Early Report Card Grades for Every Rookie NBA Head Coach

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistNovember 29, 2013

Early Report Card Grades for Every Rookie NBA Head Coach

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    All of the rookie head coaches in the league have survived their first month as NBA skippers, and they've had varying degrees of success.

    The 2013-14 season welcomed nine gentlemen into the head coaching ranks. Some were more prepared for the moment than others, but most of them have made encouraging strides.

    How are the Gregg Popovich disciples performing thus far? What about college phenom Brad Stevens, or the Memphis Grizzlies' in-house hire?

    On the following slides, I will grade the rookie coaches' start based upon preseason expectations and their overall impact on both sides of the ball.

     

    Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted, and accurate as of Nov. 28.

Jason Kidd, Brooklyn Nets

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    Grade: F

    Even when you factor in injuries, the Brooklyn Nets' 4-11 start is unacceptable, and Jason Kidd deserves a large chunk of the blame.

    A year ago, he was helping the New York Knicks overachieve on the court. Now, his sideline actions (or lack thereof) are hurting the crosstown Nets. Kidd has been accused of not doing enough proactively, and he even admitted to coaching poorly, according to B/R Lead Writer Howard Beck.

    Meanwhile, Paul Pierce questioned Brooklyn's ability to make halftime adjustments, according to CSNNE.com's A. Sherrod Blakely. That's pretty much an open criticism of Kidd's coaching tendencies.

    The offense continues to be disappointing, and the defense is downright disheartening. A veteran squad should not be surrendering 102.5 points per game, and injuries to Deron Williams and Brook Lopez might be the only excuses keeping Kidd around.

    Oh, and the staged cup spill only comes off as desperate. Just in case anyone thinks it should go down as a creative move of gamesmanship.

     

Dave Joerger, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Grade: C

    It's been a roller-coaster start for Dave Joerger and the Memphis Grizzlies, as they bounced above and below .500 throughout November.

    For the first couple weeks, he tried to implement a faster pace than the Griz were used to, with mixed (and sometimes ugly) results. It didn't take too long for Joerger to reinsert some classic, slow-tempo offensive sets for his bigs.

    Point guard Mike Conley explained the philosophical shift to Sam Amick of USA Today:

    It took us some time because we tried to change (the offense) and I don't think it really (worked). We went fast, and I think we got a little bit out of control for everybody. We're still playing a little bit quicker, but when we get to our offensive sets, we're able to slow it down to a pace that's better for our bigs, and it's working. We knew that there were some plays from last year that we probably should keep.

    It's great that the players are more comfortable with the offensive style, but Joerger has a tough challenge ahead, with Marc Gasol (knee) out indefinitely. If the rookie skipper can keep the Grizz in the playoff hunt while the big man is out, he'll earn major kudos.

     

Michael Malone, Sacramento Kings

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    Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: C+

    While it's clear the Sacramento Kings are years away from competing in the Western Conference, there is reason for hope with Mike Malone.

    The former Golden State Warriors assistant immediately brought an effective defensive approach to Sac-town, as he's working to strengthen last year's league-worst unit.

    Do the Kings have a top-tier defense? Not yet, but you can see significant steps in the right direction. For example, their pick-and-roll defense is much improved, and Malone isn't afraid to call out guys like DeMarcus Cousins for lackluster execution.

    Offensively, it's been a rough start. In six different games, Sacramento has failed to score more than 90 points, which obviously isn't going to get the job done. Part of the blame goes to a reshaped roster and Malone's defensive-minded approach, but part of it is due to lack of execution and distribution.

     

Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks

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    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: B

    Anyone who can effectively implement Gregg Popovich's coaching style will win a healthy share of games, so former San Antonio Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer has a good chance to succeed as a head coach.

    He hasn't escaped early struggles, though, as the Atlanta Hawks' reshaped roster is still trying to find a sense of consistency.

