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Friday, 13 June 2008

NBA : Where Inexperienced Coaches Winning Happens

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Much has been made of Vinny Del Negro's appointment as Head Coach of the Chicago Bulls. And understandably so. The Bulls went through a lengthy, arduous and apparently detailed process to select Vinny D, which surprised many fans all the more that they settled on a guy who had no prior coaching experience -- full stop. Given some of the candidates that were on the market (D'Antoni, Johnson), we will have to assume that Paxson knew something about the former Spurs guard that noone else does. And if he did, he will look like a complete genius. If not, he will be tarred and stoned by already disappointed Bulls fans.

All of that to one side, this heated debate over the hiring of an inexperienced coach got me to wondering; do inexperienced coaches have a good record of winning in this league?

So as a quick-and-nasty analysis of things, I thought I would analyse what every team aspires to: getting to the NBA Finals. The Bulls are certainly a team that have expected to get out of the East in the last few seasons.

So, which NBA head coaches in their first two full seasons have made it to the Finals since 1990?

Since 1990, there have been 19 seasons of NBA Finals action. In that period there have been 18 different head coaches leading their teams (props to the 'Zen Master' Phil Jackson for taking out so many of those appearances).

Of those 18 head coaches, 7 of them were in their first or second full season in the league with the head gig. That is a pretty impressive record for newcomers.

Rick Adelman -
In his first full season as head coach he took the Trail Blazers to the 1990 Finals where they ultimately lost against Chuck Daley's Pistons in 5 games.

Mike Dunleavy Snr
- As a first year coach with the Lakers, Dunleavy took Magic Johnson and Co on to become MJ's first Finals victims in 1991.

Paul Westphal -
Another first year coach, another victim for Number 23. The 1993 Suns lost in 6 games to the Bulls.

Rudy Tomjanovich -
Rudy T took the Rockets to the Midwest Division title in his first season (1992-93), followed by back-to-back titles the next two seasons.

Byron Scott -
The former Laker star was in his second season as head coach in 2002 when he took the Nets to the first of two straight Finals defeats.

Avery Johnson
- After being groomed as Don Nelson's successor for some time, Johnson took the Mavs to the 2006 Finals in his first full season.

Mike Brown -
The Cleveland mentor was in his second season when he rode the LeBron train to the Finals in 2007.

Clearly being a former player assists the cause of young coaches and it should be noted that all of the above served their time as assistants before falling into the head gig.

What can we take from all of this? Sometimes a change at the coaching reigns is just what a team needs to take the next step and head to the Finals. Perhaps this is what the Bulls need and Vinny D will be just the answer. However, the key difference in this case is that Del Negro has no previous experience at any level and this is likely the key source of criticism from Bulls fans. The other point worth noting is that none of the above newcomers, apart from Tomjanovich, took out the title in their initial trips to the Finals and none of them have since.

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