Avery Johnson: Is The Lil' General a Lil' Overrated?

Todd SingerContributor IJanuary 31, 2011

Does Avery Johnson's record belie an ineffective coaching style?
Does Avery Johnson's record belie an ineffective coaching style?Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

It's easy to look at Avery Johnson's .667 career winning percentage and see perhaps one of the most successful coaches in NBA history.

Were Johnson eligible (he's only coached 312 of the requisite 500 games), he'd rank 5th all-time in that stat, right behind the great Greg Popovich and just in front of the immortal Red Auerbach.

"The Lil' General", as he's affectionately known, won coach of the year and led his Mavericks to the NBA Finals in 2005-06, his first full season as head coach.

The following season, Johnson had the Mavericks challenging the 1995-96 Bulls for most wins in a season (72) and, although they ultimately fell short, Dallas secured the #1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

However, since that time, Avery Johnson's star has slowly begun to dim, landing him on the precipice of flaming out.

After the Mavericks had clinched the top seed, in 2006-07, they proceeded to fall victim to one of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history.

The man who had preceded Johnson as Dallas' coach, Don Nelson, led his high-flying Golden State Warriors to a stunning 6 game, 1st round upset of the 67 win Mavs, while Johnson seemed powerless to stop him.

Time and again, Johnson tried to match Golden State's style, instead of going back to what had brought Dallas so much success during the regular season.

After this series loss, Johnson would spend only one more season at the helm in Dallas.

He lead the Mavericks to the 7th seed in the West, followed by another first round dispatch, this time at the hands of the New Orleans Hornets.

Shortly thereafter, "The Lil' General" was relieved of his duties as Mavericks coach.

The next chapter in Avery's career could be one of the most telling. Despite all the success he had enjoyed in Dallas, no team seemed too anxious to make him their head coach.

For 3 seasons, Avery remained out of coaching, taking up a gig as an ESPN NBA analyst. For all he had done in Dallas, the fact that no one hired him should speak volumes.

Fortunately, for Avery, the new Nets owner, billionaire Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, took a liking to him. In June of 2010, Johnson was named head coach of the Nets, although some believe that his influence stretches far beyond his given title.

The Nets, fresh off a 12 win season in which they challenged the 1973 Sixers for infamy, would be the ultimate test for Coach Johnson.

He no longer had the luxury of leaning on Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, or Josh Howard.

Instead, he was being charged with aiding in the development of Brook Lopez, Derrick Favors, and his former point guard in Dallas, Devin Harris. "The Lil' General" had never been tasked with a rebuilding effort before; would he up to the task?

So far, the answer is a resounding "no". It may be a bit premature to judge a coach with as little talent as currently comprises the Nets roster, but some of Johnson's decisions have bordered on mind-boggling.

He came to New Jersey with the reputation of being a disciplinarian, with a strict focus on defense. While the Nets defense has seemingly improved (how could it not?), their offense is identically putrid (92.4 ppg) as last season.

The biggest knock on Johnson has to be that, aside from Kris Humphries and Jordan Farmar, almost everyone on the team has seemingly regressed.

Brook Lopez, once regarded as a future building block, suddenly can't grab a rebound and is far too often situated on the perimeter.

Devin Harris continues to be enigmatic at best. Whatever Avery's offensive gameplan is, it hasn't involved putting his best players in optimal positions to succeed, which should be a coach's primary objective.

Finally, it seems that the way Avery divides up the playing time leaves a lot to be desired.

Not only have borderline D-League players Stephen Graham and Johan Petro been getting play, they've been getting way too much of it.

On the other side of the coin, young stud Derrick Favors has had his nightly minutes fluctuate to the extreme.

Favors should be brought along slowly, but, as it happens, he's one of the top 5 players on the Nets team right now and when he succeeds, he should be rewarded.

However, in Avery's world, when Favors puts up 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 16 minutes against Cleveland, he sits for the remainder of the game, even with no fouls on his stat sheet.

We could get into Avery's lack of an offensive scheme, which has too often resulted in long jumpers, out of control drives, or shotclock violations, but we might be here all day.

While Johnson is not a miracle worker, seemingly every decision he has to make ultimately backfires.

Judge him on his body of work, sure, he comes out smelling roses. However, once you peel back the initial petals, it's very clear that, as far as Avery Johnson is concerned, the bloom is off the rose.