What a difference a year makes. The once well-regarded Lionel Hollins ranked in the bottom third of the ESPN’s NBA coach rankings at 23, eleven spots lower than his predecessor, Jason Kidd.
The rankings got this much right: The Nets struggles have had far more to do with personnel than coaching. And ESPN’s rankings reflect this.
The front-office ranking put the team just one rung above their lowly cross-borough rivals at 29th, and the duo of General Manager Billy King and team President Dmitry Razumov came in dead last among front office partnerships.
Hollins dealt with injuries to his leading scorer, starting point guard, and a season-ending blood clot diagnosis to the team’s stretch four. This was only compounded by individual struggles: Jarrett Jack lost his ability to hit three-pointers, Bojan Bogdanovic struggled to get acclimated to the NBA, Mason Plumlee faced early season hiccups, and father time haunted Kevin Garnett.
Despite criticism about the team’s offensive system, it’s hard to blame him for the team’s inability to knock down open threes. If the Nets want to style themselves after the Spurs or the mini-Spurs down in Atlanta, they’ll need personnel quick enough to create havoc in the lane and shooters able to consistently convert open jump shots.
At times, Hollins’s stubborn reputation shined. He stuck with on-court duos that didn’t work – namely the Plumlee/Lopez pairing and, more egregiously, the Williams/Jack combo. Joe Johnson’s recent struggles could certainly be attributable to a December and January where the 33-year-old racked up major minutes.
On the other side of the coin: Hollins embraced position-less basketball, using non-traditional lineups with Joe Johnson at the four; he gave rookie Bojan Bogdanovic ample time to shine and develop; and his brand of tough love seems to have gotten through to Lopez, who in the second half of the season has shown a keener sense for passing, shot selection, and most impressively rebounding.
Despite the team’s glaring lack of speed and athleticism, he’s found ways to create mismatches that have led to far more paint touches than we’ve seen in the beginning of the year — a feather in the old-school coach’s hat.
Critics who give former Hollins’ assistant Dave Joerger credit for building the vaunted Grizzlies defense are bolstered by the Nets’ recent on-court product. The team has floundered on that end after constant tinkering of the team’s pick and roll coverages. The team’s communication problems are well-documented. The coach’s substitution patterns seem more interested in coaxing out a little more offense than propping up the team’s defense.
At the end of the day, defensive luminaries like Marc Gasol, Tony Allen and Mike Conley are not walking out of that locker room either.
Rankings can be a confusing thing, so for now, let’s go with The Brooklyn Game’s tried and tested grading system and give Hollins an incomplete.
That’s just one opinion. What do you think?