Impact of coaching changes
Coaching changes are a way of life in the NBA, so much so that seven active coaches have fewer than two seasons of total head-coaching experience, and six coaches were fired during this past season.
In looking at how these changes might impact the fantasy basketball landscape, it's important to remember that not all coaching changes are that big a deal. Certain coaches -- Larry Brown comes to mind here -- drastically slow their respective teams' pace, thereby hurting the statistical contributions of the roster. Others -- think the Pacers' Jim O'Brien or the Knicks' Mike D'Antoni -- speed up their teams and create more possessions and, maybe more important, the kinds of possessions that are more fantasy-friendly. However, averages exist because most teams tend to approximate them, and so fantasy success in many cases is based more on minutes than style, for better or worse.
Here are the pertinent new coaching situations in the league and what they mean for the fantasy-relevant players on those teams.
John Kuester, Detroit Pistons
The Pistons hired John Kuester away from the Cavs; unfortunately for Kuester, there's no LeBron James to cover up any possible weaknesses on the Pistons' roster. Kuester has a team with a lot of new faces, and because this is his first pro head-coaching job, it's hard to say whether he'll get the team to play fast. The rhetoric out of camp seems to be defense, defense, defense, with the usual talk of getting out and running after stops, but without a true point guard on the roster, accomplishing that might be easier said than done.
The fact of the matter is the Pistons were the league's second-slowest team last season, and Kuester has been an assistant on some of the league's slowest teams of the past few seasons, going back even to his season of work with the Magic in 2006-07. As such, the likelihood of the Pistons' playing a slow-paced style, coupled with the fact that it's unclear how the guard rotation will work out with Ben Gordon, Richard Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey all vying for minutes, means it's probably worth tempering your expectations for those players. On the other hand, I wouldn't worry too much about Charlie Villanueva getting shots. He's easily the best scoring big man on the roster, and if his monumental usage rate last season in Milwaukee is any indication, he'll get plenty of opportunities in whatever system he plays.
Kurt Rambis, Minnesota Timberwolves
Rambis has head-coaching experience, as he compiled a 24-13 record with the Lakers in games he coached during the strike-shortened 1998-99 season. That season, the Lakers were the third-fastest team in the league, even with Derek Fisher and Derek Harper running the show from the point. Of course, having Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant doing most of the offensive damage probably helps.
Still, that was a long time ago, and Rambis doesn't have Shaq and Kobe this time around. With point guards such as Ramon Sessions and Jonny Flynn, one would think the Wolves would be able to get up and down pretty well, but Al Jefferson and Kevin Love do not at first glance appear to be the sorts of players who immediately would benefit from running the break. The Wolves are a young team and ranked somewhere in the middle in terms of pace last season, but I tend to think that when your best offensive player is as good at scoring in the half court as Jefferson is, it probably makes sense to play slow and make sure the big man gets the ball. Jefferson in particular seems primed for a major year, and Love should improve with a year of getting used to the pro game under his belt, but I'm most excited about Sessions, who has only a rookie pushing him for playing time at the point and has in Jefferson one of the best offensive weapons in the league in the post.
Lionel Hollins, Memphis Grizzlies
In terms of pace, on the one hand, Hollins has guys with great speed to work with, and it would seem that Iverson, Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, sophomore big man Darrell Arthur and rookie DeMarre Carroll all would be suited to playing an up-tempo style. However, many of those guys were on the team last season, and even with former Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni coaching the team for half the season, they were not a fast bunch. Now they have Zach Randolph -- a notorious offensive singularity who puts up big numbers while doing almost nothing that leads his teams to wins -- taking up possessions in the post and generally gumming up the works. It's hard to imagine any coach persuading Randolph to be part of a fast-break attack.
Quite simply, I'm not sure any of us knows what to make of this mess. Hollins hasn't been allowed to keep his job long enough to develop any real tendencies in previous tenures, and this team as presently constructed seems to make no sense at all anyway. I would bump every player on the roster down a bit in your fantasy rankings; in the drafts I've done so far, I haven't taken a single Grizzlie.
