Last year, Fred Hoiberg became one of the less experienced college basketball coaches to ever be hired as an NBA coach. If history is any indication, that may not be a bad thing. This season though, the question is whether or not the Bulls will be as generous as other franchises have been in affording adjustment time for coaches who are new to the NBA.
For those unfamiliar with the fate of Hoiberg’s college predecessors moving to the NBA, the history is rather bleak. Here’s a rundown of the history since 1993, when hiring college coaches into the NBA started to increase, up until 2015 when he was hired.
From 1993-2005, college coaches hired to the NBA:
Have gone a combined 624-999 as head coaches
Are a combined 3-16 in the playoffs
Six of nine coaches never made the playoffs
Average less than 2.5 seasons before being fired
If not for Brad Stevens’ success in Boston, those numbers would be even worse.
Many Bulls fans have blamed Hoiberg’s relative inexperience as a reason for his struggles both on the court and with player relationships. However, with seven Final Fours between the nine college-turned-NBA coaches since 1993, college experience hasn’t been that indicative of NBA success, as shown by guys like Rick Pitino (192-220), John Calipari (72-112), or Mike Montgomery (68-96).
If any Final Four coach has exceeded expectations in the NBA, it would be Brad Stevens, who had just seven years of college head coaching experience before being hired by the Boston Celtics in 2013. Young and well regarded like Stevens, Fred Hoiberg was hired with just six years of college coaching experience. It goes without saying that the Bulls would be happy if Hoiberg progresses as well as Stevens has thus far. However, before getting carried away with comparisons, it should be noted that Hoiberg actually started off his NBA coaching career doing something Stevens and other predecessors couldn’t do: finish a season above .500.
Now, 20-21 at the halfway mark, most couldn’t have expected Hoiberg to adjust any smoother given the odds history says he’s up against. Also given that Stevens’ second season win percentage was the same as Hoiberg’s thus far, the numbers give hope that Hoiberg could be the next in a line of coaches who have changed the stigma of hiring college coaches in the NBA.
But while Hoiberg may be meeting reasonable goals for a second-year coach, patience will be hard to come by until growth is imminent. After going above .500 last year and acquiring Dwyane Wade, many question how the Bulls can be an effective if Hoiberg can’t lead a successful offense. For Gar Forman and the front office, the belief may be that Hoiberg needs a change of personnel for the Bulls to be effective. Others may look at Hoiberg’s 5-1 record against the Cavaliers and believe that he has everything he needs to succeed. And yet despite the reasonable expectation that things would take time, very few seem content with chalking up Hoiberg’s struggles to growing pains.
Amidst rumors of shopping the team’s best scorer, it’s clear that the standard Hoiberg will be held to is increasingly shaped by his team’s present standing. With pressure mounting as Dwyane Wade celebrates his 35th birthday on Tuesday, the Bulls have thrust Fred Hoiberg into a “win now,” scenario. If he can’t adapt to the urgency of the situation, the Chicago Bulls may not have more patience, even if Hoiberg deserves more time.
The Boston Celtics are far from a focal point of conversation these days as the NBA season inches closer the playoffs, yet it’s hardly been a disappointment. You’d be hard pressed to find a single Celtics fan who really believed this team would have any realistic shot at being a playoff team. Trading Rondo and Jeff Green were inevitable moves that most C’s fans (myself included) thought were going to improve chances of “tanking” the season in an effort to acquire a coveted lottery pick and a potential franchise player. However, the reality is that this continues to seem like a less likely outcome as the season progresses. Let’s not forget the season ending surgery for the promising Jared Sullinger. There have been moments this season where fans thought that this team would implode and rapidly trend towards being forgettable, yet Brad Stevens has managed to keep the ship afloat with what seems to be a continually revolving roster of players. Don’t get me wrong, this team is by no means spectacular in any fashion, but Stevens is showing that the popularized “tanking” notion is not the fail proof method for rebuilding franchises. He’s creating a culture that allows players to thrive, and his players are responding.
