StartingFive: Grading the Rookie Coaches

Each week NBA Australia‘s stable of NBA experts, which includes Downtown’s Liam Santamaria and Tommy Greer, takes a close look at the big issues in the NBA.

This week, the Starting Five take aim at the four rookie coaches in the NBA and grade their individual starts to the season.


Liam Santamaria: Quin Snyder (B+)

The losses have recently begun to pile up for Utah’s rookie head coach Quin Snyder.

After beginning the season with a number of impressive wins, the Jazz have struggled to compete at a consistently high level over the past two weeks and are currently in the midst of a disappointing eight-game losing streak.

To be fair, Snyder’s primary responsibility is to guide the development of Utah’s young core of talent.

Whilst everyone loves to win, the 2015 playoffs were simply never an option for this young, developing team – at least not in the wild Western Conference.

In an exclusive pre-season interview with NBA Australia, Snyder was clear about the task ahead this season.

“Our focus is on installing our system, changing habits, and continuing to grow and develop,“ he explained.

With that in mind, Snyder has done a credible job to date. Franchise centre Derrick Favors is having a career-best year, star swingman Gordon Hayward is rapidly developing into one of the best small forwards in the NBA, and Aussie rookie Dante Exum has done an excellent job (with limited opportunities) in the early going.

Turkish power forward Enes Kanter has displayed some improvement, while young starting backcourt duo Trey Burke and Alec Burks continue to struggle with inconsistency.

Snyder’s offensive mantra entering the season was to “play with the pass, play with purpose and play with pace.”

Thus far, his players have embraced the system and have certainly been moving the ball (perhaps too much at times!), although not pushing it quite as much as hoped.

Utah ranks 13th in the league for offensive efficiency but a disappointing 22nd for points per game and 28th for pace.

Defensively, the Jazz have struggled.

They rank 23rd in points allowed, 28th in defensive efficiency, 29th in turnovers forced and 27th in opponent field goal percentage.

No young team benefits from the beat-down of constant losing (you listening, Sam Hinkie?), so it’s important that Snyder’s players continue to scratch and fight for wins wherever they can find them.

Interestingly, nine of Utah’s 15 losses have come at the hands of Western Conference teams, while four have been to Eastern powers Chicago, Toronto (twice) and Atlanta.

The Jazz haven‘t lost to any of the NBA’s other sub-.350 teams, having only played Detroit and New York from that group and defeated them both.

A matchup with the Boogie-less Sacramento Kings today represents a genuine opportunity to break the back of the current pesky losing streak.  A win would help relieve the pressure and return Snyder’s spotlight to where it should be shining: player development.


Tommy Greer: David Blatt (A)

David Blatt was Boston-born and privileged enough to play under Pete Carill for the Princeton Tigers as a collegiate baller.

There’s no doubting that this tutelage helped him develop into one of the most successful Americans ever to coach in Europe.

Blatt came in to the NBA with possibly the most impressive résumé of any rookie coach, and a pre-existing respect from fellow coaches around the league.

He has already, in this short time period, done enough to prove that respect was well warranted.

Blatt has done a solid job in finding some cohesiveness between his three stars offensively.

The Cavs were always going to take some time to gel and it appears that (at least offensively) they have made some great strides in the last few weeks.

The Cavs are currently ranked 11th in points per game, and in this six-game win streak they’ve scored over 105 points in all but one of those victories.Blatt has done an exceptional job of getting Kyrie Irving to buy into his role as an off-the-ball scoring guard, which actually suits his skill set and mentality pretty well.

Credit also needs to be given to Kyrie as he has adapted to this style much quicker than many expected.

Although it seems Kevin Love is seldom involved in the offence, the passing abilities of both LeBron and Kyrie, coupled with Love’s elite rebounding have made it possible for him to get enough touches within the offence, even with a heavily decreased usage rate.

The defence, however, is another story.

While we can’t expect everything to immediately click on both ends of the floor, the defence has seemed an issue at times; currently 11th in points allowed.

Over the past fortnight the defence, much like the offence, has shown signs of improvement; holding Washington to 87 and the Raptors to 91.

Kyrie recently said, “I was sick of getting called out in video sessions,” and since then has made a concerted effort to be better defensively.

This is a major win for the rookie coach, as there is something to be said for not playing the ‘yes man’ to these three superstars.

Showing that he is willing to call out anyone and receiving that level of respect in return, gives me great confidence that Blatt will do this his way, which if you ask me is good news for the Cavs.

Teacher’s Comments: Everything is tracking along nicely; there’s a long way to go but Blatt has the Cavs on the right path.


To find out what grades Leigh Ellis and the other #StartingFive members gave Steve Kerr and Derrick Fisher, click here.


This article first appeared on NBA Australia.


Article written by

I like to think that I bring the all-important little man’s perspective to the Downtown crew. The rim may be 10-feet high folks but the court, itself, is at ground level. My one season playing ball on the national scene was back in 2001/02, when I played the vital role of 4th-string PG as a member of the Victoria Titans. Go back and watch the tapes, I’m confident that only Patty Mills outranks me worldwide as an end-of-the-bench towel-waver. This experience, however, gives me the kind of an insight into pro hoops that can only be gained by spending time ‘behind the curtain’. These days I spend most of my spare time squeezing every last cent out of my League Pass subscription. And when I’m not playing, watching, writing about or podcasting about basketball, you’ll find me soundly outplaying all-comers at the fantasy version of the game. Safe to say that if I had a tatoo it would say ‘mum’. But if I had two tatoos, the second one would definitely be of a basketball. Follow me on twitter: @liam_santa

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