating in this season’s tank-a-thon since either the 76ers or Celtics will own its first-round draft pick. L.A. traded two future firsts for Steve Nash in 2012 but has yet to convey the final pick due to protections in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The pick will go to Philly if it’s first overall or lower than fifth, but will otherwise convey to the Celtics. The 76ers used the pick with added protections to move up last year and draft Markelle Fultz with the first overall pick.

Additionally, the Nets do not make the list since the Cavaliers own their unprotected first round pick from the Kyrie Irving trade with the Celtics. The Nets aren’t tanking, they just lack the talent to compete and currently hold the league’s fifth-worst record.

New York Knicks, 24-36

The Knicks are the last entrant into the NBA’s annual race to the bottom owing to Kristaps Porzingis’ season-ending ACL injury. Prior to the injury, the Knicks were doing everything in the team’s power to start the post-Carmelo Anthony era with a playoff appearance. With Porzingis now sidelined for an extended period, the goal shifts to improving the talent around him.

Chicago Bulls, 20-38

The Bulls recently announced that Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba will replace veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday in the starting lineup. Both received a DNP-CD in Thursday’s one-point loss to the 76ers. This is a team in naked tank mode, but it has the most games remaining against other teams on this list. Chicago has its tanking work cut out for it, but the recent lineup decisions show that the Bulls are serious about getting the job done.

Memphis Grizzlies, 18-38

While the Bulls are shameless in pursuit of lottery balls, you can’t blame the Grizzlies for the horrendous injury luck that put the team in this position. It’s a lost season for Memphis, and help in the lottery could be difficult to find since only the Bulls and Magic have more games remaining against teams on this list.

Orlando Magic, 18-40

The Magic have the second-worst record in the East but are matched by the Kings and Mavericks. Counting the Grizzlies, this makes six teams with only 18 wins. This is the heart of the tanking field, and the Magic fully committed when it traded starting point guard Elfrid Payton, a former lottery pick, for a future second-round pick. Orlando has a six-game stretch against teams in playoff contention that should help, but it also has a large number of games remaining against lottery contenders.

Sacramento Kings, 18-40

The Kings did well to get out of the $19 million owed to George Hill next season in a pre-deadline trade with the Cavaliers. Losing the team’s starting point guard also has the benefit of more minutes to develop De’Aaron Fox while upping the odds of adding a quality piece next to him in the draft. Unfortunately, the Kings had a recent stretch of four wins in ten games.

Dallas Mavericks, 18-40

No caveats or disclaimers are needed here since Cuban has gone public with his desire to lose as many games as possible. Aiding Cuban’s cause is that the Mavs are tied with the Hawks and Suns for fewest remaining games against teams on this list.

Atlanta Hawks, 18-41

Equal to the Suns for the league’s worst record, the Hawks come out of the All-Star break in pole position for the Tank 500. However, the team is 4-6 in the last 10 games and lost a ton of close games this year. The Hawks are literally better than the record suggests, and join the Magic and Kings by insisting on shooting themselves in the foot with late-season wins that could poison the lottery well.

As NBA.com’s K.L. Chouinard noted, the Hawks have a net rating of +9.1 in minutes Ersan Ilyasova and Dewayne Dedmon share. Only John Collins and Isaiah Taylor have out-performed this combo among two-man units that have shared at least 200 minutes.

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer wisely opted to limit the pair to 227 minutes together this season, but the Hawks seem like a team in danger of tumbling out of position for a top-three pick despite how well-positioned the team is currently.

Phoenix Suns, 18-41

When it comes to the gold standard in tanking, nobody tops the Suns. The team shares a league-worst record with the Hawks, has a tough remaining schedule and is showing how it’s done with a 1-9 record in its last 10 games. With the team’s litany of poor draft selections and disastrous trades and free agency decisions, the lottery is the only place Phoenix can turn to for improvement. The prediction here is that nobody out-tanks the Suns the rest of the way.

Continue Reading

NBA

Second Half NBA Story lines

With the All-Star break in the rearview, here are the key storylines to keep an eye on for the home stretch of the season.

Dennis Chambers

Published

on

The long winter has ended.

Ok, not really. But the break after All-Star weekend has finally come to a halt, and the second half of the NBA season is ready to get underway.

Each team has around 25 games remaining on the schedule. February is in its last week, and March and April will truly define how the May schedule aligns. The first leg of this season provided more than enough entertainment, combating the narrative that the regular season is a bit of a bore nowadays.

Because of some unexpected turns through the 50-plus games already played, this final stretch that will bring the regular season to a close should be more than entertaining for the fans that think the NBA season is just a six-month placeholder for the inevitable.

So, as we get ready to bounce back into action Thursday night, let’s focus on what needs to be monitored down the homestretch.

