Which Big-Name Coaching Candidate is Best for Brooklyn Nets?
Sean Marks and the Brooklyn Nets are big-name hunting. Per Marc Stein’s recent report, the general manager is building a head coaching wish list that includes several prominent former options.
Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Tyronn Lue are all on the list, along with former Nets coach Jason Kidd and interim head coach Jacque Vaughn. It seems that Marks and Co. are targeting candidates who have experience with NBA stars, which is becoming an increasingly tricky task in today’s NBA.
Jackson and Van Gundy have ties to the Big Apple and are familiar with coaching high-profile players. Kidd is a Nets franchise legend as a player, though his first tenure as coach (2013-14) was a fairly large disappointment. Lue has ties with Kyrie Irving from the Cavaliers days.
Each of them has different personalities, experiences and coaching styles.
Recently fired Kenny Atkinson already lifted the Nets from the cellar to respectability. The Nets must ask themselves: Which of the current candidates can build on that progress, maximize the stars and empower the whole group to become perennial title contenders?
Brooklyn may not make a decision for a while, but let’s examine what these big-name nominees offer.
4. Mark Jackson – 3 SEASONS (Golden State Warriors)
Best O-Rating: 107.5 (12th in 2013-14)
Best D-Rating: 102.6 (4th in 2013-14)
Best Net Rating: +4.9 (2013-14)
Best Playoff Finish: Lost in 2nd Round in 2014
Unfair or not, Jackson often gets penalized in the minds of basketball fans for not being Steve Kerr. He’s also received criticism for his broadcasting over the years. His playing and coaching careers were also not without some behind-the-scenes controversy.
So what makes him an interesting candidate for the Nets? Not only is he a native Brooklynite who played college and pro ball in New York, but there are also some exciting bright spots in his coaching resume.
Jackson was a good defensive coach in Golden State.
He got that group of rising stars to buy in and execute at a high level, turning in a fourth-ranked defensive rating (102.6) in 2013-14 (which would be ranked 2nd in 2019-20). Offensively, he ran effective 1-4 sets and elevator plays that freed up scorers:
However, we can’t let him off the hook completely. There’s strong evidence to suggest he didn’t utilize his stars optimally in Golden State, so there’s always the worry he might not maximize Irving and Durant.
As Nick Hauselman of Bball Breakdown noted, part of the problem is Jackson didn’t run those elevator plays and catch-and-shoot plays enough. He ran Curry off screens just 7.2 percent of the time he was on the court in 2013-14—which is after he and the whole world knew Curry was an elite shooting talent.
Jackson’s offense also frequently had sub-optimal spacing during Floppy and HORNS formations. Even though the Warriors won 50 games during his last year, the championship leap that Steve Kerr concocted the following season suggested that Jackson wasn’t maximizing the roster.
I believe Jackson is a good coach. He guided the early 2010’s Warriors back into the playoff picture. But is he a great coach, and the right coach to take Brooklyn to the next level? I’m skeptical.
I’m not sure he can run an offense that keeps Irving and Durant happy while remaining efficient enough to outduel elite teams. But he certainly deserves a second chance to prove what he’s learned.
3. Jason Kidd – 4+ Seasons (BROOKLYN NETS AND MILWAUKEE BUCKS)
Best O-Rating: 109.8 (9th in 2017-18)
Best D-Rating: 102.2, (4th in 2014-15)
Best Net Rating: +0.5 (2014-15)
Best Playoff Finish: Lost in 2nd Round in 2015
Speaking of second chances… While he was a brilliant point guard during his playing career, Kidd’s head coaching results have been rather mediocre: He won one playoff series during his five seasons in Brooklyn and Milwaukee, with an overall record south of .500.
Kidd has drawn interest as a candidate in part because he knows the history, the fans, and the culture of the organization. But familiarity with a fanbase doesn’t magically defend pick-and-rolls or orchestrate a contending offense.
Kidd’s body of work as a head coach simply isn’t convincing enough. He fostered some good ball movement, yet he struggled to consistently give stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo enough offensive spacing.
