Being a point guard in the NBA is tough.
Aside from a few notable exceptions, point guards have a lot on their plate. Much like a quarterback in American Football, point guards often initiate the offense for their teams. It could even be said that they’re the extension of the coach on the court, having to tell everyone what they should do during live-ball scenarios. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that many former point guards in the NBA transitioned to coaching at some point in their post-playing career.
With the legendary point guard Steve Nash set to coach the Brooklyn Nets next season, let’s take a look at some of his contemporaries and what lessons he can learn from their coaching stints.
Jason Kidd: Embrace change
Kidd started his coaching career NINE days after he announced his retirement. At the time, it wasn’t a huge surprise: after all, Kidd was one of the best point guards of the 2000s. He was the triple-double threat before triple-doubles were even cool. His immense playmaking talent and high basketball IQ led us to believe that he would be a great coach for the Brooklyn Nets. That didn’t turn out quite as planned.
What defined Kidd’s coaching career (weird beer-related strategies aside), particularly for the Milwaukee Bucks, was his reluctance to make adjustments. Kidd’s Bucks were infamous for an ultra-aggressive scheme on defense that involved a lot of trapping to stifle passing lanes of any offense. And it worked! At least, for a short while: his first year with Milwaukee, Kidd’s team finished second in defensive efficiency.
But then it didn’t. Teams started to figure out that an aggressive trap-based defense could be easily exploited in the highest level, especially if it’s the only scheme they employ. Kidd refused to change a single thing, no matter how bad their defensive rating dropped, or how many open threes they gave up. Perhaps that one year of success made him think that it would work again eventually. Whatever the case, that atrocious defense led to years of mediocrity and Kidd’s eventual firing.
Great coaches have a Plan B to Z after their Plan A fails. If Nash wants to succeed as a coach, he needs to learn to recognize when things are going south and make necessary changes. Not just during the game but throughout the course of a whole season.
Doc Rivers: Build a good culture
Coaching isn’t just X-and-Os.
Coaches aren’t just responsible for drawing up plays on offense and creating schemes on defense. They’re also part of building a culture that should cultivate hard work and success, not a toxic environment that breeds failure.
Rivers is the perfect example of this. After a long and successful tenure with the Celtics, he was traded to the Clippers, where he turned Lob City into a contender. And while they weren’t able to reach the Conference Finals so far, Rivers made sure to instill a winning culture in the team.
This culture continues to show in 2019, where despite trading away Blake Griffin and losing Chris Paul two years prior, they still made the Playoffs and took the freaking Warriors to seven games. Their best players during that run? Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari. That’s a testament to how hard the team works behind the scenes, that they remain competitive despite not being a contender.
Nash is an all-time great. Everyone has seen his highlights. Everyone knows what he can do on the court. He’ll probably draw up crazy strategies that will likely work. But how he builds up a culture from the ground up will determine how long he can make the Nets a competitive squad.
Tyronn Lue: Don’t back down
It’s a daunting task to be a rookie head coach in the NBA. But coaching LeBron James for your first coaching gig? That’s got to be more terrifying than facing LeBron in a Game 7.
But Lue wasn’t fazed by this. He’s been around larger-than-life superstars before, owing to his stint with the Kobe-Shaq Lakers. So when he deemed that the King wasn’t playing up to his own standards in the fateful Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, Lue called him out MULTIPLE times, LeBron’s coach-killer reputation be damned.
“LeBron, you gotta be better! If we’re gonna win, you gotta be better!”
“LeBron, what’s wrong with your body language? Your body language is terrible.”
“You got to guard Draymond. You got to take the open shot. Quit turning the ball over. Fix your body language. Anything else you want me to tell you?”
Most coaches wouldn’t even dare say anything like this to their stars, especially to someone with a reputation of getting his coach fired (whether this is true or not for LeBron is a discussion for another time). But Lue stood his ground. He knew how to push his players to be better. He recognized when to let his stars take over and when he needed to do his thing. Other LeBron coaches bowed down to him when he coached in timeouts, but Lue wasn’t having any of that, at one point saying, “Shut the fuck up, I got this.”
It takes some big balls and confidence to do that as an unproven rookie coach. Even for someone with a reputation like Nash, it will still be important to learn how to walk the thin tightrope of encouraging and controlling his stars, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Steve Kerr: Get your players to buy-in
When you have multiple stars on a team, it’s gonna be pretty tough to figure out how to run your offense. You can’t plug-and-play stars like USB devices on your computer and expect it to run smoothly. It takes a lot of ingenuity, creativity, and persuasion to craft a system that distributes production fairly across the entire team and convinces them that the role you’re giving them is for the best.
Kerr did a great job doing that for the Warriors. He remade a middling team into a powerhouse on both ends on the floor in his first two years, but a challenge arose when Golden State signed Durant after losing to the Cavaliers. Suddenly, Kerr had three elite scoring threats with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, two of which did a lot of damage with the ball in their hands at all times.
But the former Bulls guard found a way to integrate Durant into the offense without hurting all of the players’ talents. He convinced Curry to lean into his innate off-ball shooting prowess to unleash Durant’s deadly arsenal, while giving him the same number of touches with the ball to terrorize switches. As a result, their offense became historic, winning two more rings with the Hamptons 5 before KD ultimately left.
Nash knows all about this: after all, he was a consultant to the Warriors during the KD-Steph era. Now, he’ll need to apply the philosophies he learned to a new cast, with Durant and Irving joining a talented crew led by Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen.