There is a false notion—that great players make great head coaches—that contradicts reality. In actuality, veteran role players fare better.
I’ll often be watching a game, and someone like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James will make a smart play. Then, the commentators will talk about how that player will make a great coach someday. It’s possible, but not likely.
In fact, in the history of the NBA only two people, Bill Sharman and Lenny Wilkins, have been inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a player and an NBA coach. John Wooden was inducted as a player and a collegiate coach, though.
Tommy Heinsohn won rings as both a crucial player and a head coach, but he only made it into the Hall as a player.
Jerry Sloan has his jersey retired by the Chicago Bulls, and is in the Hall of Fame as a coach, but never made it there as a player.
There are a few others, such as Bill Russell and Larry Bird, who had brief stints as a head coaches that were successful but brief.
For the most part, though, the players who have made the best coaches, such as Phil Jackson, Pat Riley and Larry Brown, have spent their careers as role players. When considering future head coaches, that has to be accounted for.
And I have an idea of why that might be.
There is an expression, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” Here’s a thought for a modification to that cliché. “Those who easily can, do. Those who work to do, teach.”
The notion that because one can do a thing better, they can teach it better, misses a key factor: the process of learning. The more talented a person is, the easier a thing comes to him. The easier it comes, the less cognizant he is of how he learns it.
That cognizance is critical to teaching. If you remember, point by point, how you learned to do a thing, it’s easier to relay it.
If things come overly easy to someone, it’s harder for him to “teach” the steps he had to process in order to “learn.” The struggles to perfect a skill aren't quite the same.
This is just speculation, but that may be why, as a Hoops Hype study shows, head coaches who were never NBA players fare better than those who were players, and those who were role players do more than those who were great players.
(Technically, the study is intended to show the different results by position, but looking over the data confirms my premise.)
So, when looking at players who would make great coaches, I looked at role players first. In particular, I considered those whose roles were team-oriented and required a firm grasp of the offensive and/or defensive schemes. I looked for the “glue guys” who make things work, not by their talent, but by their understanding of the game.
I looked at players who had a high basketball IQ and a high actual IQ. Knowing how to do things on the court is a very important aspect of coaching, but not the only aspect. Knowing how to communicate to players, general managers, scouts, the media and so on are all instrumental to the job as well.
I also looked at pedigree. Most of the players who became great coaches had influences in their playing days. Riley played under Sharman. Jackson played under Hall of Famer Red Holzman and still carries the lessons he learned from him.
This isn’t a list of great players who will be head coaches, so don’t be offended by the lack of Bryant and James. I think both players are among the greatest ever and have an incredible grasp of the game, but their own greatness probably impedes them from being great coaches.
In fact, only one player who is likely to be a future inductee into the Hall of Fame made my list, and there are reasons for his exception, which will be explained in his slide.
This is a list of players who have the best chances of becoming the next great head coach. They are ranked subjectively, based on how much success I think they’d have as determined by the criteria I already laid out.