Everything else aside: How is Jason Kidd as an actual coach?
A cursory glance at Basketball-Reference.com tells us a few things about the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets. Last season the Brooklyn Nets were slow. They weren’t very good defensively and they were average an offense.
This is not the whole story of the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets.
Its also not a good guide to the coach that Jason Kidd was by the time the season ended. Most of all it doesn’t seem indicative of the sort of coach Kidd wants to be going forward. Judging from what Kidd said upon his arrival in Brooklyn versus how the Nets season turned out, stylistically, it seems like we never really got to see the vision Jason Kidd intended on implementing in Brooklyn at all.
After the Nets finished this past season the second-slowest in pace, Kidd preached a desire to “explore early, get up and down more … This is a team that hopefully can get to 100 points. They have that type of talent that can put the ball in the basket.”
“My experience as a player playing Brooklyn, once they got to 88, 89 points, they kind of unplugged.”
Along with pushing the tempo, King, Kidd, and Williams all stressed that ball movement and spacing would be two important factors in the team’s new offense. King added that the team could use some more perimeter shooting and athleticism. The Nets were one of the most prolific isolationist teams in the NBA last season, but a team with Kidd at the helm can’t be defined that way.
If that sounds familiar, it mimics the promises made by Larry Drew before the start of last season. He too wanted the Bucks to run, to pass and to play a beautiful brand of basketball. Instead? Well, we won’t relive it. Suffice to say the Bucks did not play a beautiful brand of basketball last season.
Neither did the Nets. After a terrible start to the season, the Nets bottomed out at 11 games below .500 on December 31. At some point, someone made this (h/t The Brooklyn Game):
Brooklyn had already abandoned its beautiful ball philosophy and started relying on two things: Brook Lopez and isolation basketball. Alas, Lopez was not long for the court last season. He broke his foot and did not play another game after December 20. Again the Nets had to adapt. But adapt they did. And while the Nets were hardly a pleasure to watch last season, they were a team that wasn’t afraid to try some new things and give opponents looks that kept them off balance.
Within three months, Kidd had to remodel his team multiple times offensively and defensively. Such is the life of an NBA coach. Your plan isn’t worth nearly as much as your ability to abandon it and go with something completely different.
Zach Lowe of Grantland offered a great breakdown of adjustments Kidd and his staff made defensively to fix what was basically a broken team. In the piece, he also discusses what was essentially Kidd’s disregard for a traditional lineup and how it made the Nets a more difficult basketball team to match-up with:
The Nets are not winning because Lopez is gone, but they are playing a style he’d be hard to fit into. Kidd has downsized, shifting Pierce to power forward and Garnett to center in hybrid lineups that are small up front and huge on the perimeter. The weirdness continues when Kidd goes to the bench with the positionally funky Andrei Kirilenko–Mirza Teletovic–Andray Blatche trio.
Teams have just had no idea how to handle these offbeat looks. Bigger power forwards struggle to chase Pierce around the perimeter, and some opponents have had a wing player guard Pierce while stashing the extra big on the nonthreatening Alan Anderson. As for the bench, Kirilenko and Teletovic are both tweeners, but they have wildly different skill sets, and opponents often prefer to defend them with different players than Kirilenko and Teletovic guard on the other end.
It’s hard not to read that and think some of the same principles and ideas could be applied to the Bucks. Before his departure, Larry Drew discussed the versatility Milwaukee’s lineups were going to have next season. With Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker specifically, Milwaukee has a couple of forwards who can move around the court and play different positions. Giannis can guard virtually any position on the court for stretches of the game (maybe center excluded), while Parker can slide between the three and the four.
Lowe’s piece also points out that from January 1 through the publish date (February 4), the Nets were 10th in the league in defensive rating, a huge improvement from the 29th spot they sat in before that. They improved at defending the pick and roll and were causing turnovers at a league best clip over that span. A map of Brooklyn’s offensive and defensive ratings over the course of the season shows the team’s progress (Brooklyn’s in the fourth row, second column):
Smart defenders who knew how to work together were something the Nets had a bit of last season. Garnett, Kirilenko, Pierce, Shaun Livingston, Mason Plumlee – all those guys apparently bought into what was happening and worked together to execute on it. Give credit to Kidd for making that happen. Apparently his departure could influence Pierce’s decision to stay in Brooklyn heavily, so he must have been doing something right in the locker room. He won’t have the same veterans in Milwaukee though, which will come with plusses and minuses.
