Everything else aside: How is Jason Kidd as an actual coach?

Jason Kidd talks with Shaun Livingston. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jason Kidd talks with Shaun Livingston. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

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):

Offensive and Defensive ratings mapped out over last season (Via: Ed Kupfer/Twitter)
Offensive and Defensive ratings mapped out over last season (Via: Ed Kupfer/Twitter)

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.

Categories: Coaching

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      • Ok, here’s a hypothetical. O.J. Mayo for Ben McLemore. The Bucks have 9 guys 24 and under on the roster to build around. Call them Jason Kidd’s Kids and watch them turn into Jason Kidd’s Da Turdy Point(per player)Bucks. Its a dynasty to rival the 1990’s bulls. Then everyone lives happily ever after. Well except Seattle and Larry Drew but whatever.

  1. Good stuff, Jeremy. Not sure what the Buck’s cap situation is but they’d be REALLY well served to go hard after Livingston this offseason. Kidd trusts him, he knows the system and his post game was a focal point of the Net’s funky offense. I expected the Raptors to have the coaching edge in the first round of the playoffs last year and it simply wasn’t the case.

    • I think I read that the Nets and Bucks are not allowed to trade players in the coming year… I think that is an NBA rule after coaches are traded between teams…. I remember that being a big deal when Doc was traded to the Clippers and that Garnett could not be traded to join him in the first year..

    • or is Livingston an UFA Unrestricted Free Agent and so this no trade rule would not apply to him

      • He was a free agent, but it’s irrelevant now because he has agreed to a deal with the Warriors.

  2. Jermey –
    Love the site!

    Do you think Mike D’Antoni was / should have been an option for leading our Bucks?

    • I’m generally not enthusiastic about retread coach types. I wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about him developing young guys either.

    • I do not think D”Antonio is known for defense at all, and that was one of the Bucks’ weaknesses …..

  3. finally, were beyond the debbie downers, I hope. I did some more research on kidd as well, as I had some time off from work, due to inclement weather. I can proudly say i was wrong about kidd off the court. I spoke from a point of ignorance on defending kidd without getting all the info on him, I was wrong.

    That being said, he’s our bucks’ coach now so we gotta live with him and hope the change in culture will benefit him as much as his basketball knowledge will benefit us. I was right about the nets improvement over the season, being the result of good coaching. I did watch games when they were available to see, so that much I could see plainly. Thanks for the info on backing up my instincts on that jeremy.

    also, great job writing this one, referring to my criticisms a couple articles ago, you adapt well sir, and have a bright writing future!! Now, my job calls, have a great day everyone!

    • Hypothetically, I’m not at all comfortable with the approach of saying, “Well, this guy has had a problem with pushing little old ladies into the street, but he’s a good coach, and that’s all that matters.”

      As far as Jason Kidd, specifically, I want to be totally fair to him and understand his side of the story — but it’s more than a little troubling to read reports of him clobbering his wife and driving under the influence into a telephone pole.

      Yes, we all make mistakes, and many of us make serious mistakes. The key is whether we are truly sorry, truly try to make amends, and truly try to change for the better.

      So I’m wondering: Is Jason Kidd sincerely repentant and earnestly trying to reform his life, or is he a celebrity who has gotten away with some really bad behaviour and thinks he can continue in his old ways without much consequence?

      It’s not a matter of judging Jason Kidd’s soul, but we all have to make secondary judgements in life when it comes to selecting babysitters, car mechanics, money managers and other people to trust or to avoid.

      I think the same goes for prominent members of our community, which includes NBA head coaches. Jason Kidd is being positioned as a face of the Bucks and of Milwaukee. I don’t want to be too hard on him, and would very much like to get excited about him — but I’d like to get these major questions and concerns resolved in some satisfying way, first.

  4. Here’s my line of thinking on the Jason Kidd hire.

    First off, let me start by saying we have to let the next year or two play out before being able to truly assess a real verdict on Jason Kidd the Coach and as part of the management team within the Bucks, but I would like to add some of my personal thoughts on the matter at this point.

    For an ownership group who have said they were simply focused on letting the “basketball people” do their job and find someone to hire as the President of Basketball Operations for the Bucks; basically, saying that they wanted to get out of the way so that the professionals and experts, which they weren’t, could do their jobs. Within that context they sure didn’t seem to follow their own words with both how the Jason Kidd hire went down and given that personally selecting a new coach before hiring a new President of Basketball Operations can be looked at as not allowing whoever they eventually get to fill that role to do their job. Also, the Brewers owner Mark Attanasio gave them an important piece of advise, which they noted as good advice, when Mark told them, “…tell everybody what you’re doing. Let everybody know what your plan is and honor it.” With this move they don’t appear to of taken that advice to heart and that’s a shame as it was pretty good advice.

    Another thing that concerns me with the Jason Kidd hire has to do with the mental makeup of Jason. I don’t question his passion for the game, his competitiveness, nor his desire to be successful. I even believe based on the turnaround of the Nets last season that he might be capable as a coach of focusing on solutions to problems verses simply harping on the problems; the evidence to suggest this is that the Net’s had to alter their game plan philosophies and strategies during the season to better fit the players on the team, but I still question whether or not he’s the type of coach that will often let his emotions and passion rule his ability to reason? Can he maintain an ability to think with a clear and wise approach when he’s upset or pissed off? Will he take his emotional baggage out on the players?

