The Los Angeles Clippers might be on the precipice of winning their first series in their 41-year history, but they aren't doing it because of their coach. Don't be fooled for a moment. Vinny Del Negro is a bad head coach.
I have often said that if you could harness the power of Vinny Del Negro’s brain, you could toast bread—light. Del Negro is so smart he’s almost mastered tic-tac-toe. He thinks knock-knock jokes are sophisticated humor. Get what I’m saying? He’s not too bright.
The Clippers have the single-worst head coach in the NBA. This team would be and should be much better than it is. The only reason it has achieved as much as it has is that the team started essentially ignoring him.
They are winning in spite of him, not because of him, and here are 10 reasons why.
Part of the problem with Del Negro is that he doesn’t know how to utilize the weapons he has. Take, for example, Caron Butler, whose field-goal percentage is 43 points lower than it was last year. Why is that?
It’s because Del Negro doesn’t have a grasp of how to create lateral ball movement in a half-court offense. He doesn’t know how to use his players to create space on the floor to get open shots. As a result, Butler doesn't get to do what he does best: sink open jump shots.
Instead, he doesn't have space, and as a result, takes contested jumpers that are contested because there is no spacing on the court.
Del Negro does't know how to utilize his players' strengths.
Del Negro’s next problem is that he has no grasp of player development. Let’s look at two players, Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe, as examples.
Griffin’s numbers are actually down this year. He’s scoring 20.7 points compared to 22.5 last year. His rebounding is also down from 12.1 to 10.9. While some have given him credit for an improved jumped shot, he’s also down there, shooting .314 this year compared to .323 last year.
Furthermore, there is no improvement on the defensive end.
Similarly, Eric Bledsoe, whom the Clippers fought so hard to keep, has also seen no improvement in his numbers. His numbers, even per 36 minutes, have declined this year.
When one young player isn’t developing, you blame the player. When none of your young players are developing, you blame the coach.
Del Negro’s offense basically consists of two things: let Chris Paul run an isolation play or feed it to Blake Griffin in the post or on the pick-and-roll.
Of course, these two things should be the foundation of your offense, but not to the degree it is. The Clippers are so reliant on the isolation that it’s almost comedic. Even the Heat don’t run the iso as much as the Clippers do. The Heat run it about 11 percent of the time, and the Clippers run it 14 percent of the time.
Sure, the Clips are the best in the league at running it, but it’s still basketball’s most inefficient play. Generally, when all else fails, go iso. That kind of dependence suggests all else is failing a lot.
Del Negro has no grasp of how to create space on the court by using ball movement, and it’s only since Paul has taken over as the de facto offensive coordinator that the Clippers have started to show the kind of offense they should have.
It will never be forgotten that Chris Paul had to talk Del Negro into letting him come back in and lead the comeback in Game 1 that will go down in history as one of the greatest in the history of the game.
When a coach had to be talked into letting his team fight to comeback, it says a lot about his character as a coach and how much he believes in a team. If a coach doesn’t believe in his team, how is he going to inspire them?
Really Del Negro’s idea of defense is no idea at all. They had the third-worst defense of any team that made the postseason in terms of defense rating. They give up the 21st-worst effective field-goal percentage.
They have both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but they are only 17th in defensive rebounding percentage.
How does a team that has an NBA All-Defensive First Team player have such a middling defense? It’s an easy answer; they are coached by Vinny Del Negro.
A stunning stat for the Clippers is that they average just 1.11 points per play in transition, which is only 21st in the NBA. They are 23rd in the league in fastbreak points per game. That’s just inexcusable.
A team that has Chris Paul, Mo Williams, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can’t even be in the top half of the league? What happened to Lob City?
Want to know what happened? Vinny Del Negro is mayor. That’s what happened.
Erik Spoelstra didn’t get a single vote for coach of the year. He’s in a tough spot. He’ll take all the blame if the Heat lose and get none of the credit if they win. However, he’s a competent coach. He understands the complexities of the game that Del Negro misses.
He gets the little things—like the basketball is round and orange. Del Negro doesn’t even get that much. There, simply put, is not one single coach that he would hold the advantage over in a series, not even the cross-town Mike Brown, who is only clueless on one end of the court.
Postseason coaching is about adjustments, but you can't make adjustments to chaos. Del Negro is winning on the talent of his team, not the strength of his coaching.
On the other end of the spectrum of not knowing when to let his players play he doesn’t know when to make them sit either. It was inexcusable to allow Griffin to keep playing on the same knee that kept him out for a year.
Del Negro risked Joakim Noah’s career by overplaying him while he was injured, and he risked Griffin’s career by allowing him to continue to play last night. Until the MRI is back, you don’t play him, period, especially when you’re not in the game.
The Clipeprs have Game 6 at home. It wasn’t just permissible to try and win without Griffin at that point. It should have been expected, and it should have been done.
Let’s be real here. The best coach on the team right now is Chris Paul. The reason the Clippers started to pull things together is that Paul started making the decisions. Whenever you look at the sidelines, it looks more like Paul is coaching Del Negro how to coach than it does that Del Negro is coaching Paul.
If the Clippers get to the next round, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Paul just take the clipboard out of Del Negro’s hand and start drawing up plays.
Truthfully, it’s not fair to put that on Chris Paul. He shouldn’t have to be the point guard and the head coach as well. Both he and Griffin could have a legendary team and titles in their future.
The Clippers, for once, are doing something right with their team, and they have assembled the talent to win a title. Now all they have to do that is get a competent coach to do it.
It’s fair to Paul and Griffin for the present, and it’s fair to them for the long-term to do just that.