The Outside Report is a monthly column that delivers an in-depth look at a topic that is trending in my head.
Last week, ESPN ranked front offices, executives and head coaches. The Mavericks’ parts generally rank where they should be, but I think some exception should be taken in regards to their head coach Rick Carlisle’s overall ranking. He was ranked as the sixth best coach – behind Gregg Popovich, Tom Thibodeau, Doc Rivers, Erik Spoelstra and Frank Vogel – in the results.
There’s no way to argue that Carlisle is better than Gregg Popovich. San Antonio’s coach clearly is on his on level when it comes to coaching. Looking at the names, I would rank Carlisle no lower than third on the list. If someone is ahead of Carlisle and Popovich, I would put Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls there. The fact that he’s dragged a team to the playoffs without their top star and have won series really says something about their coaching. Yes, the Bulls rank as the worst team in the league in terms of scoring, but they also rank as the best team in the league in terms of defense. That impresses me greatly.
Where to begin in regards to making a case for Carlisle to be ranked higher and proving that his actually underrated.
You can look at what he did during the championship season of 2011. The adjustments he made during the championship run, like inserting J.J. Barea into the starting lineup after Game 3 of the NBA Finals, were well-timed and properly executed. Carlisle wasn’t a dictator either during that championship season. Remember, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry went up to their coach after the first few games of the season and they suggested that they would have more success if DeShawn Stevenson was inserted into the starting lineup. He agreed, and the results followed shortly thereafter. Stevenson was one of many examples of a belief that Carlisle instilled on that team.
He created the Church of Be Ready and the 2011 roster consisted of a cast of disciples. Since then, players who have joined the roster have had to adapt to that requirement of consistently being ready. If they aren’t ready, they’ll be asked to step up in a time of need and they’ll fall flat. If they fall flat, Carlisle will lose trust in that player.
“I made a conscious decision as a coach a few years ago to always do my best to take the personnel that I have and put them into the right system and not be someone that is very stringent about the type of system that he runs. So, when you get a guy like Monta, you gotta tweak some major parts of it, because he is now our leading minutes guy, and he and Dirk get the most shots, so you have got to adjust, and we have.”
With so many moving parts to the team’s roster over the last three seasons, Carlisle has had to sink or swim in terms of redefining how he approaches coaching.
He, along with the help of his analytics staff, sift through the data that helps determine how the rotations should line up on a game-to-game basis. After the first 10-20 games of the season, you can notice structure within the rotation and the substitutions roll like clockwork. The byproduct of that machinelike system of the rotation creates a sense of comfort and familiarity for the players. Players are humans (BREAKING NEWS). Things are going to flow with more harmony if it is familiar and something you’re accustomed to doing. If players are used to the same routine, they’re likely to perform better. This process moves with the player’s best interest in mind, as well as creating the best opportunity for success.
Look at what the Mavericks do with their offense. The “flow offense” was created when Jason Kidd was running on all cylinders. Pairing a gifted mind like Kidd with a offensive juggernaut such as Nowitzki and adding X’s and O’s wrinkles that Carlisle creates, it presents a perfect storm for offensive efficiency. There are some set plays within the offense, but it’s mainly predicated on improvisation and ball movement. Carlisle’s bread is buttered when the team comes out of a timeout. If you give a him a second, he’s good. Give him a minute, he’s great. Give Carlisle the length of a timeout, he’s nearly unbeatable. The plays he generates out of timeouts usually produce the same result: a high-percentage look at the basket.
He’s able to do that thanks to his ability to think and his ability to get the most out of his players. Rodridgue Beaubois was a washout of a player for the Mavericks, but Carlisle picked his spots so specifically with the French guard. Carlisle would put him a position to succeed early in the #FreeRoddyB campaign. Fans would clamor for more Beaubois. When they got to see more of him, they saw a player who was generally frail and still raw in understanding how to operate at the NBA level. While fans questioned Carlisle’s ability to handle a young player, he was ultimately proven right as the head-scratching guard is still out of a job in the league.
Monta Ellis’ development within the system shines a bright light on Carlisle’s reputation and his ability to coach a player up. Ellis referenced during training camp that he already trusted his coach and believed that it was a truly a two-way street in that regard. O.J. Mayo said the same thing two summers ago, but we clearly see that one person responded while the other person didn’t.
Quick tangent: Looking at Ellis in the pick-and-roll, one has to wonder what Mayo and Darren Collison were actually thinking last season when Nowitzki was fully in the mix last season. Neither could figure out what to do in those scenarios.
