Four coaches to look for who should be on the hot seat.
While many of you out there are caught up in thoughts of sitting snugly next to a warm fire, there are a few NBA head coaches whose seats should be a bit hotter this winter.
The heat got too hot already for one coach, Kevin McHale, whom the Houston Rockets fired 11 games into this season after going 4-7. He coached the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals last year, but a weak start and uninspired play by the team led General Manager Daryl Morey and the rest of the Houston front office to their decision to fire McHale.
No other coaches have been fired a third of the way through the 2015/16 campaign. However, these four coaches have had disappointing starts, and if they can’t improve their situations, their seats will continue to heat up.
Randy Wittman, Washington Wizards (15-16)
Preseason predictions across the board had the Wiz kids solidly in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. Anywhere from the fourth to the eighth seed, most pundits saw Washington as a 47-win team that could make it to the second round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Yet 31 games into the season, the Wizards stand 11th in the conference, just ahead of the New York Knicks, and two games back of the eighth seed Boston Celtics.
Washington is 14th in points per game and 23rd in opponents’ points per game while also ranking third to last in rebounds per game.
The lack of rebounding, though, has to do with the plethora of injuries the Wizards have sustained thus far. Nene, Drew Gooden, Bradley Beal, Alan Anderson, and Gary Neal have all been sidelined for significant portions of the season. Without Nene and Gooden, Wittman has been forced to go ultra small, using lineups with Jared Dudley at the five. Thus, the dearth of rebounding.
Additionally, the Wizards allow 60 percent shooting within five feet of the rim, according to NBA.com. You can bet that the lack of size inside has something to do with that. But what is more concerning is that Washington is in the bottom half of the league in opponents’ field goal percentage from every distance on the floor (less than five feet, five to nine, 10 to 14, 15 to 19, 20 to 24, and 25 to 29). They also give up the third worst three-point percentage and the fourth worst overall field goal percentage, and they allow the eighth most points scored in the league.
Wittman certainly could use the injuries as an excuse for the slow start, but can’t defend the team’s poor defensive play. Nor can he defend the fact that his two best players both publicly extolled him. Nor can he defend against the fact that he has an all-time record of 252-381 as a head coach—that’s 64.5 games under .500, according to Basketball Reference—and a 152-174 record at the helm in D.C.
Although Wizards brass has said they’re unlikely to fire Wittman in the final year of his contract, maybe they should reassess that statement. Because if I’m Kevin Durant, and I know I want to play in my hometown for the rest of my career, I’d have doubts about signing in D.C. if Wittman was still in charge by the time free agency rolls around.
Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns (12-24)
Boy, has there been more of a disappointment this year than the Phoenix Suns? Coming off a 39-43 season last year and a 48-34 run the year before, expectations were high in the desert. Fans wanted the Suns to finally break back into the playoff picture after being on the outside looking in the last two seasons.
With a young core built around Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, two ultra quick guards with above average ball handling ability, the team was set to contend once again for that feisty eighth spot in the vaunted Western Conference.
Yet here we are with the Suns second to last in the conference, losers of eight straight and 10 of 11 (including a home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers…). Oh, and Bledsoe is out for the remainder of the season while he rehabilitates a meniscus tear.
So what’s the deal? The Suns play the third fastest pace in the league, as can be expected when Bledsoe and Knight are the lynchpins of the offense, and score the sixth most points in the league, so offense isn’t the issue. Like the Wizards, Phoenix is afflicted by a below-average defense.
Phoenix allows a 47.6 percent field goal percentage, worst in the league, while allowing a 37.8 percent clip from beyond the arc, good for the league’s fourth worst mark. While their defending on the perimeter has been subpar, their interior defense has been lackluster as well, even with the addition of former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler. The team allows 60.9 percent shooting from less than five feet, fifth worst in the association.
As proof of the team’s poor defense, the Suns gave up 142 points to the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 2. According to ESPN Stats and Info, that’s the most points scored in a game in two years.
King score 142 points, the most in an NBA game ending in regulation in the last 2 seasons— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 3, 2016
While the offense has been good, Phoenix turns the ball over at a nearly league high rate. 16.8 turnovers per game and a turnover percentage of 15 percent are the highest rates in the league behind only the Sixers. Some of those giveaways are a product of how fast the Suns play.
