NOTE: If you’re going to read this post, please read the ENTIRE post and give me the chance to at least lay out my argument, before you dismiss it, based on just reading the headline of the post. Also, you may think I’m a McHale-Hater, but if you followed this blog since the beginning of the season, you’ll know that I was a McHale defender early on, because I wasn’t familiar with his coaching and I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. Anyway, read on and it’ll all be clear what I’m trying to convey.
The Houston Rockets is a team that’s made up of a bunch of Jeremy Lins. In other words, it’s made up of a bunch of guys who have suddenly been giving bigger roles than the ones they had prior to joining the Rockets and also guys who don’t quite fit the mold of a good to great basketball player:
- Asik: from bench to starter
- Lin: from third or fourth big name on a team to “face of the Franchise” (that is prior to Harden’s arrival)
- Harden: from third best player, 6th man on a team to best player, starter on a team
- Parsons: from second round pick no name rookie to one of the leaders on the team
Because Rockets are full of Jeremy Lins, analysts severely underrated their capabilities (granted, they had a lot of reasons for doubting this young squad full of first-time starters). As a result, Analysts didn’t have very high hopes for the Rockets. In fact, there was a general consensus that the Rockets wouldn’t win more than 29 games (I believe that was the over-under in Vegas, as well as the over-under for some analysts). I don’t go onto message boards very often, but here’s a message board posting I made back on November 1st on The Dreamshake:
The mistake that a lot of analysts and Rockets fans made was to let their preconceptions of these players get in the way of actually seeing these players for their innate abilities and attributes. It’s the same mistake that Lin Doubters/Haters made (and are still making) with Lin. Lin just doesn’t look the part and doesn’t have the “right” background to be a very good player. And this is sort of the same thing that went on in people’s preconceptions of the Rockets: a starting lineup of bench players and second round picks can’t possibly win more than 29 games!
To me, although I understood where people were coming from, I thought the absurdly low expectations many fans and analysts had of this team was ridiculous. What I saw was a starting lineup of very talented players with unique basketball skills, high basketball IQs, strong work ethic and high character. I saw a starting lineup of guys who have potential to have great chemistry on the floor, because of their unselfishness. So I didn’t hesitate to say on a post on October 29, 2012 that the Rockets are a LOCK to make the playoffs. I looked past the preconceptions that hold so many back (not just as basketball fans and analysts, but in life in general) and saw the players as they are, not based on my judgments of them.
So what does all of this have to do with McHale? I’m getting to that. A lot of analysts and fans are giving credit to McHale now that the Rockets have made the playoffs. It’s something that they didn’t think was even within the realm of possibility, but rather than giving credit to the players, they reasoned that it was McHale who got a bunch of bench players and no names to play well and make it to the playoffs. In other words, analysts/fans highly underrated the Rockets’s players, because of their own erroneous preconceptions, and rather than admitting that their initial judgments of the players were wrong, they work on the assumption that they were right about the players, but somehow McHale got all these players to play much better then they were capable of. What has really happened is that the players played EXACTLY the way they are capable of. Because I didn’t let preconceptions get in the way of evaluating these players’ capabilities, the Rockets did EXACTLY what I expected them to do back in October 29, 2012: make the playoffs. To me, it’s unfortunate that McHale is being given credit for basically being at the right place at the right time. This is unfortunate, because McHale has actually been more of a hindrance than a help to the Rockets. By giving McHale credit he doesn’t deserve, it covers up the reality that McHale has performed well below average as a coach this season and should probably be fired, rather than be a candidate for Coach of the Year. People who think he should be a candidate for COY only see the surface of things and draw simplistic conclusions.
