Basketball Insiders takes a look at some of the most underrated head coaches in the NBA:
Mike Budenholzer – Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks just barely squeaked into the playoffs as the eighth seed, but their play in the playoffs against the top-seeded Indiana Pacers has many thinking they can become the sixth No. 8 seed to upset a No. 1 seed since the league expanded to a 16-team playoff format in 1984. Behind that charge is head coach Mike Budenholzer and the ability he’s shown to lead his team after a miserable year of injuries. Perhaps no injury was bigger than Al Horford’s torn pectoral muscle that has kept him off of the court since the end of December.
With Horford out of the picture, Budenholzer has been praised for his ability to develop players. Jeff Teague is a player who has benefitted from Budenholzer’s system and has been one of the leaders for the Hawks against the Pacers, averaging 19.8 points per game. DeMarre Carroll is another player who has seen a considerable jump in production, averaging six points per game last season to averaging 11.1 points per game this season and 10 points per game in the playoffs. Mike Scott is also having a great series for the Hawks against the Pacers, and even showed off his dunking abilities in Game 6. It’s clear that with Budenholzer in charge, the Hawks can be a team that plays great basketball and once Horford returns, can be even better.
Dwane Casey – Toronto Raptors
Dwane Casey has inspired the Toronto Raptors to play with an underdog mindset, and it seems to be working. Casey led the Raptors to the third-seed in the Eastern Conference and an evened up series against the Brooklyn Nets in which Toronto will have Game 7 on their floor. The Raptors improved from 34-48 last season to 48-34 this season with just a few tweaks to the roster.
Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri recognized that Rudy Gay wasn’t the best fit for the Raptors and loaded Casey up with Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes. While the team is led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Vasquez and Patterson are providing effective production off of the bench.
Casey has the Raptors playing especially well in the playoffs given the team’s lack of experience. Casey told reporters earlier this week that while the team lacks experience, they make up for it with the amount of effort they put into each game. While it remains to be seen just how far the Raptors can go, the team is gaining the necessary experience that will only help them in years to come.
Steve Clifford – Charlotte Bobcats
Steve Clifford led the Bobcats to a 43-39 season while earning the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and a match up against the Miami HEAT in the first-round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Bobcats’ turnaround season was put to a screeching halt after being swept in four games. While many expected a similar result, Clifford is viewed by many as the guy that can change the attitude in Charlotte. A successful rebuild first needs an attitude change before getting into the X’s and O’s of the game. Clifford came into the Bobcats’ head coaching position as a first-time NBA head coach, but by being in organizations like the New York Knicks with Jeff Van Gundy, the Orlando Magic with Stan Van Gundy and the Los Angeles Lakers, Clifford is someone players can respect and buy into the type of atmosphere he is creating in Charlotte.
While the Bobcats’ offense is still a work in progress, their defense climbed into the top 10 in just one season. Last season the Bobcats’ defense ranked dead-last in the league in efficiency, while this season they have improved to the sixth-best efficiency rating. The defense has also gone from allowing 102.7 points per game last season to 97.3 this season, good for fifth-best. For a team wanting to change its identify among those in the league, Clifford surely has the Bobcats on the right track.
Jeff Hornacek – Phoenix Suns
Heading into the season with 10 new players on the team, nobody really expected the Suns to be a legitimate contender in the talented Western Conference. Hornacek and the Suns were supposed to only win about 20 games, but they defied all odds this season and turned in a 48-win season and narrowly missed the playoffs by just one game.
Part of what has made Hornacek a good fit for the Suns is that he evaluated the players on the team and designed a system that will best fit their styles of play. Hornacek also had the benefit of having young players like Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Miles Plumlee and Markieff and Marcus Morris lead his team.
Hornacek told Basketball Insiders recently that he has relied heavily on advice he got from former Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan. “From Jerry, it’s just going out there and trying to play every play like it’s your last,” Hornacek said. “We’re constantly talking about that and we’re an inexperienced team in terms of playing games so those guys are learning on the fly on how to do that night in and night out and then get to every play.”
Given the Suns’ three first-round draft picks this year, the team will be set for the future with Hornacek at the helm.
Terry Stotts – Portland Trail Blazers
Stotts and the Trail Blazers have made a complete 180 from last season, when they won just 33 games. This season, the Trail Blazers picked up their 33rd win in their 44th game and had the NBA’s best record at 24-5 two months into the season. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are certainly two of the reasons why the Trail Blazers have had success this season. The team has also an impressive supporting cast made up of Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Mo Williams among others.
Stotts often has his offense running through Aldridge, which also gets the rest of the team looks as well. Stotts’ offense gives Aldridge the freedom to decide where he wants to attack, rather than just leave him in the post. Stotts made that approach so familiar during his time working under Rick Carlisle in Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki. Given the team’s success this season, the fact that they can close out the Houston Rockets tonight at home shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Which coach is the most underrated in the league? Leave a comment below.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN
NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener
Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.
“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”
That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.
While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.
Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.
Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).
While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.
Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.
Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).
“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”
Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.
Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.
“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.
For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.
“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”
Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.
The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.