by Jim Feist
Successful basketball teams need to have a combination of one or two talented players plus unselfish role players. That’s fairly obvious. What is easy to overlook is the guy holding the clipboard on the sidelines.
Yes, coaching is an important factor when handicapping games. It’s the coach’s responsibility to organize, teach and motivate players. That’s not always easy to do with professional athletes often making more money than the coaches. Coaching requires many skills, such as communicating with players, teaching defense, and knowing what buttons to push for motivation.
Guys like Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordon and Larry Bird were highly self-motivated. However, most pro athletes are not, giving varying degrees of effort. It’s up to the coach to coax, stroke or even punish a player to help them perform at their highest levels to help the team compete. Every player is different, so a coach has to learn which players need a pat on the back and which ones to kick in the butt.
One of the most important things an NBA coach can do is to teach defense. Notice that Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were together for three years with the Lakers from 1996-99 but flamed out badly in the playoffs each time. It wasn’t until Phil Jackson’s arrival that the Lakers turned into champions, and Jackson’s greatest contributions were his ability to motivate and teach defense.
Last year Golden State won the title with a flashy offense but they were also outstanding defensively in field goal shooting defense and defending beyond the arc. The previous champion, San Antonio, was also great on defense and has been for years under Gregg Popovich.
Dov Rivers is the head coach of the Clippers and has had mixed results with his teams defensively over the years in Orlando, Boston and now LA. His Celtics team struggled on defense for a while -- until the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett. So, yes, the players make the most difference, but it's important to examine the coach on the sideline to make sure he demands defense and gets the most out of them.
Watch carefully how teams respond to coaching changes. Talent doesn’t mean that much if a team is unhappy or tuning out the coach. A few years ago, the unhappy and feuding Atlanta Hawks went 6-23 ATS to end the season! Coaches can make a big difference in how a basketball team performs – straight up and against the spread.