There have been quite a few pleasant surprises for Celtics fans this season to help restore some of the faith that was lost in Danny Ainge. I think the most fascinating development has been the emergence of Evan Turner. When you look at this current roster, Isaiah Thomas certainly may be the most talented player, but Turner has been the leader. Stevens’ best move this season has been moving Turner to the point. He has really thrived as a facilitator and is running an offense that currently ranks sixth best in assist ratio AND is tied for seventh lowest in turnover ratio in the league. Turner has quietly had two triple doubles this season as well as twenty-three (!) games of at least 10 points/five rebounds/five assists. His scoring is not very consistent but he is a capable enough ball handler for Stevens to place trust in him to run the offense. And why not?
This Celtics roster right now is entirely comprised of players that can score at least ten points on a given night. Besides Tyler Zeller, they can all shoot the three. Why is this important? Floor spacing. That’s one of the more underlooked aspects when planning defensive schemes against this Celtics team. They have no single player that will be the primary focus of a defensive game plan which actually makes them intriguingly problematic for their opponents.
One of the more promising things that Celtics fans can look forward to is Brad Stevens’ willingness to commit to team basketball, as noted in a recent NESN article. Stevens has been able to get the most value out of his players this season while building great team chemistry. In addition to the aforementioned Evan Turner, the recently acquired Isaiah Thomas has thrived as well. Thomas is a unique player as he can score as good as anyone but is likely not a true starter at point guard due to his size. The truth is, he is a perfect security blanket as a backup combo guard for any playoff contender.
Although it’s been a relatively small sample size, Thomas is averaging 21.4 points per game while averaging under 28 minutes a game in Boston. He is scoring at a higher average currently with this Celtics team than he did when he had his best scoring year with the Kings, when he averaged over 20 points per game. He’s also playing seven less minutes per game with the Celtics as a player coming off the bench than as a starter with the Kings. Thomas has proven his ability to score the basketball and is certainly someone that teams account for in the scouting report. However, he plays in a free flowing offense where players share the ball to get the best shot. This has been the main reason that his scoring efficiency is the highest of his career.
The Celtics will wrap up the season with the hopes of snatching the eighth and final playoff spot in the East where they could potentially be in a tough matchup with a Hawks team that has been remarkably good all year. While the Celtics would be far more likely to get swept than win the series, that would certainly be a matchup of interest to hardcore fans as both teams play very similar styles of basketball. Regardless of how the season ends for this young Celtics team, it is certainly reassuring to see Brad Stevens’ continued focus on playing the right way and the team’s ensuing improvements. If you call yourself a Celtics fan, you are thrilled to have Stevens at the helm for the foreseeable future given everyone’s expectations for them and what they have shown this season. This team plays to win, not to tank. As a Boston sports fan, you really have to admire the fight against the odds. It is the attitude carried by the city and its fans who are used to seeing their teams thrive. Brad Stevens is a winner, and this team will be too if they continue to show this progression.
We are closing in on the NBA All-Star break and so far this has been a pretty thrilling regular season, especially if you’re only watching the Western Conference. There have already been so many great moments this year. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and we’ve seen Clippers owner Steve Ballmer dance to Fergie courtside during a game. So I thought I’d put together a completely biased and objective list of the things I love and hate about each team this year with some refined commentary.
Love: DeMarre Carroll as “the other guy” in the Hawks starting five
The Hawks are the biggest surprise of this season and have been flat out amazing, evidenced by their 19 game win streak. 4/5 of their starters (Teague, Korver, Millsap, Horford) are receiving the bulk of the credit, albeit very well deserved. But their fifth option DeMarre Carroll is the type of glue guy every team needs; he’s scrappy as hell, plays tough defense, and can hit a few timely three pointers. Many of his teammates will be up in New York for the upcoming All-Star game, but without DeMarre the Hawks certainly wouldn’t have the best record in the East.
Hate: People rebranding the Hawks as “Spurs-East”
Yes, Mike Budenholzer used to coach for Gregg Popovich. And yes, the Hawks do play a team oriented style of basketball that echoes former Spurs teams. But that’s not a good enough reason to marginalize what the Hawks have done this season by essentially saying they’re only good because they are mimicking the Spurs. If it was that easy every team would hire Gregg Popovich assistants. A-Town down!