Houston Rockets can make the Finals

When the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant, a narrative swept across the league that everyone not in the Bay area should just wave the white flag. Game over.

After dropping just one game through the entire postseason last year, completely decimating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals, the assumptions were proved correct.

But things may be different this year.

The Houston Rockets are trying to end the Warriors’ Durant-Era dynasty before it starts. After trading for Chris Paul in the offseason, the Rockets are in a legitimate position to pose a threat to Golden State.

At the moment, the Rockets have the best offense in the NBA. But, not just for this season, for every season. Their efficiency is revolutionary and unprecedented. Their defense is improved, too. Ranking 18th in defensive rating last season, Houston is eighth this season, and proving to be competent enough on that end to get a few stops of their own against the Warriors. In fact, Houston has won two of the three meetings between the two Western Conference powerhouses so far this season.

For all of the damage Houston put on the league pre-All-Star break, and even leaping Golden State in the standings, the oddsmakers are taking notice.

Take a look at how drastically the Rockets’ odds at contending for a title have changed from the summer to present day. According to this odds tracker on Sports Betting Dime, Houston has almost entered the same realm as Golden State in the bettors’ mind.

Postseason basketball is a different beast, and Durant and Steph Curry are as formidable a tandem as any (not to mention their supporting cast), but the growing pile of statistics that says Houston has more than a puncher’s chance is becoming hard to ignore.

These last 25 or so games will be telling as to if the Rockets are truly a team that can go shot-for-shot with the mighty Warriors.

LeBron’s new teammates

The trade deadline in Cleveland was basically a mass upheaval of the roster the Cavaliers had struggled with for the first four months of the season.

Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose and Channing Frye were all shipped from The Land in hopes to bring LeBron James new players that could help him back to his eighth straight Finals appearance.

So far, so good.

The return that brought George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., into wine and gold gave the Cavaliers a much-needed boost heading into the All-Star break. Since the trade, Cleveland has won three straight games, the last two including a blowout victory against the Boston Celtics, and a road win in Oklahoma City.

But, before the roster turnovers, the Cavaliers were one of the league’s worst defensive units. Their lack of consistent effort on a nightly basis was beginning to spread doubt in the basketball minds across the league that the team would be equipped enough to beat the Celtics or Toronto Raptors in the postseason.

Coming out of the break, the Cavaliers will take on another playoff contender in the Washington Wizards. Another strong showing from the new-look Cavs could further the belief that the team is now in a better position to make their way to a fourth straight Finals.

As the regular season comes to its final stages, close eyes will be kept on Hood, Hill, Nance and Clarkson. They’re the key to any real postseason success Cleveland hopes to have. We know LeBron will be there at the end, at this point, and it’s worth watching to see if it teammates can join him.

Tight Playoff Races

For all the talk that surrounds the lack of disparity and entertainment around the league, the playoff races in both conferences appear to be coming down to the wire.

In the West, the 10th-seed Utah Jazz is just two and a half games behind the 5th-seed Oklahoma City Thunder. In between the two clubs, Denver, Portland, New Orleans and the L.A. Clippers are all clawing for spots in the postseason.

Over their last 10 games, every team besides the Thunder is at least .500. The Jazz have won 11 straight games, the Clippers are 7-3 and surging, Denver is hoping to return Paul Millsap to their lineup soon, the Trail Blazers have the luxury of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and while the Pelicans have lost DeMarcus Cousins, their three straight wins suggest they’re learning to live without Boogie.

That’s six teams fighting fiercely for four playoff spots. Each is deserving and well-equipped enough to make it to the postseason happen.

The West isn’t the only conference with a wild bunch at the bottom of the playoff standings. The Eastern Conference contenders also find themselves in the midst of a playoff battle post-All-Star break.

Just outside of the playoff picture at the moment, the Detroit Pistons, with new star Blake Griffin, are just four and a half games behind the 5th-seeded Indiana Pacers. Philadelphia, Miami and Milwaukee are all also vying for their spot in the playoffs.

At the moment, the Miami HEAT seems to be on the verge of being the odd man out, losing two straight before the break and seven of their last 10 games. As the Pistons begin to find new life with Griffin, they could bump Miami right out of the picture if their slide continues as games pick back up.

With a limited number of games remaining, each of these teams in both conferences cannot afford to fall into a rut. Coming down to the final weeks of the season, watching the playoff carousel develop will be entertaining and worthwhile.

In the blink of an eye, the 2017-18 regular season is almost over. Be sure to keep an eye on these unfolding storylines as the league charges towards playoff basketball.

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA Daily: Larry Nance Jr. Is Ready To Move On

At All-Star Weekend, Larry Nance Jr. talked about moving on from being traded, Dr. J and the love that Los Angeles still has for him.

Ben Nadeau

Published

on

At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Larry Nance Jr. found that out the hard way when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018 first-rounder just a few weeks ago.

