Coaches not adapting to NBA’s team-wide cohesion are being left in the dust

While Brian Shaw eschewed the fast-rising modern preference for fluidity on offence, coaches like Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr have overseen the rise of two of the NBA’s best clubs, writes Jonathan Raymond.

The Denver Nuggets fired coach Brian Shaw this past week in the midst of a changing era for the NBA.  (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Powered by automated translation

In football it’s taken as a given a manager’s tactical input has a significant impact on the outcome.

Likewise, in American football, with its chess-like duel on each play, the coach is considered a towering figure.

In baseball though, especially in the wake of its analytics revolution, the manager has been resigned to something of a supporting figure, responsible almost as much for balancing egos in the dressing room as for applying in-game strategy.

Coaches in basketball, also in the midst of its own analytics boom, have for a long time been considered at least closer to that end of the spectrum. But that appears to be changing.

Kirk Goldsberry, an analytics-minded Harvard professor and contributor to the Grantland website, wrote a fascinating piece last week detailing the divergent fortunes of the likes of Phil Jackson and Brian Shaw, adherents to basketball’s old school, and the more forward-thinking Gregg Popovich and his proteges, such as Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr.

While Shaw, fired by the Nuggets last week, eschewed the fast-rising modern preference for fluidity on offence and plenty of three-point shots, Budenholzer, with the Atlanta Hawks, and Kerr, with the Golden State Warriors, have overseen the rise of two of the NBA’s best clubs.

Goldsberry suggests tactical philosophies may account for player improvement (and regression), as well as team success. More than we think.

“The star-ball era … finally seems to be going the way of the dinosaur,” agent Warren LaGarie said to Goldsberry.

The game, it seems obvious, is changing, emphasising team-wide cohesion and a wealth of skill-sets over singular dominance.

Along the way a recalibration of NBA coaching evaluations with it feels inevitable.

Follow us at our new home on Twitter @NatSportUAE