28th December 2012
On the Nets Firing Avery Johnson
Anytime I talk about coaching, I’m talking solely about “in-game” management. Practices, game review, and other aspects of player development happen behind the scenes. I have theories about which coaches do these things better than others, but for me to speculate on that would be little more than guesswork.
When I’m watching a game, I don’t have to guess I can see a coach’s substitution patterns, his clock management, and the matchups he’s looking to exploit. When I talk about coaching, I’m talking about what I can see.
This makes the Brooklyn Nets’ decision to fire Avery Johnson a bittersweet one. Of all the current head coaches, I think Avery has been the most lucrative for me, not necessarily because I was betting against his teams. But rather I had a good handle on how he approached the game.
Most people know about my all-in Lakers title bet in 2000, but my biggest “one-time” score was in 2007. That’s the year Avery Johnson coached the No. 1 seed Dallas Mavericks all the way to the playoffs, only to have them lose in six games to the No. 8 seed Golden State Warriors.
Dallas went into the series an 11-1 favorite, with the league’s best record at 67-15.
They had the second-most efficient offense (1.11 ppp) but were 28th out of 30 in pace. They played slow but it worked because they had the league’s best offensive half-court player in Dirk Nowitzki.
Without going into too much detail, one reason I really liked GSW to win that series was because I felt that Avery would try to play slow against them, and I didn’t think this was a good strategy. There were other factors that influenced the bet, but that was the predominant one.
You aren’t going to win a lot of game against a transition team like GSW if you aren’t scoring in transition as well — especially when your half-court offense consists of jumpshots. Dirk was (and is) an amazing offensive player, but he’s a jump-shooting big man.
It’s okay to want to slow the game down and pound the ball inside the immediate basket area. But it’s extremely difficult to have proper floor spacing when your power forward is 15 to 17 feet from the basket, and your point guards and wings are below the free throw line extended. This type of offense leads to easy fast breaks the other way, even off of makes.
During that playoff series, Dallas averaged 13.28 seconds per offensive possession compared to GSW’s 10.92 seconds. That explains the average fast break points per game:
Good luck winning 4 out of 7 when you’re gifting the other team 11+ fast break points per game.
Avery Johnson loves having his team play at a slow pace because it allows him to control the flow of the game. You might be able to get away with that when you’ve got Dirk on your team, but NBA basketball generally doesn’t lend itself to that kind of coaching.
Consider that the shot clock is only 24 seconds. By the time the ball is inbounded to the point guard, if he has to look to the coach to get the play, and then communicate it to the players, you’re reduced to a 10-13 second clock. If the defense takes away the first option, you are now looking at trying to get something off with 3-5 seconds left on the clock.
Brooklyn may not have the personnel to be a fast-breaking team, but Deron Williams is a decent point guard who knows how to get a team into good sets. It’s extremely inefficient to have Deron looking to Avery on every possession to get the play call.
Plenty has been written about Brooklyn’s inability to score in the 2h. Here are the numbers:
1st half: 1.10 ppp
2nd half: .99 ppp
I put the blame on Avery, who is almost certainly calling more plays in 2h than 1h.
Avery Johnson is the same micromanaging coach in 2012 that he was in 2007, without a Dirk Nowitzki to protect him from his Control Freak ways.
The Fans in Brooklyn may not miss Avery Johnson the head coach, but me and my bottom line sure will.