Alvin Gentry, Phoenix Suns
Leandro Barbosa and Jason Richardson, in particular, were both far more productive once Gentry took over than they had been under Porter, and as such, both look like pretty decent sleeper picks heading into this season. Remember, it wasn't too long ago that both Barbosa and Richardson were top-50 fantasy players. With Shaquille O'Neal gone and Channing Frye in to help spread the floor even more, the Suns should look a lot more like the Suns of old this season, which can be only good news for fantasy owners.
Paul Westphal, Sacramento Kings
This is an interesting case for Westphal, who, with a career winning percentage of .627, finds himself coaching a team that is at least a couple of seasons away from competing seriously. Westphal's Suns teams played fast because they had a great point guard in Kevin Johnson, great scorers in Charles Barkley and Dan Majerle, and not a whole heck of a lot of size. His teams in Seattle had Gary Payton, but with bigs such as Vin Baker and Horace Grant, they kept the pace down a bit. As such, it's hard to get a read on Westphal, except that he's a good coach who seems to recognize the abilities of his players.
This Kings team is a wild collection of talent, but it has athletes in spades. The Kings often will trot out a lineup of Tyreke Evans, Kevin Martin, Francisco Garcia, Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes, who all have some offensive ability and mostly can really get up and down the floor. Personally, Garcia intrigues me most as a fantasy sleeper. His skill set is extremely varied, and if things break right, he should be a decent source of blocks, steals, 3-pointers and assists, even if he doesn't quite match the 30 minutes per game he got last season. He can play three positions and should find himself minutes in lots of different roles. Expect this team to play fast and provide some surprising fantasy performances.
Flip Saunders, Washington Wizards
Well, it appears that after years of wondering what it would look like, we may finally get to see a fully healthy Wizards team for at least a few games. Instead of Eddie Jordan running the show, it'll be Flip Saunders. He has a reputation as a good offensive mind, which bodes well for fantasy, but his teams don't exactly set land speed records. His Detroit teams were among the league's slowest, and his Timberwolves teams were mostly right around the middle of the pack.
This is important, because the Wizards, with a healthy Gilbert Arenas running the show, played fast. They were among the fastest teams in the Eastern Conference each season and slowed down considerably only when Arenas was hurt for an entire season. One of the real questions heading into this season is just how much Arenas will dominate the ball, and that question will impact the fantasy stats of quite a few guys, especially Randy Foye and Mike Miller, talented players who find themselves in a new situation in D.C. You may want to temper your expectations for those guys until we see just what sort of player Arenas is now that he's a little older and wiser and probably a bit slower.
As for guys like Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, remember that they were great fantasy options (when healthy) even when Arenas was scoring almost 30 points per game. And Brendan Haywood's value comes mostly on defense, where this team needs oodles of help no matter what style it plays. The point is, if you see the Wizards starting to slip in drafts, you don't need to be afraid of them, just bear in mind that they might not play at the same fast pace they did in previous seasons under Jordan.
Eddie Jordan, Philadelphia 76ers
This situation, perhaps more than any of the others, seems like a great fit. Jordan's best Wizards teams were pretty fast-paced, and this 76ers team is very well suited to that style. One has to wonder where the outside shooting will come from, but the Sixers have Jason Kapono coming off the bench, and Marreese Speights has shown some major potential as a pick-and-pop weapon. Both guys could be decent fantasy sleepers in deep leagues.
The hype this season is for Lou Williams, who has some of the quickness and scoring ability that Gilbert Arenas displayed so proficiently under Jordan. Don't get carried away, though; Williams is not a good shooter, and there's little reason to believe he'll suddenly start knocking down enough jump shots to keep defenses honest. And although he's great at going to the hoop, Arenas came to Washington as an extremely good rebounder for a guard and a pretty good distributor to boot. All we know about Williams is that he can score, but he's not efficient enough yet to be the dominant force in fantasy that Arenas has been.
For me, the real beneficiary under Jordan should be Thaddeus Young, who's heading into his third season and has shown a ton of promise as a big small forward who can score in a variety of ways. He's not quite as big as the Wizards' Antawn Jamison, but like Jamison, he scores quickly from nearly any spot on the floor. He made some strides last season as a 3-point shooter and might be ready to make a leap in that category; like Jamison, he'll be a great source of steals who may end up with power forward eligibility at some point during the season.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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