Grading Jacque Vaughn's Season for the Orlando Magic So Far
Jacque Vaughn's second year as Orlando Magic head coach will go down as another bad losing season. Is it fair to grade his success solely based on his win-loss record? What else should we take into account? And how does he fare, all considered?
Orlando's current record of 19-47 (.288 winning percentage) may lead us to the conclusion that Vaughn is a failure as a coach. Then again, a certain Gregg Popovich registered a whopping .266 percent in his first year as the San Antonio Spurs' head coach. He has not gone below .610 in any of his 16 seasons since and will likely stay clear above .700 during this campaign.
Is Vaughn capable of such a feat?
We shall look at many factors in trying to determine his strengths and weaknesses. The current situation is a bit tricky in this regard because Orlando's management actually seems happy with its coach losing so many games. Rob Hennigan is giving Vaughn a lot of time to transform the Magic into a winning franchise once more.
Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel quotes the GM saying:
We're very proud of the job that Jacque has done. His leadership has set the foundation. He understands the process. He isn't in a rush to skip steps. He's a great teacher. He's done a noteworthy job of being unselfish, realizing we're building for the long haul.
He knew what he was signing up for as I knew what I was signing up for. We believe in the foundation we're establishing.
Then there is the 2014 NBA draft, which is loaded with talent. A top pick surely can go a long way for a successful future.
So is Vaughn trying his best to win games? Or is his main focus developing the young players and estimating their potential, weeding out unneeded personnel and picking up another great prospect along the way?
For the sake of this evaluation, we shall assume the Orlando Magic head coach doesn't flirt with the 2014 draft and tries to win each game.
Jacque Vaughn's game management definitely leaves room for improvement. He keeps making questionable decisions, most importantly regarding playing time and matchups.
2013-14 started with a puzzling substitution.
He wouldn't play a single minute in the third quarter.
Jacque Vaughn cited matchup issues as the reason. In his opinion, Jason Maxiell was better suited to defend David West. While that may be true, the Magic ended up scoring 20 points and conceding 29 during these 12 minutes.
Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel provides the quote:
I thought [Jason Maxiell] was unbelievable against David West, and [Pacers coach Frank] Vogel ended up playing David West the entire third. So I thought that matchup was great for us. Andrew scored all his points against Scola. And, so, Scola wasn’t in the game, and so it was on me to make that call, and I did.
It is commendable that he provided reasoning rather than just saying it was his decision, "period." Still, as a general rule, if someone has a hot hand, let him become the mismatch for the opponent. Especially when it means you can rest your veteran starter for crunch time with the game on the line.
This pattern hasn't changed throughout the season.
Guess who was subbed out after eight minutes and 16 seconds.
Until that point Harris shot 5-of-6, scoring 10 of his team's 12 points. He played with high intensity and finished proficiently at the rim despite considerable contact. The Orlando Magic ended this quarter with 14 points, and Harris' teammates shooting a combined 2-of-14.
Coach Vaughn seems more mistake-prone in his decisions than Vaughn the player was in his 12-year career.
Jacque Vaughn does a good job keeping his players' spirits up.
For a losing squad, motivation and team chemistry are often at issue. While team management would hope for headlines featuring wins and playoff hopes, it certainly must be equally happy there are none regarding locker room incidents.
There are no showdowns at gunpoint, no attempts to choke the head coach and no open trade demands.
Jacque is more of a Gandhi kind of guy. Soft but powerful. […] He pats you on your back – good job. That’s his motivation. But at the same time he still holds you accountable if you’re doing things wrong.
Also, considering the 19-47 loss record, it is refreshing to see the team compete on any given night. Watching the Orlando Magic play, you wouldn't know their season is already over. Some playoff contenders play with less heart and ferocity.
This is a matter of players' personalities but also Vaughn's influence.
He holds his players accountable, but at the same time knows their limits. He also realizes that there are times when you don't meddle and just let the players sort things out among themselves.
Does any of that sound familiar?
Vaughn has undeniably learned a lot from Popovich, both as a player and an assistant coach. While the coaches' player personnel couldn't be more different, Vaughn is capable of adjusting the goals and what he asks of his guys.
The Spurs are a title contender. The Magic are headed for the lottery. Nonetheless, Vaughn manages to apply what he learned.
This is one of Vaughn's glaring weaknesses this season.
The Orlando squad has a very erratic rotation. Minutes vary every night, and players subsequently have a hard time getting into a flow. Sometimes you even get the feeling they don't know what is expected of them from game to game.
Tobias Harris is one of the players suffering from this situation.
The 21-year-old has shown great promise after being traded to the Orlando Magic but can't live up to expectations this season. He faces two severe problems: He is caught between the 3 and the 4 and doesn't get consistent playing time at either.
According to Brian Schmitz, Vaughn still hasn't settled for specific rotations:
I'll continue to push guys and see what they're capable of doing. […] Is [Tobias Harris] best with the first unit or the second unit? We're still in the process, kind of, of filling that out. Can he get looks through the course of the game with certain personnel? That's still to be determined.
