NAS Interview: Mike Fratello

Mike Fratello was a head coach in the NBA for 16 seasons, coaching three different teams (the Hawks, the Cavs, and the Grizzlies), and he is one of the most respected basketball minds in the game.  Currently he is an analyst for TNT, and YES calling a good amount of Nets games (he was one of the few things that made Nets’ games bearable last year).  When he isn’t on TV, you can find him talking about basketball either on Twitter or over at his blog (both are must reads).  Coach Fratello was kind enough to take the time out to answer a few questions about the Nets:

There aren’t too many holdovers from last year’s 12 win season, but the guys who are still here are pretty important (Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, and Terrence Williams).  Should these guys use last year as a learning experience and motivation, or is it best that they just put it behind them and move forward?

Any time you play an 82-game schedule you want to use that as a learning experience. You have to learn how to win. And sometimes learning how to win comes through losses. So after last season, I would think that when those three players enter training camp this Fall they will remember the pain that they went through in only having 12 wins, and that should be a motivating factor for them to get off to a better start and to wind up having a much better season than they had a year ago.

With the way the team is currently being built, in terms of the roster and coaching staff, what kind of playing style do you expect?  A half-court defensive team, or a team that can get out and run?

I think that Avery Johnson will try to establish a defensive presence at one end of the floor, and at the other end explore his transition opportunities with a guy like Devin Harris who has speed and quickness to push the ball and penetrate and get in the lane, creating shots not only for himself, but for his teammates as well. The Nets are trying to become a more athletic team. Their first round draft pick has the ability to run the floor; and the pieces that they have brought in certainly show that they are trying to become a team that can attack you in transition as well as a team that is able to score in the half-court, either with Lopez and Harris playing a center pick and roll game or through post-up opportunities with Lopez down low.

Brook Lopez was able to do a lot last year facing constant double and triple teams.  Do you think the presence of a few more outside shooters will open things up for him?  And if so, what can we expect from him this year?

Yes, bringing in more pieces that can make perimeter shots should indeed open things up for Brook Lopez. Obviously people figured out that the Nets were not going to make a lot of perimeter shots last year and that they were not going to be hurt by going down and double teaming Lopez. As a big man who can score from the low post area, Lopez paid the price and learned what it’s like to constantly face double or triple teams. It was an important learning experience for Lopez. You have to learn how to play out of that. You have to learn how to pass out of that. This is nothing that Tim Duncan didn’t face early on in his career. He had to learn how to read double teams, where they were coming from, how to make the correct pass, where to look to. And then the Spurs had to surround him with the right pieces to allow him to burn these double teams by making correct passes to players who could make shots. So for Brook Lopez, more perimeter shooters and scorers should make his job a lot easier.

Terrence Williams showed his true ability last year with his triple double.  However, there are some holes in his game, what do you think is the most glaring?

Terrence Williams is blessed with great athleticism and at times he would wow you with individual plays that he would make. Through the learning process and his growth as a player, hopefully he comes back this year and becomes a more consistent player as his decision-making, his understanding of when to shoot and when to pass improve. And blessed with the athleticism that he has and the strength that he has, he could be a lockdown defender if he concentrates on it and exerts the effort over longer periods of time to close his man out. Under Avery Johnson’s tutelage Nets fans should see improvement in all these areas.

The Nets seem on their way to acquire Troy Murphy and his expiring contract.  This means Derrick Favors will more than likely be playing behind him for a year.  Do you think this is the way to go?

It doesn’t hurt to have a youngster with great talent watch and learn and then come in off the bench and contribute as he can. If Favors is ready to start and should be the starter, Avery Johnson will start him. If he’s not to that point yet it won’t hurt for him to come in off the bench and play significant minutes as the sixth or seventh man until he gets a better feel for and understanding of the game. There have been many rookies who have come in and not started the first quarter of season and then wound up finishing the last three quarters as a starter. This will all be figured out during training camp when players have approximately a month to practice, play and show where they fit into the team scheme. It’s not bad to have a veteran in front of a young guy who is trying to come into the league and learn. And that applies to all areas – not just during game nights on the floor, but how to practice, how to handle oneself off the floor. These are all very valuable lessons that can be learned by a rookie coming in.

Troy Murphy is a guy who can be a threat on both the outside and the inside (while still being productive on the glass).  Do you think this type of big man meshes well with Brook?  Should Nets’ fans expect a lot of high-low action with Murphy getting it at the high post and looking for Brook down low?

Of course, because Murphy is one of those big men who can stretch defenses with his ability to make 3-point shots. As you mentioned, Murphy is a guy who has been able to put statistics up at the offensive end both in terms of scoring points and rebounding the basketball. But the most important thing will be for Nets fans to watch the Games Played column because Murphy’s biggest problem over the last few years has been the number of games he’s missed due to injuries. If he can stay healthy and play at the level that he’s capable of playing at, then Brook Lopez and he would certainly be a good combination of center and 5-man and 4-man power forward together. Also depending on how Avery Johnson decides to rotate his players, Murphy would present a much different type of center if Johnson were to take Lopez out and move Murphy over to the center position. Now you play with Murphy and Favors and that gives you another kind of look on the floor. So Murphy gives you the flexibility of playing the Nets’ front line a couple different ways.

I just wanted to once again thank Coach Fratello for taking the time out and sharing his opinions on the Nets.  Can’t wait to hear him calling the games next year!