Love: Brad Stevens trying to win despite his revolving door of a roster
Coach Stevens is doing his best despite Danny Ainge cleaning house; he has managed to get his team to keep playing hard and is occasionally stealing some games from contending opponents. Instead of just playing young guys who can gain valuable experience, he’s decided to implant Brandon Bass in the starting lineup and is now playing Tayshaun Prince 20 plus minutes a night off the bench. These lineups suggest one of two things; either he’s extremely competitive and hates losing, or he desperately wants to go back to coaching college ball.
Hate: Danny Ainge trading Rajon Rondo to the Mavs for some magic beans
I’m not mad at Danny for taking a first round pick and Brandan Wright (who was traded for two second round picks) in exchange for Rondo. But what the hell was he waiting for? Good GM’s don’t wait until their greatest asset is at its lowest possible value and then pull the trigger. He couldn’t have possibly seen the Celtics as a playoff contender entering this season, and if he did he gave up on that idea pretty early. Also if I’m a Western Conference team and I see the Mavs got Rondo for basically nothing, I’m genuinely going to be pretty peeved at Danny Ainge for affecting the West playoff race. It’s like when a guy at the bottom of your fantasy league trades one of their best players because they are giving up on the season. Danny Ainge is that guy, and we all hate those guys.
Love: Nets having a white player from Duke participate in the Slam Dunk Contest
That is a phrase I never thought I would say.
Hate: Watching the sad end to Kevin Garnett
It’s a shame KG has to go out like this. He’s one of the best at his position of all-time and to play on this pitiful Nets team is kind of tainting his statuesque career. Kevin Garnett has played so long I honestly can’t even remember his golden years in Minnesota when he was dominant every time he took the floor. The end to KG has similar overtones to Hakeem Olajuwon ending his career in Toronto, and as Mays Gilliam says “that ain’t right!”
Love: the honeycomb print on the home floor
Honestly, it’s pretty stupid and seems like something a DII college team might do. But for some reason I like that they embraced returning as the Hornets to its fullest extent. When is Time Warner Cable Arena hosting “Baron Davis Night” or “Larry Johnson Night” this year?
Hate: Panic! We’re running out of Lance Stephenson memes
The Lance “blowing air” meme has been pretty strong, one of the greats if you ask me. But it’s kind of a played idea at this point. Lance is going down in flames as a Hornet and he’s not even starting anymore. Lance for the love of god don’t leave us hanging like this, please come up with some new material. In case you didn’t see, he is taking fan suggestions for his next on court antics. Forward all submissions to ConeyIslandKilla6969@hotmail.com.
Love: Renaissance of Pau Gasol
Pau has been a revelation this year and has really turned the Bulls into a true title contender; if they can stay healthy. It’s rare you see a player like Pau who ages, switches teams, and then seemingly gets better. I also think he’s in some silent game of chicken with his younger brother Marc and doesn’t yet want to relinquish the title of “The Best Gasol”. Pau has given the Bulls something that has been lacking in years past, a reliable post presence who the offense can play through in the halfcourt. With Pau commanding double teams it opens up the offense even more for Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. The one downside however is his defensive skill. It’s hard to overlook his lack of defense, but the offense he brings should override the fact that he is a horrific defender.
Hate: Doug McDermott’s trade value
I know Dougie McBucket’s injury has prohibited us from making a solid conclusion about what type of player he’s going to become, but as of now that draft night trade has a bad stench to it. I believe his ceiling as a player is as a good scoring threat off the bench, I’m not sure that warranted trading the 16th (Jusuf Nurkic!) and 19th (Gary Harris) overall picks for him. Due to injury this season the Bulls are forced to play guys like Tony Snell, Kirk Hinrich, and E’twaun Moore major minutes. The team could use an injection talent off the bench not named Nikola Mirotic. Trading for McDermott only gave away the potential to add another young player to the roster.
Love: LeBron as player/GM
The fact that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and actual GM David Griffin consult LeBron on all transactions is kind of ridiculous, regardless of the fact that LeBron is the best player on the planet. I feel like he’s always threatening to just opt of out his contract this year, and so David Griffin has to ship off every draft pick he has for the next decade in order to make LeBron happy. Of course trading two first rounders for Timofey Mozgov went down because LeBron doesn’t really care how the Cavs end up in five years. GM LeBron might actually be best for the Cavs anyway, at least he didn’t draft Anthony Bennett. Anything he does from here on out is an upgrade from the previous GM.
Hate: David Blatt not using Kevin Love correctly
Attention David Blatt! Kevin Love is more than a three point shooter! Stop sticking him in the corner and do some actual coaching. I hope trading future star Andrew Wiggins for a glorified three point shooter was not the initial plan when they acquired Love.
Love: Dirk Nowitzki is still basically unguardable
Dirk is the first of his kind, he’s the “Model-T” of European big men who can shoot from deep and who also have post skills. He has made the Mavs relevant for almost two decades, including this season, and I rarely show affection to anything German so this declaration has some weight to it. Even after all the additions of Rajon Rondo, Chandler Parsons, and Tyson Chandler, if the Mavericks make any noise in the playoffs it will undoubtedly be because of Dirk and that silky smooth jumper.
Hate: decline of the old rambunctious Mark Cuban
Mark, please yell at a ref or accost the league in some way and get fined. We want the old Cubes! Make it rain in the commissioner’s office and let Adam Silver know that those hundred dollar bills are just “fun coupons” and you won’t ever stop being you.
Love: Jusuf Nurkic smack talk
When you’re a rookie and you’re smack talking and jawing at Kobe Bryant, DeMarcus Cousins, and Marc Gasol without any level respect for those guys who are more accomplished than you’ll likely ever be; that takes some guts and deserves a tip of the cap. Even though it’s stupid and unwarranted, I love him for that. I’m making odds on who the first guy to throw a punch at Jusuf in response is. Highest odds are DeMarcus Cousins (revenge) 2-1, JaVale McGee (accidentally) 9-2, and if you’re looking for longer odds Ron Artest (psychopath) 5000-1.
Hate: Ty Lawson’s inability to use Uber
Really Ty? Two DUI’s? C’mon dawg you make millions of dollars a year, shell out a couple bucks for an Uber or call Danilo Gallinari to come pick you up, he’s probably available. Professional athletes receiving DUI’s has almost become a regularity; how teams are not more proactive about this is outrageous. I realize the large majority of this problem is the personal responsibility of the athlete, but teams need to babysit these guys or have harsher penalties. Unfortunately it’s probably going to take someone’s untimely death before the problem is finally addressed further. Sorry that I had to be a little morose to prove a point.
Love: Stan Van Gundy’s balls for waiving Josh Smith
It definitely must have been a tough sell for SVG to march into the owner’s office and say “Hey, so I want to cut Josh even though we still owe him $26 million. You cool with that?” If this move didn’t work and the Pistons ended up worse, I’m not sure how Stan Van would’ve survived. This is the ultimate case of addition by subtraction. I can’t even recall a similar situation where the release of one player created such an upturn in wins. Maybe when Brad Pitt traded Carlos Pena in “Moneyball”?
Hate: Brandon Jenning’s Achilles tendon for crapping out on him
As if sports in Detroit couldn’t get worse. We’re still relatively fresh off the NFL refs screwing over the Lions. The Pistons uptick and winning ways were a silver lining to that horrific Lions loss. Jennings going down for the season is really unfortunate because the Pistons were once again becoming a great team to watch. Brandon Jennings’ game was flourishing without Josh Smith on the floor dominating the ball, and he was directly contributing to the poor man’s “twin towers” Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond wreaking havoc on opponents. At this point, it’s hard not to feel bad for the city of Detroit.
Golden State Warriors
Love: Klay Thompson in 24/7 heat check mode
The kid is straight fire. Every time he launches a three and it doesn’t go in I think my eyes are playing a trick on me. Also he scored 37 points in one freakin’ quarter. I’ve played rec league basketball for over 15 years and I’ve yet to eclipse 30 points in an entire game. Just for fun, here are a couple names of players drafted over Klay Thompson: Derrick Williams, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Jimmer Fredette. Those guys could go 4 vs. 1 with Klay and they’d lose.