The sets he ran didn’t incorporate enough simultaneous movements on the weak side to keep help defenders busy, so things often got stagnant:
At least Kidd’s offense gradually improved during his time in Milwaukee. The defense, on the other hand, deteriorated. The 2014-2018 Bucks often had trouble protecting the rim, especially in pick-and-rolls. This led to a bevy of points in the paint, free-throw attempts and favorable three-point opportunities for opponents.
Although Kidd was a championship player, I’m struggling to envision him as a championship coach in Brooklyn.
2. Jeff Van Gundy – 9+ SEASONS (NEW YORK KNICKS, HOUSTON ROCKETS)
Best O-Rating: 106.2 (15th in 2004-05)
Best D-Rating: 97.5 (4th in 1998-99)
Best Net Rating: +5.3 (2006-07)
Best Playoff Finish: Lost in NBA Finals in 1999
It might be tricky for Van Gundy to transition back to NBA coaching in today’s era. But his stint as head coach of Team USA’s FIBA AmeriCup and World Cup qualifying team might help a little.
The hope is that JVG would lean on the more modern approach we saw during USA Basketball, rather than his 90’s teams’ style, which is largely incompatible with today’s players and officiating.
Offensively, Van Gundy seems to have adopted much of today’s spacing. His early offense and semi-transition actions in FIBA play consisted of a lot of high inside screens and pick-and-rolls with shooters spaced. However, he liked to mix in a few post-ups, with varying success. It remains to be seen how much he’d lean on post-ups with a scorer like Kevin Durant.
We know JVG would aim to instill a strong defensive identity into the team. His Knicks squads were elite defensively, and he would find ways to achieve defensive success even in this less-physical era. The rules are different, but he would work as hard as any coach on that end.
I was impressed by how JVG jumped into a new league and newly formed team. He had success in FIBA play after not coaching for ten years. If offers proof that he might adapt if he returns to the NBA.
However, his hard-nose coaching style makes him a risky hire unless Sean Marks has inside information that Irving, Durant and Co. would like to play for him.
1. Tyronn Lue – 3+ SEASONS (CLEVELAND CAVALIERS)
Best O-Rating: 113.6 (3rd in 2016-17)
Best D-Rating: 104.5, (10th in 2015-16)
Best Net Rating: +4.9 (2015-16)
Best Playoff Finish: NBA Champions in 2016
Whatever differences Irving had with Lue at the end of their run in Cleveland seem to be water under the bridge. Kyrie reportedly prefers his former coach to run things in Brooklyn, per Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports.
They teamed up with LeBron James for a championship in 2016, and the hope is that they could do it again with Kevin Durant. Lue’s experience in leading multiple stars during playoff runs could help him navigate the challenge of helming Brooklyn’s roster.
From a schematic standpoint, we can expect a nice variety of effective modern sets that proved successful for superstars in today’s era.
The Cavaliers ruled the Eastern Conference during Lue’s tenure in large part due to an elite, diverse offense that ran through James and Irving.
Lue did a good job getting screens for Kyrie early in the shot clock, whether it was with high pick-and-rolls, double drag screens or pistol action. He also ran some interesting sets that forced opponents to pay attention to Irving and James at the same moment, which often led to easy buckets for everyone.
The following play, called “C Knicks” by Coach Gibson Pyper of Half Court Hoops, is a great way to make defenses worry about two stars simultaneously. The Cavs can threaten a pick-and-roll on one side of the floor, then reverse it to the other side where a sideline screen is waiting for the receiver:
Lue is not my top choice on this list simply because he’s the only one who’s hoisted a Larry O’Brien trophy. It’s because he’s proven he can coach megastars (including Irving himself) at a high level with a diverse, modern offense. He has experience juggling the personalities of multiple stars and getting the best out of them.
Is he the absolute best man for the Nets job? Maybe not if the list were expanded a bit further. But among these four high-profile candidates? He’s absolutely my pick.
Dan is a TBW staff writer. After playing college ball at Franciscan University, he covered the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report for four years and the FRS Network for three years. He now co-hosts the Unlimited Range podcast and continues to campaign for Doris Burke’s promotion to lead analyst at ESPN. Follow him on Twitter: @DanO_Bball