On Monday afternoon Flip Saunders left practice early, storming out and cutting it short because he said his team did not have a sense of urgency and that his players were not working hard. Saunders also said, “That’s the one thing as coaches, you can’t coach effort.” He told his team to come back for a second practice that afternoon at 4 pm.
Barring your opinion of whether coaches can really coach effort or not, or if they should at least be taking measures to encourage maximized effort, or if you believe it should not be an NBA coach’s responsibility to hold the hands of basketball millionaires, there are a lot of issues with this Wizards team and they have been pointed out.
But Saunders walking out on practice … how big of a deal is this? Sure, as TAI’s Adam McGinnis was opining to me over Google-chat, this would be getting killed in Chicago or New York. Then again, via web media with boundless reach, it’s out there for a larger audience to scrutinize nonetheless.
Is it a good sign? No, it’s not a good sign that the lines between coaching instruction and player implementation are not in tune. But we’re talking about practice.
With a young team, this can be expected … a coach sending a message, that is. The surrounding circumstances have been building up to this, contributed by many playing poorly so far, but with non-rookie Wizards 25 years or younger being glaring culprits. On offense, they are simply clueless and immune to creating for teammates.
Speaking specifically about the Wizards’ big men, Saunders said:
“Combined all your big people have five assists, y’know as far as team play those aren’t very positive team stats. I know Dave Cowens ,who I consider one of the best centers, the first thing he always looked at was assists from other team’s big men. If other big men don’t have assists then they shouldn’t play. They don’t make people better. That’s what you do. [Make people better]” (via Bullets Forever)
In terms of “making people better” and assists, let’s stick to theme of Wizards non-rookies 25 or younger and look at some quick numbers. The qualified foursome of Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Yi Jianlian (at his “listed” age) has logged 472 total minutes and has registered 15 total assists so far in 2010-11 — a combined 1.14 assists per 36 minutes among them. Here are their individual assists per/36 numbers:
- Blatche – 1.88
- Yi – 1.08
- McGee – 0.58
- Young – 0.48
These numbers are pretty bad, especially for a perimeter player such as Young. For McGee, it’s somewhat understandable — although they both seem to wear horse-blinders of similar size when it comes to seeing the entire court. Hockey assists? This crew has rarely heard of them, much less being the ones who facilitate hockey assists, which would involve getting an assist themselves.
Here lies the problem: These guys have had tumultuous and inconsistent experiences with NBA coaching. Not counting Yi, Blatche, McGee and Young have gone from Eddie Jordan’s unforgiving approach toward youth, to Ed Tapscott’s more cerebral approach for an interim period of time, to the stylings of current coach Flip Saunders. And for those three, this is their second season in Saunders’ system, albeit now under different circumstances.
Again, maybe you can’t coach effort, but perhaps coaches hold a certain responsibility in igniting it. And maybe walking out on practice is Flip’s tactic in that regard. And maybe Saunders’ frustrations are boiling over because imposing instruction upon some of the players on the roster he was handed is akin to trying to drill a hole into cement with a toothpick. And maybe this is all just a small, insignificant blip on a long season’s radar.
Tell us what you think of via the poll below.
- Is it “just practice” and Flip sending a message to his players no big deal (they’ll get it eventually)?
- Or it is more of a cause for concern, specifically in terms of how these players have been developed and how they’ve allowed themselves to be developed? (With those two issues being separate for purposes of this poll.)