Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks has done a solid job getting his team back to the Western Conference Finals. On the surface he would appear to be one of the bright young coaches of the NBA, but a deeper look may tell a different story.
In the new climate of the NBA, wins and losses are not the end all-be all. Last season, Lionel Hollins was not retained by the Memphis Grizzles after taking the team to the Western Conference Finals. This season, Mark Jackson led the Golden State Warriors to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in over 20 years and he was relieved of his duties.
NBA front offices no longer simply want to win; they want to win a certain way. Last season, George Karl and Vinny Del Negro were fired after winning 57 and 56 games respectively.
When the Thunder traded away James Harden, everyone knew that had to replace his production. Initially, the team tried Kevin Martin. While the numbers did not drop off considerably (14 points compared to Harden’s 16.8), the problem became Martin could not create for others the way Harden could. He also could not be the primary ball handler when Westbrook was off the floor.
Reggie Jackson has tried to fill the role. He averaged 13 points and four assists this season, but no one else has stepped up.
Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, and Thabo Sefolosha have not grown as players. Their lack of growth is an even greater problem now that Serge Ibaka is done for the playoffs. There is no one on the roster to replace his production offensively or defensively.
Brooks has not done a bad job. He just has not improved his players. The best coaches in the league have an effect on their roster.
Gregg Popovich takes guys who no one else wants and in his system they flourish. Danny Green was cut by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He spent some time in the NBDL. In Popovich’s system, he almost won the NBA Finals MVP last season.
People forget that Tony Parker was the 28th overall pick. Manu Ginobli was drafted in the second round. Patty Mills was the 55th overall pick. He has found a way to develop talent that was not highly thought of.
New Clippers head coach Doc Rivers pushed Blake Griffin and he matured into a different player. He became more than just a dunker. He averaged a career-best 24 points and 3.9 assists per game.
Some people would argue that Rivers and Popovich are two of the best coaches in the league, so that is not a fair comparison. However, when you look at how rookie coaches Jason Kidd and Jeff Hornacek got the most out of their respective squads, Brooks’ players’ lack of growth comes into question.
Kidd’s Brooklyn Nets were left for dead in December. He reassigned Lawerence Frank, tweaked his lineup, and the team played up to its capability.
Hornacek had the Phoenix Suns in the playoff hunt in the difficult Western Conference until the final week of the season. It seemed like the whole Suns roster was up for the Most Improved Player of the year award.
No one is saying Brooks cannot have that type of impact, he just hasn’t figured it out yet.
Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle was fired twice before he figured out how to get the most of his players. While with the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers he had the reputation of being too controlling on offense. With the Mavericks he was not as stringent. He found a way to win an NBA title with Jason Terry as the second best player on his team. He didn’t have a big three. He got the most out of what he had.
Many pundits look at Brooks and wonder if he does much coaching at all. It appears most of the time that Durant and Westbrook just take turns being the offense’s focal point. In the first round, it was important for Durant to find a way not to lose to the eighth-seeded Grizzles. Now it is Brooks’ turn to answer the bell. If he wishes to prove that he is more than a watchman of two top-five NBA talents, then he must show his coaching prowess this series.
The Spurs scored 66 points in the paint in Game 1, how will Brooks respond?
The 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet could help. He often appears clumsy and in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this series you just need him to foul people and intimidate. If he gets six fouls in the first half, who cares? Steven Adams has to play more than 17 minutes and must grab more than two rebounds.
Brooks has to make adjustments that make sense, not just for the sake of making an adjustment. It was laughable that he tried to have Durant guard Tim Duncan. Durant is the MVP because he is great at what he does. Guarding one of the best big men of all time in the paint is not what he does.
This series is far from over, but if Brooks cannot get more out of his players during this series, his coaching tenure in OKC may be.
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