Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro won the NBA’s Western Conference Coach of the Month Award for games played in December, and it’s starting to look like he’s also a viable Coach of the Year candidate.
Less than 12 months ago, those things seemed almost impossible.
Long criticized for, well, just about everything, Del Negro is making many pundits reevaluate their opinions on his ability to run a team. Just for fun, here’s an especially critical review of the Clippers coach from a February 2012 roundtable discussion involving some of the most respected NBA writers around.
You’ll note that Del Negro took heat for everything from his lack of offensive creativity to the perception that he’s only getting by because of his team's talent.
Now, after a 16-0 December run, it’s hard to deny that Del Negro must be pushing a lot of the right buttons.
For starters, he’s clearly got his team playing hard, which is a huge part of any coach’s job. The Clips attack teams on defense, as evidenced by their No. 3 ranking in defensive efficiency. Overall defensive numbers aside, the fact that the Clippers lead the NBA by forcing 17.5 turnovers per game is a huge indicator that Del Negro has his guys getting after it on the floor.
Beyond that, he’s also working some magic with the his rotations. Thanks to the bench unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf, the Clips boast a five-man group that can extend leads and keep the starters’ minutes down.
With all of the options available to him, Del Negro has managed to pick out a group that works extremely well together. That cohesiveness has resulted in 41.7 points per game from the bench, which is the second-best mark in the league.
Given all of the variables involved with mixing and matching his bench options, the Clippers coach deserves credit for finding the right formula. Especially considering that he successfully integrated four players (Crawford, Barnes, Odom and Turiaf) who weren’t even on the team last year.
It’s also worth mentioning that both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have made very real progress in their respective developments under Del Negro.
Griffin’s jumper is falling more frequently this year. He’s hitting a career-high 39 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet, and his turnovers per game are down from last season.
In the same vein, Jordan’s PER has risen for four straight seasons, and he’s turning into more than just an athletic shot-blocker under Del Negro.
It’s critical for a coach to foster growth in his young players, particularly if they’ve got star qualities.
He’s done that with his frontcourt tandem.
In the end, though, it’s probably best to exercise a little caution when it comes to praising Del Negro—no matter how impressive he's been this season. Because even when coaches are at the top of the heap, success is often short-lived.
Just ask November’s Coach of the Month, Avery Johnson.