Naturally, Nance was due back at the Staples Center nine days later to compete in the league’s annual slam dunk contest. Although he would finish second to the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Nance was frequently reminded just how many fans he still has out on the West Coast.

“It’s either one of two responses,” Nance said over the weekend. “Either people don’t understand how a trade works and they ask me why I left, or, you know: ‘Larry, we miss you, come back in free agency’ and stuff like that. So, either way, they’re kinda on my side — I mean, I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”

Over his first three seasons, Nance had become a familiar contributor for the Lakers, using his rim-rocking athleticism to carve out a steady role under two different head coaches. Before he was moved to the Cavaliers, Nance was on pace to set career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.4). This statistical rise also comes in the midst of his field goal percentage jumping all the way up to 59.3 percent — a mark that would rank him fifth-highest in the NBA if he qualified.* Given the noteworthy change of scenery, his current average of 3.6 field goals per game could grow as well.

But as the Lakers prepare for a potentially crucial offseason, the front office remained committed to shedding salary ahead of free agency, where they may or may not chase the likes of LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. In just three short years, Nance had quickly become a fan favorite as a jaw-dropping in-game dunker and an improving prospect on a cheap rookie contract, so his involvement at the deadline may have come as a surprise to many as it was for him.

“It’s been a week, so, no, it’s still kinda like: ‘Jeez, I gotta pick up and move right now,’” Nance said. “So, no, I’m not fully adjusted, I’m not, for a lack of a better term, over it. But it’s still fresh in my mind, it’s something that is still kind of shocking.”

Nance, for his worries, is now a key member of the James-led Cavaliers, a franchise that has won 11 more games than the Lakers and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Cavaliers will likely have to go through the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James himself has reached the championship series every year since the 2009-10 postseason. With the Cavaliers’ maniacal mid-season reboot — which also brought in Rodney Hood, George Hill and the aforementioned Clarkson — they could be poised for an encore performance.

Since he was acquired by Cleveland, Nance and the Cavaliers are 3-0 and, just like that, much of the lingering narrative has been reversed. As the Cavaliers look to further stabilize their season, Nance figures to play a large part down the stretch, particularly so as All-Star Kevin Love continues to rehab from a broken hand.

Still, Nance knows that the Cavaliers will certainly face some speed bumps along the way.

“It’s a learning process, obviously we started out super fast, but there will be a learning process,” Nance stated. “Just like there is with every team and every new group, so we’ll figure it out and we’ll get past it [for the] playoffs.”

But before he makes his first-ever postseason appearance, Nance returned to Los Angeles in an attempt to capture a slam dunk title, something his father — Larry Nance Sr. — did in the inaugural competition way back in 1984. In that contest, the older Nance famously upset Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take home the crown in a nine-person field. On Saturday, Nance paid homage by changing into a retro Phoenix Suns uniform to execute his father’s signature dunk — the rock-the-cradle throwdown that won it all 34 years ago.

“For me, [his highlights were] like normal kid Sesame Street or Barney or something. I was watching his clips when I was growing up, so, yeah, I see it all the time,” Nance recalled.

But when asked what he remembers the most about those distant memories, the second generation son decidedly kept it in the family.

“The fact that he beat Dr. J,” Nance said. “Dr. J is normally thought of as almost like the dunk inventor, kinda brought the dunk contest back — but, really, [I remember] my dad.”

Although Nance couldn’t replicate his father’s success in the contest, his emphatic, springy dunks indicated that the 6-foot-9 skywalker could be an event staple for years to come. In one of the best dunks all night, Nance pulled off the rare double tap — a jam so technically difficult, that he immediately told the judges to look at the jumbotron to make sure they understood what exactly he had just pulled off.

Nance, for his original acrobatics, earned a perfect score of 50.

Earlier that day, Nance discussed the difficulty in standing out amongst a field of explosive guards.

“I think the guys that are taller and longer have a different skill-set than smaller guys,” Nance said. “Obviously, if the smaller guys do something, it looks super impressive because they got to jump a little bit higher, or it looks like they got to jump higher.

“There are ways for bigger guys to look good and I think I’ve got that hammered out.”

For now, Nance doesn’t know if he’ll return to the dunk contest next season after his narrow two-point loss to Mitchell. Instead, Nance wants to focus on helping the Cavaliers in their hunt for the conference’s top seed and, of course, with James, anything is possible. But it’s fair to say that Nance, who nearly pulled down a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds) in his second game with Cleveland, has gone from a rebuild to a legitimate contender in a flash.

“At the same time, I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new team,” Nance said.

From the West Coast to the Midwest, Nance is clearly ready to make some waves once again.

* * * * * *

*To qualify, a player must be on pace for 300 made field goals. As of today, Nance is on pace for 252.6.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

The Strictly Speaking Podcast

Advertisement

Trending Now