Fantasy impact of NBA coaching changes
The NBA is often called a players' league. That label certainly applies to the basketball universe we call fantasy NBA. The players come first, naturally. Our teams succeed based on their numbers.
Still, the more time you put into your fantasy draft preparations, the more you can benefit, especially in the later rounds. And as you're gathering information on players and teams, the reality emerges: Coaches do matter. They install the system. They dole out the minutes. They like some players, for their game or even their personality, more than others. And all that and more figures into how a given player will perform.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at the eight NBA teams that have new coaches for the 2008-09 season, and the potential fantasy impact of each hire.
Fantasy impact: The 26-win Bucks were bad in 2007-08, so they fired their coach. They were awful defensively -- 23rd in scoring defense, 24th in 3-pointers allowed and dead last in opponents' field-goal percentage (.480) -- so they hired Skiles. Although player relations might not be his strength, Skiles will have Milwaukee playing defense. In the 2005-06 season, his Bulls held opponents to a league-low 42.6 percent shooting accuracy from the field. They were second in that category the following season.
What also stands out here -- and I'm not comfortable saying this -- is Luke Ridnour. I know, he doesn't shoot well (41.6 percent for his five-year career), he doesn't get to the line enough to take advantage of his high free-throw percentage and he posts ordinary steal and 3-point numbers. But look at his new situation: Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut and the newly acquired Richard Jefferson can score. And with Yi Jianlian dealt to New Jersey, Charlie Villanueva (who averaged 15.1 points and 7.7 boards after the All-Star break last season) should finally receive consistent minutes. Ridnour can do some serious dishing with this group. I know Ramon Sessions was an April warrior, but I expect Ridnour to run the point for Skiles. I think he'll be a late-round find.
Fantasy impact: Pat Riley's hand-picked successor knows what he's getting into. The 37-year-old Spoelstra has been on the Heat's staff for 13 years, serving as director of scouting for the past seven. In that position, his primary responsibility was to develop game plans for upcoming opponents. Perhaps the new coach's familiarity with the league will make some difference on the defensive end. Miami was average in scoring defense last season but allowed opponents to shoot almost 47 percent from the field, sixth-worst in the NBA.
It isn't saying much, considering that the 2007-08 Heat won 15 games, but Miami should be better this season. Things certainly improved this summer. A healthy Dwyane Wade brought home gold from Beijing, and the Heat might have claimed the draft's biggest prize in No. 2 overall pick Michael Beasley.
Fantasy owners know what they'll get from D-Wade and the grumpy but productive Shawn Marion. But Spoelstra still must figure out who will play point guard and center, and -- of most interest to fantasy owners -- how to handle the 19-year-old Beasley. And the answer there probably depends as much on the kid as it does on the coach.
Fantasy impact: Raymond Felton reportedly has had several positive offseason meetings with the Hall of Fame coach, and Emeka Okafor, after re-signing with Charlotte, called Brown's presence a plus. So the players should play. And there are some players here, even if some of them -- starting with Gerald Wallace and Okafor -- are seriously injury-prone.
Like the Bucks, expect the Bobcats (20th in scoring defense last season) to be much-improved defensively. The season before Brown took over in Indiana, the Pacers yielded 106.1 points a game. With Brown, they allowed 97.5 points in the 1993-94 season. The same held true in Philly: The 76ers allowed 106.7 points against before Brown, but only 95.7 points against in his first Philadelphia season of 1997-98.
Of course, those Pacers and Sixers teams saw their own scoring drop by about seven points in Brown's first season. Perhaps Jason Richardson, ninth in the league with 17.9 field-goal attempts per game last season, will feel the brunt of Brown's possession-milking offense the most.
But back to Felton. Charlotte's one significant offseason acquisition was point guard D.J. Augustin, selected ninth overall in the draft. Augustin, a college teammate of Kevin Durant, opened eyes by averaging 20 points in the Las Vegas summer league.
So where does this leave Felton? Augustin is talented, but I see him more as this year's Rodney Stuckey. I still think Felton will run the show. For what it's worth, when Brown came to the Sixers, Allen Iverson -- then a second-year pro -- saw a decline in shot attempts. But his percentage went up, and his turnovers declined significantly. I know I'm cherry-picking stats, and I'm not saying that Felton is headed for A.I.-level production. But if the former Tar Heel (he of the 41.6 percent shooting and 2.7 turnovers per game last season) sees a similar transformation in his numbers, it would be way cool for fantasy owners.
Fantasy impact: When a team fires its coach, his replacement often is someone with a completely different style. That's the case in Milwaukee with Skiles. Then there's the in-house hire, in which the new coach is familiar with the system. See Spoelstra in Miami.
