- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Granted, the NBA has a much more individual, one-on-one game than college ball. But that forces the pro coach to be more, not less, innovative. "Not many college teams will double-team a star player, not even a guy like Hersey Hawkins," says Albeck, who coached Hawkins, now a 76er guard, to the NCAA scoring title in 1987-88. "A lot of hard-liners in college say, 'O.K., here's our defense. Let's see you beat it.' When they do do something gimmicky, it's almost always in the nature of a box-and-one or a diamond, something you see a lot of. But in the pros, you have to be a lot more innovative to get your main man the ball."
Albeck should know, because he has coached three scoring machines-Hawkins in college, and Jordan and George Gervin in the pros. Daly's Pistons have an entire defensive game plan predicated on stopping Jordan.
NBA coaches must also be far more innovative on inbounds plays than their college counterparts, because those situations occur far more frequently in the pros and because the constraints of the 24-second clock often dictate that an inbounds play be a scoring play. "In college you're basically just trying to get the ball in bounds," says Ford. "In the NBA you're usually trying to do something with it."
By far the most complex facet of NBA coaching is matchups, a word that rarely enters a college coach's mind but one that haunts the NBA coach's every waking moment. The Dalys of the world must constantly evaluate the ebb and flow of a game and make their substitutions based not only on fatigue and team harmony but also on the best way to exploit an advantage or hide a disadvantage. "There are matchup situations in college, but you tend not to worry much about them," says Pitino. "If you find that a player is giving you all sorts of problems, you just throw up a zone or something. But matchups are a constant presence in the pros."
Consider the matchup headache presented by Philadelphia's Charles Barkley. He's probably too strong for your small forward, so you might move your power forward over to guard him. However, that reduces your power forward's rebounding ability. So you pursue another course, going with three guards and forcing Barkley to guard one of them so that he must work extra hard at the defensive end. Again, that exposes you defensively, because a guard can't handle Barkley, and besides, using a third guard may get you out of your best offensive game plan.
Other alternatives? Perhaps send a guard down to double-team Barkley. But then Barkley can kick the ball out to Hawkins for a jumper. Send the power forward? That leaves the boards wide open for Barkley's teammate, Mahorn, a rebounding fool. Send the center to double? Then Barkley can swing the ball over to his center, Mike Gminski, a deadly shooter from the corner.
"What you take away from one offensive guy in the NBA you give up to another," says Knick coach Stu Jackson, a former assistant at Oregon, Washington State and Providence. "It was generally the case in college that if we were well-prepared and could stop the opposition's top player, we won the game 85 to 90 percent of the time. That is not the case in the NBA. You are forced to make a multitude of decisions to stop a multitude of great players."
One thing pro coaches don't have to contend with, points out Krzyzewski, is the roller-coaster emotions of an 18- or 19-year-old kid. "There might be large parts of games, even an entire half, when I'm doing very little x-ing and o-ing," says Krzyzewski. "I'm on the bench thinking. Gee, Bobby Hurley and Billy McCaffrey [his possible starting backcourt this season] aren't really into it tonight. Wonder what's wrong with them. Sure, the pros have mood swings, too, but they're men. Coaches can be much more curt with them. Anyone going from the pros back to college better get back to being a little bit more of a couch person."
Well, Mike, someone who has done exactly that doesn't agree with you. "You have to worry about your players' emotional stability more in the pros," says Pitino. "Let's say [Knick forward] Charles Oakley is upset about something. He's not going to play well until it's straightened out, and you have to deal with that situation right away. You can't let it fester because there are so many games, and the stakes are so much higher."
Indeed, when the NBA coach has a spare moment or two, he can consider this cheerful thought: He is likely to be fired one day. Part of the reason why pro coaches have not been given their due is that they are, in effect, interchangeable parts, subject to the whim of their owners. While successful college coaches enjoy a security greater than that of most university presidents, Daly (seven years in Detroit) is the only NBA coach who has been at his job longer than five years.