Another form of working through adjustments is his ability to accept a unique way of bettering his star player. As we’ve discussed as of late, Nowitzki has been on a tear since Holger Geschwindner returned to Dallas for his routine checkup on his pupil. It’s not a common situation where players have their trainers or whatever role you want to give Holger come in and the player’s coach are just open and willing to allow someone into the moving train that is a team during a season and let them work on a player.
Clearly, Carlisle is different in this aspect.
When Holger comes, Nowitzki thrives.
“That’s why I like having him around,” Carlisle said after the team’s win against the Lakers.
Look at the previous Mavericks coach, Avery Johnson, and you could see that he wasn’t enamored with the idea of Holger coming in and doing his things. It was Johnson’s way or the highway. He was rigid and wasn’t open to new ideas.
That almost sounded like Carlisle during his closing period with the Indiana Pacers. He rubbed people in the organization the wrong way and players started to tune him out at the end. The time he spent with ESPN as an analyst did him well as he got to study the league and take that time to take stock of himself and re-enhance his coaching methods.
Carlisle, like the star of the team, has generally done more with less. Look at the turnstile of players that came through the organization last season. You saw the likes of Eddy Curry, Troy Murphy, Dominique Jones, Derek Fisher, Mike James and others on the roster. He also had to endure not having Nowitzki for the first part of the season due to knee surgery. The fact that Carlisle maneuvered his way through that, had his team finish at .500 and had his team in the thick of the playoff hunt until the final four games of the season is nearly a miracle all in itself.
Again, he’s helped lead the Mavericks into the thick of another playoff race. With things being so intense, with Memphis and Phoenix right in the hunt of the playoff picture, Carlisle’s steady hand and mind are another huge intangible. He won’t even consider looking at the scoreboard to see what everyone else is doing. The highs are not put on a pedestal nor are the lows considered to be rock bottom. He keeps an even keel and lives within the moment. It’s all part of the process, part of that process is keeping an unconditional belief in his team. On top of that, Carlisle does whatever is required in the moment. He’ll light the fire under someone’s ass. He’ll jump on the grenade and take the bunt of the criticism that falls on the team when he’s nowhere near the root cause. It’s all part of the layers that embody Carlisle.
Again, back to rigidness, there is some that still within Carlisle. The media certainly feels the wrath of that rigidness, but a fair amount of it can come in a humorous way. There’s a hint of Popovich in his replies to the media, but he has a certain sense of timing to it and with some silliness to it, as well.
Here are some highlights:
A standard classic when hypotheticals are mentioned – “If cows were kittens there’d be a milk shortage.”
When asked about his team’s execution on offense - “My team’s execution? I’m in favor of it. I include myself in that, too.”
In regards to turnovers - ”We’re doing it every way you can do it. If we were a sex manual it’d be a best-seller.”
When asked about a specific message he delivered to his team after a tough loss – “I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
Being asked if he’s happy about the team winning five out of their last six games – “I’m not happy about anything.”
Being pressed about Delonte West’s suspension – “You should listen to ‘King of Anything’ by Sara Bareilles. It’s a song about people who should mind their own [expletive] business.”
The idea of making things harder than they should be when it comes to winning games – “[We have to try to] not always make hard work out of sex.”
On if there’s a set plan in regards players to get back on defense after a missed shot – “There is a great amount of evidence to the contrary, but yes.”
When his team doesn’t bring an energetic effort - “If we play like that, collectively, we’ll get our butts kicked, like Bella Thorne (from Disney’s “Shake It Up”) in an arm wrestling contest.”
On the podium after winning the championship – “Look, Miami’s time is going to come. Their talent is undeniable. At some point it’s going to carry the day. There’s no doubt about that. But their time is not now. Our time is now. It needed to be now. They had a great phrase, “now is the time for us,’ and it was. It had to be.”
Wrapped up in a curmudgeon-like bow, Carlisle represents one of the best coaches the league has to offer. He’ll have the job in Dallas as long as he wants it. Rick Carlisle will be linked to Dirk Nowitzki as they were two huge factors in bringing the team and the city their first NBA championship. As long as those two are humming, the offensive end of the floor will always be protected.
Carlisle will also be linked in a way that the organization and city won’t be the same when he decides to leave.
He’s not nearly as transcendent as Nowitzki, but he’s equally as effective and as valuable.