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Sunday, June 10, 2007

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



At Sunday, June 10, 2007 1:33:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

clearly he should start gibson after the high of the 31 point game not because as you said who knows if he will continue to play like that mike brown should just keep things like it is because if larry hughes come off the bench he's going to give them even less so he should start then bring gibson and hope he can make shots that's the key he ahs to make the shots possible for them to win along with other teamates the season on the line they have to step up

At Sunday, June 10, 2007 1:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that there would be real risks to starting Gibson and changing the whole rotation. (It's funny that all the people who attack Mike Brown for not "putting his best lineup on the floor" don't seem to critize Popovich for making Ginobli the Spurs' 6th man. I guess the reasoning doesn't apply there because, um, um, oh yeah, because San Antonio's winning.)

I still wonder whether the Cavs would be better off starting Snow instead of Hughes, though, leaving Gibson in his current role (with lots of minutes). Hughes can't give them anything offensively -- he's a bad shooter who can't slash with his injury -- so you don't really lose much offensively by going to Snow. And Hughes obviously just can't stay with Tony Parker with his injury. So why is he out there? Snow might have better luck containing Parker; why not give it a try, with lots of minutes for Gibson off the bench? I admire Hughes for playing through his injury, and I think he's gotten a bad rap in Cleveland. (Yes, he's overpaid. But that's not his fault. Nor is it his fault that the Cavs acquired him instead of the sweet-shooting 2-guard that they really needed. The fact is he's a good defender, a good rebounder, and a pretty good slasher who always plays hard.) But I can't see any upside to playing him at this point, with the injury. He seemed to play Billups -- a slower, bigger guard -- reasonably well last round, but there's no evidence he can contain Parker, and if he can't do that, he shouldn't be out there.


At Sunday, June 10, 2007 1:51:00 PM, Blogger Paul Niemeyer said...

I think Hughes would be okay with sitting on the bench. He's not the guy who would disrupt the team spirit because of a lack of minutes.

At Sunday, June 10, 2007 2:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree that Hughes would accept what ever role the coaching staff asks him to do but I still think that if he is able to play then he should be the starter, which keeps the normal rotation intact. People seem to be ignoring the fact that Coach Brown has already increased Gibson's minutes dramatically compared to the regular season. The NBA game is too tough to simply take someone who has not been playing heavy minutes and just throw him out there for an extended time all at once. The Cleveland coaching staff should get credit for nurturing a second round pick to the point that he is a productive player, as opposed to criticism for not playing him more--unless all these "experts" knew all along that Gibson would be making major contributions on an Eastern Conference Championship team. Funny that I never heard them mention his name a few short months ago.

Snow is pretty much a situational player now, being brought in at key times for defensive stops. The Cleveland coaching staff likes to use him against bigger guards because Snow's strength nullifies their postup ability (Snow guards guys like Kobe and Vince Carter). I think that Snow on Parker is not a great matchup for Cleveland.


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