But even in the height of the “seven seconds or less” Suns teams of the mid to late 2000’s, the team never finished worst than 16th in either turnovers per game or TO%. And three of the four years Mike D’Antoni was the head coach, the team was top ten in taking care of the rock.
Hornacek, in his three years in Phoenix, has done a pretty good job, considering he took a team that was thought to be one of the overall worst in the league and has had them just outside the playoff picture two years running instead. But he may have set the bar too high for himself. After two of his assistants were fired recently, the writing might be on the wall for Hornacek if he can’t improve the team’s defense, amongst other problems.
Dave Joerger, Memphis Grizzlies (18-17)
Yes, the Grizzlies are in the playoffs as it stands right now, and yes, the team is over .500, but only barely. After dropping a game against a Utah Jazz squad that was missing Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, and Dante Exum, the Grizzlies may have finally hit the lowest point of their season, a season which includes a 30-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at home, a 40-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder at home, and a 50(!!)-point loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Memphis is all sorts of dysfunctional right now, and it’s mostly because the defense has been downright bad, and they refuse to rebound the basketball. In the game against the Gobert-less and Favor-less Jazz, Memphis was out-rebounded by the Jazz 48-40. You’d think Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph would have been the game-high rebounders. But it was actually 6‘8 Trevor Booker.
Memphis is currently 27th in rebounding, which seems confounding, considering their frontcourt makeup. They are also 20th in assists per game and second to last in points per game, although that’s nothing new for a team that has, in the past, made its living off mucking up the game and grinding out hard-fought wins.
Now that grind is gone, but for brief flashes such as was shown against the Miami Heat on Dec. 30. The team is lackadaisical on the defensive end, allowing teams to score 99.2 points per game. While this is a top ten number, Memphis hasn’t allowed teams to score more than 97.6 points per game in the last five seasons.
The Grizz allow opponents to shoot 45 percent from the floor and 36.3 percent from three, both percentages in the bottom half of the league. These are not the worst numbers in the league, but when you only shoot 43.5 percent from the field and second-to-last 31.7 percent from deep, you have to be an elite defensive and rebounding team to counteract your lack of productivity on the offensive end. The Grizzlies used to be an elite defensive and rebounding team but are no longer.
Joerger has blamed the unsuccessful season on the team’s age. Memphis is the second oldest team in the league, but they surely aren’t too old to beat Utah without three of its four best players. Or at least to give an effort on the defensive end. It is incumbent on the players to properly motivate themselves, but it is equally as important for the coach to get the most out of his players, and Joerger simply is not doing that right now.
Byron Scott, Los Angeles Lakers (7-27)
The Los Angeles Lakers are definitively the second worst team in the association this year, and while much of that has to do with poor team building, the head coaching situation in LA isn’t helping anything either.
LAL is 28th in points per game while also 28th in opponents’ points per game. They are also 27th in assists per game and 18th in rebounding. They shoot a league worst 41.2 percent from the floor and fourth worst 31.9 percent from three. And in case you were wondering why they shoot so poorly, this may be a good time to remind you that Kobe Bryant (34.1 percent) and Nick “Swaggy P” Young (38.7 percent) play on this team.
To be fair, Scott wasn’t given much to work with in LA when he got there. But he was given some young talent in the forms of Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell. However, instead of allowing them to develop by giving them starters’ minutes and playing them in crunch time, Scott reduced the two’s roles, bringing them both off the bench.
For a team that is utterly doomed anyway, why not just play the young guys more minutes to let them develop, let them make mistakes? Does a 37-year-old wildly inefficient Bryant need to be playing 30 minutes a game? Let Scott answer that question for you.
Oh, yes, of course, because when a player shoots 34 percent from the floor and 26 percent from three on 30.8 percent usage percentage, that player deserves not only to play the second most minutes per game on the team, but also to be able to shoot the ball whenever he so well pleases.
Of the four coaches presented here, Scott is the most detrimental to his team and needs to be fired first. He is 444-609 on his career, a career that includes two Finals appearances and a Coach of the Year award. While he may have had success some years ago, he has none now, and his poor coaching detracts from the development of the only hope that exists in Lakerland.
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