    A huge bright spot is how well the entire team is sharing the ball (24.6 assists per game). They're spreading the ball around like Budenholzer's old club, and that kind of culture will eventually lead to wins and playoff runs.

    However, the Hawks are riding a three-game losing streak and are coming off their worst loss of the year, a 113-84 drubbing against the Houston Rockets. The Budenholzer project is far from complete.

     

Brian Shaw, Denver Nuggets

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: B

    After finally getting his coveted NBA head coaching opportunity, Brian Shaw didn't see immediate results.

    His Denver Nuggets lost four of their first five games and looked incapable of putting a solid 48 minutes together against any opponent.

    However, he pushed his players to improve on every possession, and now they've won seven of their last nine contests. They're doing a lot of things well: pushing the tempo, rebounding, and perhaps most importantly, taking care of the ball. The Nuggets are third in the NBA in pace factor, yet they're averaging a modest 14.9 turnovers per game.

    Shaw realizes that his intense, defensive, Pacer-esque approach might not be the best fit for the Nuggets, so he's adjusted. Consequently, the team is exhibiting a nice blend of blue-collar and uptempo styles. Once they get Danilo Gallinari back, the Mile High ballers will be a handful for any foe.

     

Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Grade: B+

    Overall, Brett Brown's first few weeks as an NBA head coach have been extremely impressive.

    Prior to the season, the Philadelphia 76ers were thought to be a laughingstock, something closer to a minor league team than an actual NBA outfit.

    But Brown's rigorous conditioning regimen has turned the Sixers into a relentless group, as he's maximized the collection of talent, especially on offense.

    On the other end of the floor, they can't figure out how to stop anyone, as they're giving up 109.1 points per game. We can't fault Brown completely, because he's had a bunch of different lineups to work with, but we're certainly not going to let him off the hook.

    He earns a solid grade due to three simple feats: Philly is running, rebounding and sharing the ball at a high level.

     

Steve Clifford, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Grade: A-

    "No one is doing more with less than Charlotte's Steve Clifford," tweeted Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

    When you look at this ultra-young Bobcats roster, it's amazing that they're holding opponents to 92.4 points per game. He's got them playing with an intensity unmatched in previous years.

    Sure, he'd love for the offense to be more productive and consistent. However, Charlotte has run into some buzz-saw defenses during the early portion of its schedule. Scoring will come with time (and additional talent in the rotation).

    The Bobcats probably won't sniff a playoff seed, but the fact that they're not a cellar-lock is an achievement in itself.

    Clifford has a long road ahead, but respectability is a good first step.

     

Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: A-

    Grading Brad Stevens so far is difficult. Without much talent and without a true starting-caliber floor general, the Boston Celtics don't have a high ceiling.

    But wherever their 2013-14 ceiling may be, Brad Stevens is going to help them reach it.

    You can tell the Shamrocks don't lack effort, and we've seen glimpses of well-orchestrated games. When they run the floor and find cutters in early offense, they find high-percentage opportunities and put defenses on their heels.

    Stevens' Celtics are also doing a solid job of thwarting opponents' scoring attempts. They're defending the three-point line extremely well, and for the most part, they are giving themselves a shot to win late in the game.

    Despite a 6-11 record, you can tell why he thrived at Butler.

     

Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Grade: A

    Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Co. are overachieving in the desert, and much of the credit goes to new Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek.

    He's already improved the young squad on both ends of the floor, getting them to compete every single night and accomplish the finer points of the game. Even though the offense doesn't dish out many assists, he does a great job of putting his playmakers in position to score.

    Marc Stein of ESPN aptly illustrates Hornacek's philosophical victory in Phoenix: "Getting guys to buy in, I continue to say, is more crucial to modern coaching than X-and-O brilliance any day. Hornacek appears to have it."

    Hornacek's latest feat in his early coaching career is a 120-106 thrashing of the Portland Trail Blazers, who were on an 11-game win streak.

    Sitting above .500 is a great achievement for this rebuilding bunch, but does the front office approve of the non-tanking results?

     

     

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