Hate: Andrew Bogut’s health
The Warriors are a really exciting team to root for, but I’m afraid without a healthy Andrew Bogut they won’t have a shot at the title. It’s entirely possible they can win without him, but it will be a hell of a lot easier with him in the on the hardwood. They need his defensive presence against dominant frontcourt teams like the Grizzlies; his defense will need to hold teams close during the few games that Steph and Klay go cold.
Life is tough for a Celtics fan right now. Seeing one of the most storied franchises in the league gather a whopping 25 wins in addition to finishing last in the completely irrelevant Atlantic Division was simply a cherry on the farewell cake that saw three Hall of Famers and a head coach bolt for other teams.
While a championship run certainly won’t be in the cards for the foreseeable future, the Celts still have managed to make enough unique moves during the offseason to pique the interest of us avid NBA fans who remain loyal to the cause.
Here is the beautiful thing about the NBA today: being terrible gives you a chance of getting a player that can turn the franchise around, wherever he may be found in the draft. One player in the draft can have a drastic impact on a team (ex: LeBron, Durant, Curry, Aldridge, etc.) almost instantly. This is something that is not common in other professional sports leagues, notably the MLB. Sure, you have the Kwame Browns and Darko Milicics of the draft, but you also have plenty of diamonds in the rough, as draft history has continually showed us in years past.
The hope of drafting a potential franchise superstar is always on the forefront of fans minds whenever they see their team tank a season. That certainly was the case for me. Was I hoping that the Celtics would be in the sweepstakes for Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker? Of course. It would be idiotic to not want to take a risk on a player of that caliber who has so much potential to be great in the NBA. Unfortunately for the Celtics last season, they were bad, but they weren’t the worst. I can live with that though, seeing as the C’s still had the 6th and 17th overall draft picks. I thought they did a pretty good job acquiring talent with their selections of Marcus Smart (Oklahoma St.) and James Young (Kentucky), both who possess above average athleticism and have fairly strong offensive capabilities respectively. I will touch on each of these two players a little later on in this piece.
So what are left with here looking at this young Celtics team? From where I stand, I see a group of players that lack the leadership of a superstar player that they so desperately need. That’s not to say that the Celts don’t have valuable pieces, because they certainly do. However, the fact that they do not have a top 20 player who plays at an elite level night in and night out will impede any hopes of getting into the playoffs or having success in the playoffs this year. Enough negativity though. I want to dive into this team of young misfits and address how some of the personnel changes they made this offseason will impact the team moving forward.
First things first, I absolutely loved the hiring of Brad Stevens. This guy worked with a team that really only had one All-Star caliber NBA player in Gordon Hayward during his tenure at Butler. He was able to evoke a style of hard-nosed and team oriented basketball, something that is not seen too frequently in the NBA. The guy is a winner and he knows how to manage conflicting player attitudes. His energy and focus are very transparent from the sidelines and you can see the demeanor of his players both on and off the court. Hiring Stevens was a very strategic long term move by the Boston Celtics in my opinion. Stevens is not a coach that they plan on canning after a year or two after sustaining a few bad seasons. Danny Ainge is fully aware of his current roster as well as the team needs and talent gaps. I really do embrace his logic of growing Stevens with the team from the ground up to really develop a fundamental basketball system that players can all buy into once the right pieces come into place over the next few seasons.
I briefly discussed how I truly appreciate the direction that the coaching staff and team management is going towards in the future. What about the players though? The Celts may not have acquired Kevin Love or Melo in the offseason, but they did make some moves that are worthy of further observation and analysis. The two major offseason moves I liked the most were the acquisitions of Evan Turner and Tyler Zeller. Starting with Turner, he came to the C’s after being underutilized as a role player for the Pacers as they tried to make a deep playoff push last season. The one thing I like about his game is the fact that he can do a little bit of everything. He is not necessarily top notch in any offensive or defensive category, but he certainly is able to contribute in many different areas. His addition to the roster will certainly alleviate a lot of the scoring burden that was primarily placed on Jeff Green last season. It also gives the Celtics another wing player that is actually meant to be a wing player based on physical size and strength, which will help defensively in terms of matching up against opposing teams 2 and 3 spots.
