Saturday, December 13, 2008

An example of the specialization of basketball coaching staffs

Had a post here this summer about basketball coaching staffs moving toward specialization.

It's happening in Cleveland where assistant coach John Kuester is getting some of the credit for improving the Cavs' offensive efficiency, which is tops in the NBA.

According to the Cleveland paper, "in his second season as [Coach Mike] Brown's assistant, Kuester has taken over much of the detail operations of the offense. He has brought some new concepts to what the Cavs call their 'early' offense, an effort to make them more effective in transition and less bogged down."

It was part of a mini-makeover Brown made to his staff in the off-season. He didn't publicly announce it because he didn't want to add any undue pressure to his coaches. Brown also made assistant Mike Malone his defensive coordinator and changed around some in-game roles so veteran Hank Egan is behind the bench during games while assistant Melvin Hunt is on the bench for every game.

Says Coach Kuester, an 18-year NBA coaching veteran who was a member of DET's staff when the Pistons won a title in 2004 and who played for Dean Smith at UNC:

"You always talk about that it is important for teammates to have trust in one another. Coaches have to have trust, too. Mike puts a lot of trust in his players and his coaches."

A former head coach at Boston University and GWU, Coach Kuester "designed the foundation for the early offense, which takes advantage of [Mo] Williams being able to handle the ball and LeBron James acting sometimes like a power forward. It also gave some new roles to center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who is put in different areas of the floor to create space for others."

While all of CLE's coaches offer insight and perspective, "during timeouts, Kuester will now often be in the center of the huddle drawing up plays, with Brown behind him. He is in charge of all offensive preparation and is responsible for presenting options to Brown for all possible in-game situations," though Coach Brown has the "final call."

As Coach Malone puts it: "Mike is the president, he's got veto power, he does what he feels is best."

Over the course of nearly two decades of NBA coaching, Coach Kuester has worked with a number of excellent coaches.

Not only did Rick Carlisle give him large responsibilities as an assistant in Indiana, but so did mentors Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and Bernie Bickerstaff in Denver and Washington. It also follows his coaching philosophy, which is to build around defense and also get his coaches and players personally invested in the effort.