Basketball is a game of adjustments. Simple as that. It takes even more precedence during the playoffs, playing multiple game series and learning more and more about your opponent after each game. Being a head coach is much like implementing a business strategy. You have to be able to assess every game and understand where the team needs to do better and where opportunities lie.
Today, I give huge props to Stan Van Gundy for the adjustments he made with the Orlando Magic, who won their first Finals game last night. I’ve seen not only adjustments but also an evolution. Here are two of such that stick out to me:
Point Guard Play
As a Jameer Nelson fan, I was excited to see him healthy and able to play again after a 4-month absence due to a torn labrum. But that’s still 4 months off and a loss of rhythm and real game action that can’t be made up for in practice. Van Gundy went all in and played him for 23 minutes his first game back. He didn’t do terrible but the flow wasn’t there for him. More importantly was Rafer Alston, who voiced his displeasure of playing fewer minutes, and the adverse effect of depleting your starting point guard’s minutes. He’s helped the Magic while taking over during Jameer’s injury, but to cut down his minutes substantially is only going to hurt his comfort and rhythm within the offense. Stan realized this. He understood that though he has an all-star point guard sitting on his bench with Jameer Nelson, he also has Rafer Alston, who has done amazing things for the team these playoffs. Jameer played fewer minutes the last two games and Alston finally broke through last night with a great 20-pt performance. Stan, after a tweak to the lineup that didn’t necessarily work, stuck to his guns with Rafer.
Don’t get me wrong, I know the head coach is supposed to motivate his team; but we all also know that Stan has an interesting coaching style that starts and ends with his raspy voice. He’s been known to be fairly pessimistic in his talks & interviews throughout the game, and even Shaquille O’Neal called him “the master of panic.” Given all that, Stan looks and sounds like a changed man. Now, I don’t expect him to be completely chipper throughout the game, but I’ve seen more motivation coming out of his mouth, patting guys on the back, loosening up a bit. He’s reaching out to his team on a different level than what I’ve seen this season and even in earlier playoff series. We talk about the evolution of Dwight Howard and how this year’s postseason was his coming out party. What about Stan, man? He’s gone through his own growing pains, being critiqued on his coaching style by the media and players, but he’s shown tremendous growth throughout this playoffs.
So, if Shaq or the media want to question his coaching style, think again. Regardless of the outcome of the Finals, Stan Van Gundy has evolved as a coach, not only for his key team adjustments but for his maturation as a coach.