I was watching NBA TV recently and saw something fascinating. The 1991 San Antonio Spurs were led by Larry Brown at that time. The team featured stars David Robinson and Sean Elliot. The fascinating thing that I observed was that the offense the Spurs ran was some sort of Motion Offense. This was not a continuous offense such as the Triangle Offense, this offense was out of a Bobby Knight book. Continuous passing, cutting, screening with very little dribbling. Hall of Famer, David Robinson had a great year and averaged 25 points a game while playing in the equal opportunity offense. Of course, Robinson had more opportunities to shoot than Paul Pressey, but the offense was not your typical NBA offense that ensures that your best players dominate the ball.
Take the current Spurs. Tony Parker dominates the ball. Most offensive possessions go through him. He is held responsible for getting the ball in to the future Hall of Famer, Tim Duncan's hands. Duncan gets touches on most possessions. Through pick and roles and simple isolation sets, Duncan's hands will be on the ball in some way. The next in touches or set plays is Manu Ginobili. The All Star guard's ability ensures that he gets his set plays. The Bruce Bowens and Matt Bonners play key roles in the offense at times but the Big 3 are sure to get the bulk of the touches.
The thing that made the Larry Brown Spurs interesting is that they had some success with the college styled offense. They finished first in the Midwest with a record of 55-27. Then Larry Brown did a Larry Brown, and quit. When he resurfaced later, HE HAD ADAPTED.
Larry Brown coached one of the best shooters in NBA history in Reggie Miller. Brown led the 1993-95 Pacers to their best two seasons since joining the NBA. He did so with an offense that was significantly different than his Spurs system. Brown spaced the floor and ran Miller off of a ton of screens. He also brought in the New York bred and dribble happy Mark Jackson to handle the ball handling duties. Brown left the Pacers to only to return later with more ADAPTATION!
When Brown became the coach of the 76ers, many thought that the match was wrong from the start. Brown had inherited the poster boy of the new NBA, Allen Iverson. The scoring machine in a point guards body was everything that Brown was not; a flashy, tattooed, shoot the first shot you get leader of the new school. Brown adapted his offense to utilize the immensely talented Iverson and led the 76ers to the NBA Finals against the Lakers. Brown surrounded Iverson with solid role players like, Aaron Mckie, Tyrone Hill, George Lynch and Theo Ratliff. He anchored his defense with Dikembe Mutombo. Brown put Iverson in the right spots to shine and he responded by leading the league in scoring and earning the MVP award. Brown then went out and chose to Adapt Again!
Chancey Billups was a journey man. He and Richard Hamilton were nothing special in NBA terms. That is until Larry Brown came to the rescue. Brown came in to coach the Pistons and gave these two ,now all-star guards, the platform and system to thrive in. Brown also took a skeleton framed Tayshaun Prince, a weed smoking technical foul machine named Rasheed Wallace and a poor shooting center called Ben Wallace and won a championship. ( Respect must be given to Joe Dumars who assembled these spare parts from other teams and knew they would gel) Again, Brown used a system that was totally different from his Spurs days. Billups dominated the ball while Hamilton ran a track meet around screens. Unlike his Detroit system, he had no dominant scorer. Billups, Rasheed and Hamilton were his Big 3, with Prince and Wallace playing key roles.
All that Larry Brown history was to detail how a good coach will adapt his system to FIT his players. Most NBA coaches do not have the luxury that college coaches have. College coaches have the ability to recruit certain players that FIT their systems. NBA(WNBA) coaches have to coach the players that are on the roster. Of course trades, draft picks and cuts will help an established coach get some players he/she wants, but the coaches must learn to cook with what's in the refrigerator.
In a conversation with a college coach, I was told that the recent struggles of a successful program was due to the fact that the head coach did not adapt. The coach to whom I was speaking with, put the failure of the program in the lap of the outdated coach and her inability to step into the new millennium and change her style. The head coach in question had been at a school for a long time and apparently refused to update her system, teaching techniques, and personality to FIT her new players. This coach had the luxury of recruiting "her type" of players but still could not duplicate past success because she continued to run the same old sets and teach an outdated philosophy.
This conversation made me think about the need of club coaches to also ADAPT.While most club coaches have the luxury of recruiting players that FIT their system, ADAPTATION is still needed. Take Cal Swish coach Russ Davis for example.
Russ Davis is a college coach at Vanguard University in California. The NAIA school has experienced great success under Davis. He also coaches the Hoopgurlz #1 ranked club team in 2009, Cal Swish. Davis juggling role of college coach and club coach is great example of Adaptation.
Cal Swish has some of the best HS players in the nation(Cassie Harberts, Bonnie Samuelson, Lyndsey Sherbert). His Vanguard University team is filled with NAIA kids that could only dream of being recruited by some of the schools that pursue his Swish players. His Swish players are made up of players from around Southern California. While people assume that that these kids are all from Orange County, they live and attend high schools all over the vast southern California cities. This travel distance and hectic schedule does not allow for constant practice time. Coach Davis has the opportunity to run intricate sets with his Vanguard girls because of the plentiful practice time that he has with them. He must adapt his successful system and dumb it down for his club players due to less practice time. Also, he has to allow for his very gifted Swish players to showcase their individual skills on a national stage ,whereas his college kids play a more defined role on the his team. Davis has shown us the importance of club coaches who have the ability to adapt.
Club coaches must be able to put all of their talent into one pot. As the team blends together and the soup is mixed, a good club coach will ensure that they use the right spices in order to enhance the flavor of each ingredient. Just because salt was best for the stew a few years ago, does not mean that it is the best for the meal this year. Coaches must buy a new cook book or two and head back to the grocery store. Sometime, some of those old seasonings go bad and ruin the meal.
Larry Brown knows this. That is why I recently read about his attendance at a Dribble Drive Offense clinic ran by Vance Walberg. Apparently, he and fellow NBA coach, Lawrence Frank, sat in the front row of the clinic and asked countless questions like eager school students. A Dean Smith disciple attending a clinic on a new street ball influenced offense that emphasizes dribbling over passing is almost unthinkable. But, despite success at every level he has coached at, Brown continues to seek opportunities to learn in order to ADAPT.