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Analyzing the Nuggets' rumored coaching candidates

Harrison Wind Avatar
April 30, 2015

 

One of the most crucial offseasons in Denver Nuggets history has arrived, but before draft picks can be made and free agents can be signed, Denver has to settle on their head coach for next season.

Here are my top five candidates for the job:

Mike D’Antoni

I’m listing D’Antoni first on this list because that’s how good of a chance I feel he has at getting this job. First off, there’s admitted “mutual interest” between D’Antoni and the Nuggets, something that makes sense on multiple fronts. This roster fits with D’Antoni’s offensive philosophies, including heavy doses of high pick-and-rolls, seven seconds or less and all the other D’Antoni buzzwords you can throw out. Ty Lawson, who’s future in Denver remains uncertain after being available at the trade deadline, would be a perfect fit for his system and Danilo Gallinari would be a more-than-suitable stretch four. Kenneth Faried, like he did under Hunt, could get back to running up and down a basketball court as fast as he can, and when looking towards the offseason and draft there are a lot of wings available that would be effective from day one in his system.

In some NBA circles D’Antoni gets a bad rap. Some say he doesn’t care about defense, others say his system is a gimmick that can’t work in the playoffs. The reality is most of those sentiments are false. In 2004-05 no one knew how to adjust NBA stats for pace, so teams like D’Antoni’s Suns gave up a league-worst 103.3 points per game, but were playing at a league-leading 98.62 possessions per 48 minutes and were automatically viewed as the worst defensive team in the league. However in reality when adjusted for pace, their 103.7 DefRtg ranked them 16th in a year Phoenix won 62 games and went to the Western Conference Finals, a mark that would have ranked them 18th in the league this year and nearly two points per 100 possessions better than Denver. On the offensive side of the ball, D’Antoni is a genius. Teams like the Spurs and Heat used D’Antoni’s small ball principles to surround their penetrators with shooters and space the floor to win championships, a formula that can work with Denver’s roster given just a couple tweaks.

Additionally, D’Antoni has a history with Denver’s best player, Danilo Gallinari, calling him “the greatest shooter I’ve ever seen” when he was in New York and reportedly “enjoyed living in Denver” during his previous stint with the Nuggets from 1997-99. D’Antoni would surely inject some life into this franchise and instantly be that big name to boost attendance, which ranked 28th out of 30 teams last season, something that is undoubtably music to team president Josh Kroenke’s ears.

Melvin Hunt

Melvin hunt

Hunt’s 23-game trial run as Nuggets head coach, which coincided with a 10-13 record, presented a clue into what it would be like with him in a full-time role. He’s a players coach who quickly gained the full, unquestionable support of his team, and someone who instilled a culture and work ethic in his team that wasn’t there prior to his appointment. Hunt opened up Denver’s offense and transformed the Nuggets from bland to at least watchable on that end of the floor.

Under Hunt, Denver’s offense ranked 10th throughout the league, registering an offensive rating at 105.1 points per 100 possessions, up from the putrid 100.2 OffRtg under former head coach Brian Shaw. His players continued to have his back even when management suddenly decided to start tanking after Hunt went 6-3 in his first nine games at the helm, leaving Denver without two or three starters in games down the stretch. He’s already been mentioned by GM Tim Connelly as a “candidate” for the full-time job and was even endorsed by Danilo Gallinari who went as far as to say he would “prefer Melvin Hunt” over his former coach, Mike D’Antoni. He’s a legitimate candidate, but would be another first-time head coach, something Denver brass is definitely concerned with after just recovering from Shaw’s two-year run.

Hunt has paid his dues in the league with stops as an assistant in Houston, Los Angeles, and Cleveland where he helped the Cavs get to the finals in 2007 and the conference finals in 2009. He learned under George Karl from 2010 when he took an assistant coaching job with Denver until he was named the interim head coach on March 3 of this year. Whats been apparent from watching Hunt in a head-coaching role is that he’s a fun-loving guy but also instills discipline in his team. When Hunt was asked what his team would look like in his first game as the head guy he responded with, ” light-skinned and chubby,” but when Lawson struggled for a number of reasons down the stretch, Hunt was not hesitant to sit him in favor of the far more effective Jameer Nelson.

Hunt has the resume, personality and charisma to be an NBA coach. He’s an expert communicator who brings a positive energy with him wherever he goes and with whomever he’s talking to, all qualities that are instrumental in becoming a successful head coach in the NBA.

Scott Brooks

hi-res-5e1a61dafa264e7f1712cce68a4fa476_crop_north

As the head coach in Oklahoma City, Brooks helped the Thunder reach an NBA Finals, two conference finals and was part of a memorable seven-year run that saw him rack up an impressive 338-207 record.

However, before that run Brooks got his feet wet as an NBA coach when he was an assistant with George Karl’s staff from 2003-06.

Brooks is a true motivator, a players coach and someone who his guys quite literally love and play hard for. Kevin Durant repeatedly backed up Brooks to the media over the past few years when criticism was at an all-time high, particularly when he received his MVP award:

Scott Brooks, you mean the world to me. I love you. You as a man. I never met anybody like you, so selfless. You don’t take credit for nothing even though you deserve all of it. I love you and your family for always taking me in, believing me, texting me late at night when I was going crazy. Thank you. Thank you.

His track record of developing young players and turning guys like Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Jeff Green into the players they are today can’t be ignored. Overall, guys tend to get better under his tutelage, which is no easy task.

The criticism of Brooks focuses around his personnel decisions and his overall offensive philosophy which generally relied on giving the ball to Durant and Westbrook and hoping for the best. Usually that turned out to be a fine strategy because of the sheer skill of those players, resulting in the Thunder finishing as a top 10 offense each of the past five years. But that offense in a place like Denver would be something pretty familiar to what Brian Shaw did — or tried to do.

The defensive end of the floor is Brooks’ strong suit. The Thunder were consistently a top-five defensive team when healthy and Brooks would instantly instill that same philosophy in Denver. However, scheme aside, Denver’s roster does not have any Serge Ibaka’s sitting on their bench, which would signal a steep learning curve on the defensive side of the ball for the Nuggets.

Many view Brooks as an outstanding coach, one who can surround himself with a quality staff and change the culture and perception of an organization from the day he walks in the door. He can definitely take an organization to the next level like he did in Oklahoma City. The real question is, can he take you to a championship?

Alvin Gentry

Alvin Gentry

Gentry is well traveled, respected and has a history of transforming offenses from good to great. Last season in Los Angeles as the associate head coach to Doc Rivers, Gentry helped the Clippers go from the fourth-ranked offense in 2012-13, to first the following year. (The Clippers built off his philosophies to once again clock in as the most efficient offense in the league this season). As an associate head coach to Steve Kerr in Golden State, Gentry turned the Warriors from an isolation-heavy (sound familiar?), 12th-ranked offense under Mark Jackson to a beautifully flowing, melodic symphony, where Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson were still able to get theirs while producing the second-best offense league wide.

The Nuggets will have to beat out their fair share of teams as Gentry will surely have suitors. Oklahoma City should have him at the top of their list while other openings with teams that are closer to relevancy may be more intriguing.

Gentry was birthed out of Phoenix and Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced attack, one which I pointed out earlier would be quite scary with Ty Lawson. With the way the league is headed, where 3-point shooting, spacing, and ball movement are all so important, Gentry would be an ideal candidate for the Nuggets.

Billy Donovan/Fred Hoiberg

2013-02-04-donovan-4_3North Carolina Central v Iowa State

I threw Donovan and Hoiberg’s names into the mix because they are truly the hottest college coaching names currently on the market.

It’s already been reported that the OKC job is Donovan’s if he “wants” it, and it is widely known that the longtime Florida coach has contemplated a jump to the NBA after a successful run at Florida even though he accepted, then said “nevermind” to the Magic back in 2007.

Donovan would be a new face to the Nuggets and would certainly instill a novel basketball philosophy in Denver. He’s a no-nonsense, in-your-face, old-school coach who has built a reputation as one of the brightest x’s-and-o’s guys in college basketball.

If Donovan is the classically trained, fiery college coach, Hoiberg is quite the opposite. He has NBA pedigree, playing for 10 years in Indiana, Chicago and Minnesota before taking over as the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Timberwolves. He knows the NBA, is well respected in many circles and his name has been floating around the league as a head-coaching candidate for years.

It’s going to take a lot to pull Hoibrerg from his alma mater, the place he grew up and won Mr. Basketball in high school, but he might be ready to make that jump as well.

Both Donovan and Hoiberg will coach in the NBA before their careers are over, but whether each is ready to make that jump right now with the Nuggets, only time will tell.

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