    A major reason I question some of these things is because I just don’t think he’s the type of coach who can maintain a calm, level-headed, and collected demeanor during games based on his documented bad decision-making and other potential issues off the court (drunk driving and possible domestic abuse). Hopefully, the anger management classes that he attended helped him reflect and improve on his own emotional problems so that he could learn to be a better leader and communicator on and off the court. It’s entirely possible that he’s grown and learned from his mistakes in regards to those issues as well as his first year as a head coach and takes that next step forward in his coaching career with the Bucks and their young team.

    Just to clarify, a coach with potential to be a good one to me is someone like what the Celtics got when they hired Brad Stevens or even when the Hawks hired Mike Budenholzer. I sure wished the Bucks could have acquired a coach like either of these two guys. Who knows though maybe Jason Kidd will prove to be as good as those two or even better based on how he can also incorporate and draw from his own experiences as an NBA floor general aka point guard.

  5. After reading this I’m feeling more positive….not to be confused with excited about what and how this all came down.

    I’ll give it a “we’ll see” for now!

    Go Bucks!

  6. Question.

    This blog has put Larry Sanders on the hot seat for his transgressions, why is it that Jason Kidd receives a warm reception?

    Sanders put up quality defensive numbers last season for the few games that he has played, but a not too distant article condemned him for punching Dunleavy. How is it that those actions are worthy of trading Sanders but Kidd’s far worse transgressions are being ignored? Is Sanders punching Dunleavy really worse than Kidd punching his wife?

    And if you’re relying entirely on basketball acumen, then wouldn’t this blog judge Sanders the same as they do Kidd? That doesn’t seem to be the case as Sanders defense, which is why he got his contract, was still up to par in the few games that he played last season.

    Of course, I understand you’re part of the media and need to tip-toe to maintain your job, but perhaps you should avoid smear campaigns involving Sanders when you clearly do not hold the same prejudices towards those who commit domestic abuse. Taking the moral high ground and saying Sanders has issues really bears more merit if you’re consistent.

    However, that doesn’t seem to be the case, I suppose it’s easy to throw Sanders under the bus knowing full well the Bucks have been shopping him. Kidd is different in that respect, I suppose. I can’t really understand why without relying on conjecture…

    • This is a misrepresentation of facts on your part. I’m not sure we’ve exactly given Kidd a “warm reception”, as you put it. This article was an attempt to look at him objectively as a coach, and we’ve done that with Sanders as a player too.

      We never tip toe here. That’s absurd.

      Some issues with Kidd have relevancy and we have pointed them out (http://www.bucksketball.com/2014/06/what-are-the-milwaukee-bucks-getting-into-by-pursuing-jason-kidd/). We’ve objectively looked at a lot of things Sanders and covered him very evenly. I mean, look back a year ago this month at the write-up about him at summer league. After that, he got into some trouble, and we pointed that out.

      When Sanders started playing well last season after returning, we covered that: http://www.bucksketball.com/2014/02/starting-to-play-pretty-well-larry-sanders/

      • I wouldn’t be the only one misrepresenting the facts then. The sources used in your article about Sanders/Dunleavy came straight from Gery Woelfel who has never fairly depicted Sanders and actually goes out of his way to make what he does sound worse. Gery’s recent rehab report, for instance, made it seem as though Sanders was entering rehab after severe substance abuse when it was actually league mandated.

        The article brought up all of Sanders’ dirty laundry, including the instances where the full story story wasn’t reported and all that we had to go off of was a few sentences. Your article about Kidd only brings a subset of what he has done throughout his career and the more mild portion of it. And it doesn’t even bring up Kidd’s temperament which has been on display for years. Then the follow up article is a very optimistic look at Kidd’s rookie coaching year.

        I don’t think I’m out of line saying that articles about Kidd and Sanders were framed very differently despite both of them having a similar checkered past. If there was parity, then the smear article about Sanders would have included his level of play from last season juxtaposed to his the new report of him punching Dunleavy so fans can decide if he’s worth the baggage. Instead you decided to do a “short recap” of everything else negative Sanders has done throughout his young career then concluded for us that:

        “More and more, though, the long list of temperamental crap that happens on and off the court is starting to make Hammond’s risky deal appear to be more of a liability.”

        Having to go all the way back to February to find anything remotely positive about Sanders should also tell the story as well. Two people with similar on/off the court issues, two entirely different judgements. Sanders receives the TMZ-style journalism, Kidd receives a mostly fair depiction of what he had done/accomplished in Brooklyn. Why is that?

        • Jeremy Schmidt

          What are the positive things you’d like me to write about Larry Sanders since his orbital bone was fractured and was subsiquently suspended for testing positive for marijuana for a third time? When Sanders does well, we write about it. When he does poorly, we write about it. He had so many things come up at once that the negative coverage outweighed the positive coverage. The year before you wouldn’t have seen virtually one negative thing about him.

          And yeah, that deal does look like more of a liability. He’ll get a chance to make it look like an asset still and if that happens, we’ll cover it.

          We write about news. Kidd hasn’t had any issues since 2012. Sanders had a lot of issues last year. We write about what is happening, we don’t focus all of our energy looking back.

          We have no agenda here.