You may be aware that the Lakers have fired Mike Brown as their head coach. You also might be aware there was an election in the second biggest news of the week. There may be just a bit of speculation on who the next head coach will be and one name that will be brought up is Jeff Van Gundy.
Prior to speculating what kind of coach he would be for the Lakers, it seems prudent to analyze what kind of coach he has been in the past.
Van Gundy has a solid coaching history. He managed the New York Knicks to the NBA Finals when the City That Never Sleeps was partying like it was 1999 (because it was 1999). He has a career record of 748 and 430 for a winning percentage of .575. His 56 games over .500 ranks him 24th all-time.
During his tenure with the Knicks from 1996-2001, they were eighth in wins and ninth in SRS, a stat-based ranking which balances margin of victory and strength of schedule.
While offensively they struggled as only the 24th best offense in the NBA as measured by offensive rating, they had the best defense in the NBA.
During his tenure with the Houston Rockets from 2003-2007, they were seventh in wins and sixth in average margin of victory. They had the fifth best SRS over that span.
But while they had the third best defense during his tenure, they were only the 23rd best offense.
In both cases the teams were 27th in the NBA in Pace.
One question worth asking is how much of that defense was the result of Tom Thibodeau, his defensive assistant the entire time? It's hard to say what he would do without Thibodeau as he has never coached a team without him, but based on Thibodeau's success with Boston and Chicago since leaving Van Gundy, it's a good chance that he was at least a part of the reason for the defensive success the Knicks and Rockets had.
Thibodeau has coached the top defense in the league every year since leaving Van Gundy.
There's also the reality that only once in his career, with the 2005 Rockets, has Van Gundy ever coached a team in the top half of the league in offensive rating.
There are three things we can surmise from his coaching history. First, he is not a very good offensive coach. Second, he may or may not be an outstanding defensive coach. Third, he prefers a slow-paced game.
Even if we assign him full credit for the outstanding defenses under him, though, there's still the reality that the offense is not great and the Lakers are having major issues on the offensive side of the ball. Certainly, they're having issues on the defensive end too, but at most Van Gundy would be able to address the issues on only one side of the court.
MIke Brown was a coach who eventually proved that he was a head coach who prospered because of the excellence of someone else, albeit a player, LeBron James, and not an assistant.
Van Gundy could be a great coach waiting to happen, but there's a good enough chance that he's another Mike Brown that the Lakers shouldn't roll the dice on it. If there wasn't such an urgency to their situation it might be different, but right now, this season, with this group, it just doesn't make sense.
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