When it comes to the NBA playoffs, the usual NBA head coaches – Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, and Phil Jackson – are right in the thick of things getting their respective teams through series after series to the NBA Finals.
This isn’t the case in this year’s NBA playoffs. Popovich, Rivers and Jackson saw their respective teams get eliminated earlier than expected.
Indeed a new guard is taking over the NBA and at the helm were a new crop of rookie coaches in the playoffs this season. From Hornets’ Monty Williams and others taking their first steps in the playoffs, there is a new breed of head coaches making an impact.
Here are four rookie coaches making a huge splash getting the best out of their teams and making a name for themselves.
Indiana Pacers’ Frank Vogel
Who would have thought the eighth seeded Indiana Pacers would have put a scare into the number one seeded Chicago Bulls in the opening round. With the odds stacked against the Pacers, interim coach Vogel was able to get the best out of his team and tested Chicago for in a hard fought five games.
Unlike Jim O’Brien, Vogel gave players such as rookie Paul George and Dahntay Jones more time on the court and it paid dividends for Indiana. He also wasn’t afraid to shake things up for the betterment of the team.
“I think they needed a change in identity,” Vogel said. “I think we needed to be a different basketball team. What we were doing (before), I was behind coach [O’Brien] 100 percent. But I think we needed a change.”
And with the changes made, Pacers players took notice and responded:
“I kind of think the two are similar,” [Paul] George said of Vogel and O’Brien Sunday. “They have the same kind of coaching style. But coach Frank is more of a younger coaching style. He’s kind of open minded, whereas coach O’Brien was kind of strinct in what he wanted. (Vogel)’s more lenient. If players see something on the court, coach Frank is more open minded to make changes on the court, to see what we see. That’s the main difference.”
Although the Pacers were eliminated, Vogel made a name for himself. The question is, will he still be with Indiana or with another team next season?
Chicago Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau
The newly minted 2011 NBA Coach of the Year led the Chicago to the best record in the NBA and guided a young Bulls team through a tough series versus the Pacers and is currently guiding his team in another hard fought series with the Atlanta Hawks.
A long time assistant coach, Thibodeau had been passed over many times whenever a vacant head coaching spot had to be filled. His most recent assistant coaching stint was under Boston’s Rivers and brought that championship experience to Chicago and it seems to be paying off.
With the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics eliminated, the path might be paved for the Bulls to capture their first NBA title since the days of Michael Jordan and leading the charge is Thibodeau.
He brought a tough, defensive minded system to Chicago and with the possibility of bringing back the NBA crown to the city of Chicago, the Bulls organization is completely thrilled at their decision to hire Thibodeau. Ask Bulls GM Gar Forman:
“The decision to hire [coach] Tom Thibodeau has been a grand slam,” said Forman, who has been with the Bulls for 13 seasons and moved into his current post in May 2009. “Tom has been a perfect fit for this team. Our players were dying for that type of accountability and discipline.”
Indeed for as much credit goes to Bulls’ Derrick Rose for Chicago’s play this season, Thidodeau had a lot to do with that as well.
Memphis Grizzlies’ Lionel Hollins
Who would have thought the eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies would oust the West’s number one seeded San Antonio Spurs, and currently be taking the Oklahoma City Thunder to the test in the semifinals? Well that’s exactly what Grizzlies’ Hollins has done for his upstart Memphis squad.
Perhaps of all three rookie coaches in the playoffs, Hollins has been getting more out of his team than any would have thought. He lost All-Star Rudy Gay during the regular season due to injury and when many counted Memphis out, Hollins figured a way to prove the naysayers wrong and take his team knocking on the door of the Western Conference Finals.
Hollins has done a nice job surrounding Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph with solid defenders and role players. He has brought a winning team chemistry to Memphis, has the team focused, and has the players believing they can win each and every game.
“He gives them confidence,” [Greg] Anthony said of Hollins. “Coaches can give you a little bit. The players have got to get it done, but the coach can get you over the hump. I think Lionel Hollins is that little icing on the cake for this basketball team.”
Memphis is not just another eighth seed in the playoffs thanks in large part to Hollins.
“Not a lot of people knew about us coming in, but we certainly have made some noise, turned some heads, and got some attention that probably wouldn’t have been given to us if we lost this series,” Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins said. “We would have been just another eighth seed losing to the No. 1 seed. I’m pleased with the way it turned out.”
Atlanta Hawks’ Larry Drew
First the Hawks took care of the fourth seeded Orlando Magic and now are taking it to the top-seeded Bulls. It would appear rookie coach Larry Drew certainly has gotten the best out of this young Hawks squad.
Although his Hawks are looking at elimination by the hands of the Bulls, Drew has been able to turn a team many consider a flash-in-the-pan squad into a potent offensive minded team and he isn’t afraid to tell it like is is when it comes to Atlanta. Just ask TNT’s Kenny Smith:
“If you’re a Hawks fan or have watched this team over the last six years, Larry Drew has said it best, ‘I’m not sure which team is going to show up but I know that if the right team shows up and plays hard, I know I have the chance to win.'”
Drew has this team battling, focused and above all, playing hard and getting the best out of his players such as Jeff Teague.
“I ask him to step in and take the bull by the horns, and he did it,” said coach Larry Drew, apparently not intending the pun. “He did it like I hadn’t seen that done under those circumstances. But he’s done a phenomenal job.”
These four coaches have taken the reigns of their respective teams and do not seem to be loosening their grip. With each win, they have proven themselves to be NBA quality head coaches.
And as many may be pointing to the players on the court, it’s these four rookie coaches who have paved a path for their player’s success and more importantly, team success now and into the future.