So what then to make of Carlisle, an outsider who in style and temperament seems to share much in common with his predecessor, Avery Johnson?
There are signs that Carlisle, who won with half-court offenses in Detroit and Indiana, is willing to adapt now that he's coaching Jason Kidd. An ESPN.com article by Marc Stein about Carlisle's hiring noted that Carlisle spent some time observing Mike D'Antoni's system at Suns training camp last year. And as the Dallas Morning News noted, the Mavs' new assistant coaches, Dwane Casey and Terry Stotts, have backgrounds that contrast with Carlisle's.
You know the Mavs' background: They exited the postseason in April with a first-round loss to the Hornets. Johnson was fired, but the key players -- including Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse and Kidd -- remain. And each, save for the 28-year-old Howard, is in his 30s.
So even if Carlisle is a changed man, Dallas doesn't seem like an appreciably changed team from a fantasy perspective. The players are just a year older.
Fantasy impact: D'Antoni and the Knicks seem to be another unlikely pairing. At the time of his hiring, the New York Daily News published this bit of skepticism from an anonymous head coach: "I think it is a terrible match. Two of the biggest problems with the Knicks are that they don't practice and they don't play defense. I don't know if that changes now."
The Suns won three division titles and made two trips to the Western Conference finals under D'Antoni, but their inability to shut down teams when it counted led to his dismissal. Unlike Carlisle in Big D, though, D'Antoni doesn't figure to change his approach in the Big Apple. And that's just fine with fantasy owners.
Because the Knicks are the Knicks, some of their players seem well-suited for D'Antoni's system while others -- namely Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry and former Sun Stephon Marbury -- look as out of place as an eye patch on the Statue of Liberty. As for those who could flourish, start with Jamal Crawford, David Lee, Wilson Chandler and Quentin Richardson. And of course Nate Robinson hardly needs an invite to jack up some 3s. (Ironically, though, the former Suns draft pick was jettisoned to New York while D'Antoni was in Phoenix.)
The Knicks might not win many games, but for fantasy owners, they should be a fun team to watch, whether you have Crawford or Lee, or especially whenever one of your other players is going against New York. Welcome back, Mike D'Antoni.
Fantasy impact: Even with D'Antoni out of Phoenix, Steve Nash and crew aren't about to revert to half-court sets. In fact, the Porter hire was made in part because of his experience with a similar offense. As noted on NBA.com, Porter played for Rick Adelman in Portland and coached with him in Sacramento, and Adelman's offense shares some commonalities with D'Antoni's.
" We felt the transition would be made easier, since Terry has run a lot of that same stuff," Suns general manager Steve Kerr said at the time of the hire. "Obviously there will be differences and nuances, but the key for us was having someone who would be balanced on both sides of the ball and wanted to continue to push the ball and maintain our up-tempo style and could also come in and help us defensively."
Frankly, I'll believe the Suns have improved defensively when I see it. Even during their best stretch after the Shaquille O'Neal trade last season, when they won 10 of 12 games, the Suns still surrendered 105 points per game. This is another veteran team whose players should perform to fantasy owners' expectations.
Fantasy impact: After falling to Boston in the Eastern Conference finals, it was logical to wonder whether Pistons general manager Joe Dumars would overhaul this veteran roster. But Flip Saunders' firing and Curry's hiring were the only major moves of the offseason.
The 40-year-old is a former Piston who, in his playing days, was known for his leadership skills and knowledge of the game. Curry returned to Detroit as an assistant coach last season after two years in the league's front office.
Under Curry, look for Amir Johnson and especially Rodney Stuckey to get a big boost in minutes. Dumars was vocal with his regret that these two didn't play more in the postseason, and Curry sides squarely with his GM. The new coach recently raved about Stuckey to the Detroit Free Press, calling him the team's "sixth starter."
During the past five years, no team can compare to Detroit in terms of lineup stability. Perhaps this group has one more playoff run in it. Or perhaps a key injury or an extended period of so-so play will prompt Dumars to make a big move during the season. When it comes to fantasy mainstays Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, fantasy owners may want to lower their expectations, if only slightly.
Fantasy impact: The 42-year-old Del Negro comes to the Bulls after working in the Suns' front office as a director of player personnel and then as an assistant general manager. Though he's never coached, Bulls general manager John Paxson hopes Del Negro's communication skills will connect him with Chicago's young and frequently underachieving players.
Who Del Negro's players will be in Chicago remains an open question, however. Ben Gordon has balked at signing a one-year deal with the club. He and Argentinean Olympian Andres Nocioni have both been the subject of trade rumors.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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