Is Coaching in the NBA Really so Easy That Even a Caveman can do it?Everyone apparently "knows" that Daniel Gibson should be starting at point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers in place of the hobbled Larry Hughes--everyone except Cleveland Coach Mike Brown. Why is Coach Brown reluctant to make an adjustment that many people think that he must do?
One interesting thing about being a head coach in the NBA is that there are only 30 jobs available but yet there are literally millions of people who think that they are well qualified for the task. Hughes' mobility has been limited ever since he tore the plantar fascia in his left foot in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, rookie Gibson has emerged as a clutch shooter and a surprisingly effective defensive player. On the surface, benching Hughes and starting Gibson seems like an obvious move. Let's go beneath the surface, though, and examine some possible reasons why Brown has kept his rotation the same:
1) Cleveland has been winning with this rotation.
Cleveland won the game during which Hughes sustained his injury and the next three games as well. Even in the Game One loss versus the Spurs the Cavs only trailed by five at halftime.
2) If Hughes does not start he may become stiff from sitting on the bench, rendering him ineffective.
I know that cynics will respond that Hughes is already ineffective but the reality is that if he is going to play hurt it makes little sense to bring him off of the bench. He is most likely to be loose right after the pregame warmups.
3) If Gibson starts then the bench will lack firepower.
If Gibson starts then Hughes will likely not play that much because he will not be able to get loose coming off of the bench. Who will provide scoring punch for the second unit? Making Gibson a starter is not just one change; it sets off a domino effect that alters the roles of Hughes, Gibson and whoever will take over Gibson's role.
4) One cannot assume that Gibson will maintain his current productivity if he is given additional minutes.
Gibson is a rookie who has not been a starter or received heavy minutes for most of this season. It is more than a little unrealistic to believe that his playing time can be increased to 40 mpg (as some have suggested it should be) with no corresponding drop off in his performance. In fact, he has yet to play 40 minutes in a game even once in his short career.
Coach Brown has steadily increased Gibson's playing time throughout the playoffs but it is clear that he does not want to change his rotation unless Hughes becomes physically unable to play at all. This is quite understandable when one considers that Gibson averaged just 16.5 mpg in his 60 regular season games this season. While he has played well in some recent playoff games it does not make sense to believe that simply turning the point guard position over to him is the best move for the Cavs. Brown is correct to continue to start Hughes as long as Hughes is able to play. This enables Brown to keep all of his players in their normal, accustomed roles. He can adjust playing time during the game as foul trouble, matchups and other considerations dictate. Perhaps Gibson will indeed play 35-40 minutes in a game at some point in this series but when all factors are considered it is understandable why Coach Brown has elected to not start Gibson.
The part of this story that no one is talking about is the idea that Hughes cannot make his injury worse by getting shot up with painkillers and playing. Bill Walton was told the same thing in the 1978 playoffs, as was Grant Hill in the 2000 playoffs. Both of them played and both of them made their injuries worse. I respect Hughes' toughness and devotion to the team and hope that things work out for the best but he certainly is taking a risk by playing, particularly considering that he has to artificially deaden the pain to do so.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:30 AM