By: Darren Schmidt
Coaching in the NBA is pretty simple: if you have bad players you will lose. If you have good players you will win. If you have great players you can win titles.
Most people who follow the NBA understand this, but still, year after year, the relative merits of head coaches are discussed to death. It’s no different here. Fans are becoming increasingly critical of the job Keith Smart is doing with the 19-26 Warriors.
Like all coaches, Smart is constantly second-guessed for who he plays and doesn’t play. A month ago people were so outraged about Vladimir Radmanovic getting minutes I was worried a fan was going to bumrush the floor and take him as a hostage. But Smart stuck with him and Vlad Rad eventually started helping the team. Now Smart’s getting criticized for who he’s not playing (enough)—Ekpe Udoh and Steph Curry.
People need to calm down calling for Udoh. He’s a limited rookie who’s been active for a month after not playing for 8 months and he’s averaging 12 minutes a game. That doesn’t seem unreasonable. The situation with Steph Curry is a little more complicated. You never want a disconnect between the coach and the “star,” and it’s hard to argue that putting Curry on the bench is good for the Warriors in the short or long term, but it is worth pointing out that the Warriors are 9-4 when Curry plays fewer than 30 minutes and 2-2 when he plays fewer than 25. There’s also the possibility that his reduced minutes are an attempt to get Curry to play defense in front of his opponents and not behind them.
Defense is a sore subject with Warrior fans. As a team the Warriors had the 29th ranked defense in ‘09/‘10. In the offseason they brought in David Lee and Dorell Wright to play next to Curry, Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins. You know what that gets you this year? The 28th ranked defense. I’m not sure what people want and expect Smart to do to make this a better defensive team. To paraphrase noted defensive guru Don Nelson (who said the following about free throw shooting), if you want to get better defensively you should get better defensive players. Larry Brown would not make this a good defensive team. Neither would Tom Thibodeau. Dwight Howard might, though.
Ultimately, coaches are judged by their records. 19-26 isn’t good, especially for a team that has had two winning seasons since Blackstreet was hot, but it’s a pace for 35 wins, which is about where people thought the talent of this team stood before the season started. The Warriors are also on pace for a bigger improvement than any of the other teams that won fewer than 30 games in ‘09/’10: the Wolves, Kings, Wizards, Pistons, Nets & Clippers. And without getting too deep into every Warrior fan’s least favorite subject—injuries—the fact is they have a winning record when their top three players all play. Winning 35-42 games depending on breaks with this roster is a bad coaching job?
Keith Smart isn’t a good coach and he isn’t a bad coach. He’s a decent coach because he has decent players. And if the Warriors get better players he’ll become a better coach.