Scott Brooks, newly appointed Washington Wizards head coach, has inherited one of the least attractive coaching jobs available. Much of the recent history of the Wizards is disastrous. From the most recent embarrassing pursuit of Kevin Durant to missing out on several first-round picks, the Wizards have had significant lows in the past decade. As a coach, Brooks can only do so much, but he will be a positive for an organization without many bright spots in recent history.
Brooks has always done a lot with a little. As a player, he went undrafted out of UC Irvine but turned a rookie deal with the Philadelphia 76ers into an almost ten-year career, as a backup point guard. He won the title with the Houston Rockets in 1994 and played until he was 32. By that point, he had maxed out the ability his 5’11, 165-pound frame gave him.
With the Wizards job, Brooks will again have to do a lot with a little.
He inherits a .500 team that underperformed last year and has issues throughout the roster. They were in an awkward place as a team last season, between attempting various win-now moves while also trying to keep the cap space open to sign Durant if he ever showed any desire to come there.
The result was a disaster for Washington. The team never really got into a rhythm and floundered after a promising 2015 campaign that got them into the second-round of the playoffs. The Wizards are now left with a competitive young core the team has to be fully committed to, despite last year’s clear push to replace them. They are a young team with only two players over thirty and should improve if given stability and commitment.
Unfortunately, the Wizards are in a conference with LeBron James, and the defending champs do not look ready to cede their annual place in the Finals.
Going into this season, the Wizards definitely have their faults. Bradley Beal is now the highest paid player on the team with John Wall making $6 million less, despite being the demonstrably better player to this point. Washington made a desperate win-now overpay for an out of favor Markieff Morris that saw them lose a pick this year and two quality backups. The Wizards have two starting center options in Ian Mahinmi and Marcin Gortat, who may complement each other well as a defense/offense tandem, but also may make minutes hard to come by.
For a team with these problems, it is obvious why the Wizards went after a coach like Scott Brooks. In his past job coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder, Brooks developed a reputation as a player’s coach while pushing a brand-new franchise into a winner, year in and year out. He’s had a hand in developing every young star the Thunder have ever drafted from James Harden to the rising two-way star Steven Adams.
Part of the way Brooks achieves stability is through his starting lineup. In OKC, he was famous for not changing his starting lineup, despite repeated calls from the media to do so. The way he handles the crowded frontcourt situation on the Wizards roster will likely show who management will have to stick with or move on from in the coming months.
If he starts Markieff Morris at power forward as most expect, he will be going with the most talented option, but if he opts for stability and Jason Smith as a starter, Morris’ role in Washington will probably be limited.
There are many critics of this strategy especially as it led to the Thunder overplaying players like Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, but it won a lot of games too. In his first year with the Thunder, Brooks lost 70% of his games but never lost more than 50% again. With this strategy, he was able to keep the Thunder always in playoff contention in a brutal conference even when players like Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook lost significant time to injury.
This stability is almost the opposite of what the coaching staff did under previous Wizards head coach Randy Wittman. Under Wittman, the Wizards missed the playoffs in all but two of his ten seasons.
In many ways, the Wizards missed out on the playoffs last season because of instability that was created when they tried to instill the small ball philosophy management tried to build. The mistakes of last year, as well as Wittman’s inability to develop any of the draft picks of the last ten years into NBA players, likely contributed to the end of his time as head coach.
This is not to say that the hiring of Brooks does not have its faults. Offensively, his OKC teams were held back by isolation plays and the additions of Sefolosha and Perkins in key lineups. Of course, they had two of the best one-on-one scorers in the league in Westbrook and Durant, but the lack of a cohesive offensive system hindered the Thunder’s ability to win close games.
Regardless, the Thunder under Scott Brooks were contenders in his final three years in Oklahoma.
Brooks is a players coach who gets young talent to perform at both ends of the floor even when luck or bad personnel moves might have been a distraction.
There are few NBA coaches with his pedigree and if Washington wants to grow a contender around their young core they could not have done any better than the steady player-first approach that Scott Brooks will give them.
photo via llananba