Back in June, I posted an article and theory on defensive coaches – they make their mark in the second full season. I was curious if similar logic applied to offensive-minded coaches.
Naturally, the first name I thought of was Mike D’Antoni. He was hired by Phoenix in 2003 with 61 games to go in the season and they ended up with a 16th-ranked offense (according to Hollinger’s offensive ranking). In the summer of 2004, the Suns picked up Steve Nash, and the combination of Nash, D’Antoni, Amare Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion created the top offensive team in the league. So, essentially, in D’Antoni’s first full season, he was able to make his mark.
Yet, Phoenix continued to be the top offensive team in the league even after D’Antoni left. For the first two seasons following D’Antoni’s departure, the Suns remained the top offensive team in the league, and stuck in the Top 10 for two more years after that. So was the offensive success attributable to D’Antoni? Steve Nash? The Seven Seconds or Less system he’d put in place? A combination of all of the above?
Let’s look at D’Antoni’s time with the Knicks. He signed with New York in the summer of 2008 for the 2008-2009 Season. New York wasn’t a Top 10 team offensively in the first two years of D’Antoni’s tenure, but did crack the top Ten in his third year, in 2010-2011.
However, D’Antoni’s system did bring improvements to the Knicks. In 2007-2008, the Knicks were a 24th-ranked offensive team. They jumped to 17th in 2008-2009, D’Antoni’s first full season with the Knicks, and then 15th in 2009-2010. In 2010-2011, the Knicks, under D’Antoni, were a 5th-ranked offensive team, but fell to 19th in 2011-2012 amid clashes between D’Antoni and Carmelo Anthony.
Under Jerry Sloan, the Jazz cracked the Top 10 in Hollinger’s offensive efficiency rankings several times in the last 10 years: 2006-2007 (7th), 2007-2008 (5th), 2008-2009 (9th), and 2009-2010 (8th). The 2010-2011 was a struggle of a season for the Jazz, as we probably all remember far too well. The first team would sputter and fall behind, the bench would come in and bring the team back, and there were some miracle games (Millsap’s Miracle in Miami is one of my favorite games as a Jazz fan), but it was an unsustainable pattern and the wheels eventually fell off.
Then the part where I get really, really confused: In 2011-2012, Tyrone Corbin’s first full season coaching the Jazz, the team ranked 7th offensively after ranking 14th in the previous year, even amid all the Jerry Sloan/Deron Williams drama and departures. In 2012-2013, the Jazz ranked 11th offensively (tied with Dallas). I have to admit that these numbers surprised me. Could Alfense alone provide a decent offensive efficiency ranking, even if giving it the eyeball test was a painful experience for so many Jazz fans (how many truly enjoyed watching the pass-it-into-Al-and-watch-him-go-to-work-for-20-seconds offense? I’m curious. Not trying to be snarky. Just genuinely curious). Does Corbin have a system in place that’s better offensively than we realize? I guess only time will tell.
The LeBron James Effect
But overall, what I’ve learned from looking at different teams and different coaches is that a coach can make his mark on a team defensively with his system, structure, rules, etc. (look at Popovich, Tom Thibadeu, Frank Vogel, etc.) but a team’s offensive efficiency and potency has more to do with the players and the superstars than the coach alone.
Look at LeBron James. I’m sure this isn’t surprising to any basketball fan reading this, but it’s still interesting to look at it in a chart: In both the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, LeBron James led the Cavaliers to 4th-ranked offense (unless you think Mike Brown was the essential cog in the efficient offense, but his offensive schemes were unable to produce a similar effect in Los Angeles), only to take Miami to a 3rd-ranked offense the following year in 2010-2011 (and subsequent rankings of 6th and then 1st).
(This could also be called the Kevin Durant Effect, looking at how Oklahoma City has been a Top 4 offensive team for the last three seasons; alternately, I don’t think anyone would consider Vinny Del Negro a top-flight offensive coach, but the Chris Paul-helmed Clippers were ranked 4th the last two years, lending more weight to offensive efficiency stemming more from superstars than from coaches)
What does this mean for Jazz fans? Well, the two-year defensive coach theory didn’t bode well for Corbin. And the lack of an offensive theory for a coach means that we still have a chance for a top offense, but we’ll need great players in order to get there. Here’s hoping for a combination of the Core Four (+ Burke) getting somewhere near there in the next couple of years, possibly thrown in with a high draft pick for 2014–hopefully a superstar that could keep up the LeBron James Effect. .