NBA Four Quarters (03/03/17)

By Sean Pyritz

During a recent ESPN telecast, Doug Collins dropped a piece of coaching wisdom that I thought deserved a little more attention. He claimed that when he coached he felt he could sneak a win or two after the All-Star break as teams shook off the rust and got back in shape. It is a bit nonsensical to believe that the better teams would struggle reclaiming their rhythm more than the weaker teams, but it does make sense that a sluggish return from the break would leave the best teams vulnerable. Let's call this the Collins' Theorem.

A few teams fell victim to the Collins' Theorem this week. The Wizards lost on the road in Philadelphia to a team without Joel Embiid – quite shocking given how they were rolling before the All-Star break. Most humiliating, the Hawks lost by 19 points in Orlando in their second game back from the break. Even though it was on a back-to-back, Atlanta's differential was 6.3 points per 100 possessions higher than Orlando's, meaning there was a 25.3-point swing in the loss. Combining this net rating difference with the margin of defeat yields a simplistic measure for the degree of the loss – a loss index.

The table below surveys 20 of the best examples of the Collins' Theorem in action from the past three seasons. Last season featured one of the best examples ever, as the record-setting Golden State Warriors were dismantled at full strength by the middling Portland Trail Blazers. Golden State was inefficient and sloppy – they shot just 39.1 % and committed 20 turnovers. Flipping the table, Portland was sharp, featuring a monster 51-point game from Damian Lillard. The Warriors won the other three regular season meetings handily, but the time off left enough rust to be vulnerable and lend credence to the wisdom of Doug Collins.

Jerry, I Can't Get Fired

Coaching in professional sports comes with extraordinary scrutiny and pressure, inconveniences that are rewarded with extraordinary compensation. Head coaching in the NBA is no exception. In the long-term, the average coaching tenure is currently less than three seasons – ten head coaching jobs became available this offseason alone. In the short-term, coaches are frequently fired, reassigned, asked to resign, or feeling homesick and quit to spend time with their families in the middle of the season. Since the 1984-85 season (the lottery era), 127 head coaching positions have opened up before season's end. In fact, in this time period, there has never been a season in which every coach in the league went wire-to-wire, until perhaps this season.

One of the major reasons for the silence surrounding head coaching changes this season is the unusual complexion of coaching tenure in the league. As mentioned, a third of the coaches are in their first season. Removing interim coaches, only 11 coaches have failed to finish their first season under contract since 1985. There is recent precedent however, Maurice Cheeks was removed in his first season with the Pistons after 50 games in the 2014 season. If we include all coaches with less than two full seasons on the job, the total raises to 16 – more than half the league. The median tenure for coaches before losing their job mid-season is just under three seasons. With so many newish coaches in the league, it is not surprising there has been no change thus far.

Also contributing are the highly competitive playoff races at the bottom of each conference. Of the 14 coaches remaining coaches with more than two season experience, only Brett Brown is coaching a team out of the playoff picture – and he seems to have a special hardship exemption as the 76ers once again find themselves poised to bottom out. Perhaps Dallas is out of playoff contention, currently 4.5 games back of Denver for the 8th seed, but no one has told them and Rick Carlisle is certainly not losing his job. The morass of mediocrity in both conferences seems to be playing in coaches' favor for at least one season.

Using the past as a guide, we can expect that if a coaching change does not happen in the next week or so, a move would be extremely unlikely. Each team has played just about 60 games so far this season. Only 10 times has a head coaching change been made past the 60 game mark since 1985 – most recently Don Nelson recused himself of head coaching duties in 2005 after 64 games in Dallas. Without even a whimper of heat on the seat of any coaches throughout the league, it appears every coach will finish the regular season with their respective teams for the first time in over 30 years. Here's to hoping I didn't jinx anyone in writing this.

Pau Gasol returned to the Spurs lineup in an unfamiliar role after the All-Star break – coming off the bench. The 16-year veteran has played in 1097 regular season games and started a whopping 1081 of them in his career. Any discomfort he has as a reserve is not affecting his play. Gasol just put together one of the best three game stretches of his season so far. A major contributor towards the Spurs current three game winning streak post-All-Star, Gasol has averaged 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game on just 22.3 minutes while posting an average plus/minus of +9.0. In an effort to ease Gasol back into the lineup following his injury, the Spurs may have stumbled upon a potent strategic bench weapon as they chase the suddenly vulnerable Warriors for the top seed in the West. They may opt to bring Gasol back into the starting five however, but until then, Pau Gasol is our 6th Man of the Week.

Late Game Heroics

Please enjoy a compilation of the best shot making and playmaking in the clutch from the past week, complete with replays and fantastic calls by the broadcast teams.