Inevitably, Harris has a hard time finding his rhythm.
For a young player it is daunting enough to adjust to the NBA. Having to learn how to play two different positions makes it even harder. The very least a talented—but still inexperienced—player like Harris needs is some consistency from the coaching staff.
This is where Vaughn needs to provide him with a defined role and enough playing time to evolve.
The same can be said about Andrew Nicholson and Maurice Harkless.
Jacque Vaughn has a luxury few other coaches have: He doesn't have to care about winning so much as improving his young players. With so much talent, roster development becomes crucial this season.
Orlando's coach can afford to let Victor Oladipo play a major role on the team, well aware that he makes a lot of mistakes that can end up costly in close games. By doing so, Vaughn ensures future success for the franchise.
On the one hand, losing means a better draft pick. On the other hand—more importantly—giving the rookie a lot of playing time boosts the 21-year-old's development.
The Magic's squad is full of talent, eight of their players haven't reached 25 years of age yet.
Currently, the only starters over 23 are the 31-year old Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo, 28.
While Vaughn's general distribution of minutes may be questionable and hindering the development of some prospects, he makes sure they see the court at least 11 minutes per game.
He is also a good teacher, which at this point is a crucial quality in a coach for the Orlando Magic. It is one of the reasons he was hired by Rob Hennigan.
Oladipo is the main asset and gets more playing time than any other youngster on Orlando's squad. He has rewarded his coach with improved play as of late and has found lots of confidence along the way.
He believes he is no longer a rookie, and it shows.
If Vaughn helped his other youngsters with steadier minutes and more clearly defined roles, he could score higher in this category.
Demeanor with Media
Orlando's coach knows how to handle the media.
It's not like he tries to act the right way, he's just a well-mannered, polite person. He goes easy on reporters, answering all questions patiently. If an inexperienced interviewer has to choose between him and Popovich, he will always go with Vaughn—unless, of course, he is masochistic.
There may be situations when Coach Vaughn gets defensive about his decisions instead of admitting his (perceived) error, like the already mentioned substitution of Andrew Nicholson in the season opener. Then again, if he is convinced it was the right choice, why back off later?
As a general rule, he does what he expects of his players: He holds himself accountable.
It's not the referees' fault, it's not the hostile environment, it's not the dirty play of an opponent that caused his team to lose. There are no excuses with Jacque Vaughn—not inside the locker room and most certainly not in front of the press.
It may not be common to judge a coach's potential. After all, coaches who are not successful right away don't get much time to show whether they have it or not.
They get fired.
But in this case, it makes sense to look at Vaughn's upside for two reasons: He has the trust of Orlando's management, and he is still a young coach who is learning a lot.
While his substitutions and rotation patterns frequently seem random and just plain wrong, he may actually be onto something. He will be with the franchise for many seasons if we can believe Rob Hennigan. The Magic's GM likes Vaughn and has trust in him.
So why not mess around with things while the franchise is in a rebuilding phase and not keen on winning?
He will learn a lot about his players.
How do they fit on the floor with any given unit? How do they react to varying playing time and what they (and we) may feel are bad substitutions? How quickly can some players get hot? How much responsibility can they handle? How do they cope in certain game situations?
If the Orlando Magic were a playoff contender, Vaughn's actions should—and certainly would—have cost him his job. As it is, he is probing and testing for future seasons.
Also, keep in mind that this guy played and then coached under Gregg Popovich. Pop doesn't surround himself with mediocre people. He must have seen something in Vaughn that caught his attention.
The 39-year-old seems to be confident in what he does.
Only time will tell, but it looks as if Jacque Vaughn has a lot of potential. We can only be certain once management feels that it is time to start winning and be part of the playoffs again.
Orlando fans, look forward to the future. Consistency of coaching staff allows for a profound building of a powerhouse. Good things will happen.
They will happen under Jacque Vaughn.
Taking all into consideration, Orlando's head coach still has a lot to prove.
Coaching a team with a losing record—especially such a devastating one—hardly shines a good light on your qualifications as an NBA coach. However, we need to take the Magic's situation into account.
You wouldn't expect Phil Jackson to suddenly make the franchise a contender for the NBA championship. So what should we evaluate?
Most of all, the way Vaughn motivates his players is a very promising aspect of his short coaching career. As a former NBA guard, he has a good idea of what goes on in his players' minds. He uses this in his approach.
The development of this young roster is instrumental for Orlando's future. He does a decent enough job, but a more consistent game plan could do wonders for some of the players who are struggling.
As for his game management: It really remains to be seen how well he fares once the pressure is on. With the team expected to at least compete for the playoffs as soon as next season, his decisions will carry more weight. If he can't show his proficiency in this area, he might lose the players' trust and confidence.
If that happens, it won't matter how much Hennigan likes him. He will have to go.
While he clearly has potential, we are looking at where he stands now. For the time being, he cannot be considered a top coach at any rate. Neither is he a complete failure. He would be the guy no one notices in class because he doesn't stick out at either end.
Coach V, here is your final grade.
Now go and prove you can do better.
You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.