Another player that I expect to make an immediate impact for the Celtics this season is Tyler Zeller. I truly believe that he is one of the more underrated players in the whole league. He is a legit seven footer with a well developed offensive skill set in addition to being an excellent rebounder. His presence will certainly be noted on the defensive end as he will serve as the primary rim protector for the Celtics this season. His addition to the roster also allows for players like Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger to match up against more traditional power forward size players rather than having to guard players that are simply just bigger and stronger. I digress. Going back to Zeller, he should also help balance out the scoring attack for the Celtics this upcoming season. He provides another easy scoring outlet for Rondo to dump the ball off to for easy dunks when attacking the basket.
Both Zeller and Turner will help the Celtics out in terms of scoring distribution as well as their overall team defense. Both are well above average NBA talents that will improve a depleted Celtics roster from last season. More importantly, they are valuable trading pieces to have if and when the C’s are trying to make a big move in the future. However, for now I am content with having both of these guys on the roster for this season because of the fact that they will be more involved in the offense. They will be asked to carry more of the scoring burden than they have had to on their previous teams. Maybe this will serve as the perfect opportunity for both of these players to break out and have career years.
Looking back at the players the Celtics have gotten through the last few drafts, I really can’t complain too much. They have a young nucleus of drafted players that includes Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart, and James Young. Sullinger has shown signs of incredible productivity on the boards as well as proficiency from beyond the arc and around the rim. I fully expect him to elevate his play to a higher level this season. Olynyk had a few bright moments last year but I still think he has room to improve. I see him as one of the backup centers (with Vitor Faverani) to Tyler Zeller who will earn his time based on his ability to score and rebound in the sparing minutes that he will receive this season.
Obviously it is a little early to make an accurate projection for Smart and Young, but I will give one anyways based off of practice reports and the current structure of the roster. I am a big fan of Smart. I think he has a rare combination of size, strength, and athleticism that makes him a tough guard to cover. At 6’4″ Smart can be considered either a 1 or 2 guard when he is on the floor. Although it is a little far fetched, I can understand the early comparisons that he drew to Dwyane Wade while he was still playing college ball. I think he will get some good opportunities to showcase his abilities with the absence of Rondo for the beginning portion of the season due to surgery on his hand. I am interested to see how Smart fits into the Celtics gameplan going forward. Another player who is very intriguing to me is James Young. If you don’t remember this guy, just think back to some of the electric plays he had for the John Calipari during the NCAA tournament. From his thunderous dunks to draining wing threes, this guy really impressed viewers with the multitude of offensive skills he has in his arsenal. He also has a very long wingspan and is left handed which can make him a defender’s nightmare when trying to cover him. He needs to bulk up a bit so he can be more physical when facing other 2 and 3 positions in the league, but it is difficult not to be optimistic about this kid’s future. He is a very capable ball handler and seems to mesh well into different offensive sets, even an elite offense like that of the Kentucky Wildcats. He may take some time to really thrive in the NBA, but he is definitely someone to keep an eye out for going forward into the season.
In closing I would just like to throw out a few notes about the Celtics going into this season. Rondo will not be playing for at least the first week of the season seeing as he is still recovering from hand surgery. Avery Bradley will most likely be asked to shoulder the point guard duties for a while in his absence with Phil Pressey handling some of those duties off the bench. Jeff Green has a temporary setback with a strained left calf but the coaching staff does not see that being serious enough to prevent him from being ready for the season opener. Although there are some scattered injuries and inexperienced players, Brad Stevens will have these guys ready to compete as soon as the regular season starts. They may not be tremendously successful this season, but there is no doubt that it will be entertaining to watch the new blend of young players integrated into the Celtics rotation as well as the players from last year who continue to progress.