While Giannis and Parker may lack experience and awareness, they do have quite a bit more speed. It’s not too hard to envision a team that carries out the vision Kidd seemed to have when he first arrived in Brooklyn while also being able to cause havoc for opponents defensively with its length and speed. Between whatever backcourt eventually ends up in Milwaukee and guys like Giannis, Parker and Khris Middleton on the wings, there should be an array of long players capable of handling the ball after a rebound or forced turnover, getting out in transition, making decisions and making shots.
Now, I just said the Bucks had guys who were “capable”, of doing all those things. It’s difficult to expect guys that are between 19 and 23 show up every night with the same game they had the previous night the way the veteran Nets did in the back end of last season. So don’t expect that Milwaukee’s offense will be a raging success without its problems. While guys like Giannis and Parker are capable of doing those things, it’s a stretch to expect consistency and sharp execution night after night.
Milwaukee still has its holes. There isn’t a Deron Williams ready to man the point guard position. The Bucks are still in need of more shooting. Even without Ekpe Udoh, the front court is still very crowded. Surely there will be moves to be made over the coming days and weeks and this is a roster still in transition, but even after a trade or two and maybe even a cheap free agent addition, the Bucks aren’t going to have the talent of last year’s Nets. Jason Kidd is going to have less to work with.
Last season he saw what he had and adjusted. Most accounts seem to paint him as a guy who grew as a coach as the season went on. He’ll have to continue that growth and take on a bit of a different role in Milwaukee. He won’t just be managing personalities in the Bucks locker room. He’ll be developing players and teaching them about what it means to be a professional. He’ll be less manager and more teacher.
It won’t be a totally unfamiliar role, as he seemed to handle rookie Mason Plumlee with great success last season. He set up barriers in which Plumlee could be successful and communicated how they would move forward to develop him after the season.
The rule, as you might tell from his very weighted shooting chart, is that Plumlee cannot take shots outside of the paint. All of his 182 converted field goals have occurred in this small part of the basketball court, the majority on dunks. He’s 0-for-9 everywhere else, including a couple buzzer-beating heaves, despite shooting a team-high 66% overall.
The deal, as dictated by the coaching staff, is that Plumlee will develop his mid-range game over the summer and try to become more of a complete player.
Kidd will have plenty more opportunities with Milwaukee’s squad to work with guys like Plumlee, though he may have to loosen his requirements and allow them to fail on the job. The Bucks won’t have many veteran talents to fill in the gaps and are likely going to be asking a lot more of their own “Plumlees”.
Kidd’s goals this season will be very different. Fans would be fine with a 25 win season in which Giannis, Parker and one of the young big men show significant progress as the year goes on. The Bucks seem to still be figuring out who is and who isn’t a part of the core of the team going forward. Figuring out the future is a very different objective than winning a division and getting to the second round of the playoffs.
And while this seems like a situation in which the pressure should be less intense, given the low expectations and lack of New York media, Kidd and Milwaukee’s new owners have created a situation that invites scrutiny. He will be judged harshly. Maybe not on wins and losses, but on how his players develop and how bright Milwaukee’s future looks a year from now. Acquiring him is the first major move of a new ownership group and now Coach Kidd is as much the face of the franchise as Giannis or Jabari at this point.
Make no mistake either, this is ownership’s hire. I’m not sourced on this, I haven’t spoken with anyone, but how hard is this to read? By all accounts, even the leaks the Bucks are letting out, the owners met with Kidd on Friday, then the front office was alerted after word leaked out. They contend that the front office is on board, and maybe they are at this point, but what else is the front office going to do? Dramatically quit their jobs over the replacement of a coach that wasn’t the best long term fit anyway? There are only a handful of these jobs available and I’m sure John Hammond doesn’t want to fall on his sword for a guy he’d only spent a year with.
But it’s very difficult to believe Hammond had any idea Friday morning while he sat up there and talked about Jabari Parker’s character and how important character was that the guy sitting two chairs to his right would be fired by the time the weekend was over.
None of that is to say Drew is a better coach than Kidd or a better fit, because, as detailed above, Kidd showed some solid promise over the course of last season as a coach. And it’s possible the Bucks could find a president to come in and still run a smooth operation, though that seems difficult, given that they now have a coach that wasn’t the general manager’s hire and a general manager that wouldn’t be the president’s hire.
Regardless of what happens within the structure of the front office, the ownership group better hope Kidd works out and is prepared to build something in Milwaukee over the long run. They’ve staked their first Bucks era on him.
History says that’s a dicey proposition for the Milwaukee Bucks. But as he did in Brooklyn, Kidd will get another chance to prove history wrong.