In the beginning of the season, I really liked the game plan that McHale had for this young Rockets team: uncomplicated, free-flowing offense. I loved McHale’s emphasis on ball movement/player movement, as well as running after every possession. He also appeared to have the trust of the players. So this is why I was a defender of McHale early in the season and these are the things I still like about McHale. The ESSENTIAL question to ask, when evaluating McHale is whether or not you think any average coach would have been able to do these things or is this unique to McHale. Here’s where I stand on this question:
- Any average coach would have been able to come up with the uncomplicated, free-flowing offense. From an X’s and O’s perspective, there’s not much to it.
- Ball movement/player movement is something that every coach emphasizes, but not every coach can actually get their players to do it. Rockets have players who are unselfish and willing to share the ball, so that makes McHale’s job easier. I would give McHale a little credit for this, but with McHale’s free flowing offense, it is often very confusing to players about where they should move to on the floor. So points deducted for that. So I pretty much come out on this with giving a tiny bit of credit for McHale for ball movement/player movement.
- Running after made baskets is something that I give McHale the most credit for, because that’s something that every coach says, but not many coaches have the patience to keep preaching it over and over and over until it is ingrained in the players. McHale did this and he did a god job of this earlier and midway through the season, but I think even he has lost some patience with this. I deduct points for McHale’s poor management and usage of player minutes, which makes it very hard for players to run after every possession, because he has tired them out by playing them too many minutes without rest. So at the end of the day, McHale gets a pretty good amount of credit for this, but less than you would think, because of his poor management of player minutes.
- McHale is often called a player’s coach and it appears that many of the players do enjoy playing for him. They have good rapport with him. Players have good rapport with a good number of coaches, simply because of the nature of the relationship. So McHale just gets some credit for this. Rockets are also full of high-character guys, so I think pretty much any average coach can come in and elicit a similar level of respect and comradery. So, again, McHale gets less credit than you would think, because it’s easy to have rapport and comradery when you’re coaching a bunch of high-character guys.
Overall the positive things that McHale provides, I think pretty much any average coach can provide to a similar extent. Maybe McHale does these things slightly better than the average coach. If McHale performed every other aspect of his coaching duties at an average level, then I wouldn’t have too much of a problem with McHale. And this explains why I was a McHale defender earlier in the season. I hadn’t seen him coach enough to fairly evaluate how he performs in in-game situations. All of the positive things McHale does that I mentioned above has to do more with off the court coaching duties, such as providing an overall offensive scheme/structure and player communication. My attitude back then was that there are better coaches out there, but McHale is good enough. I mean, if Morey and Les thought there was someone else they could bring on who can do a better job, I wouldn’t have complained, but at the same time, I wasn’t calling for his head.
Now that I’ve had a chance to see McHale perform for an entire season, I’ve been very disappointed with him as a coach overall. He performs below average or well below average on every other aspect of coaching from player evaluation to player rotation and has committed an alarming number of in-game mistakes and lacks any sort of end-of-game strategy. As the season wore on, I accumulated more and more evidence that McHale is a terrible coach and that’s why I went from being a McHale defender in the beginning of the season (when all I knew of McHale was his general free-flowing offensive scheme) to calling for his head now at the end of the season. I’m not just calling for his head, because I’m a LOF and don’t like the way he’s been misusing Lin, I’m calling for his head as a basketball fan who has been shocked by the number of mistakes McHale has made as a coach. I have nothing against McHale as a person and he has been through a lot this season. I also think he is great at communicating with his players. I’d be fine with keeping him on as some sort of motivational coach or an assistant coach or something. For example, I give a lot of credit to McHale for making the correct decision to show the players clips of them when they were rolling to get them over the psychological drain of losing seven games in a row, rather than dwelling on their mistakes. But McHale is not ready to coach an NBA team–especially one that has aspirations of becoming championship contenders. If Morey and Les are serious about making the Rockets championship contenders, they need to find a coach who can help take the Rockets to the next level or at least a coach who won’t get in the way. It’s hard to prove a “what if” but I do believe that Rockets would have had a much better record and maybe been a 50+ team if McHale wasn’t the coach. It is said that players lose blow outs and coaches loose close games. Well, the Rockets have not been good in end-of-game situations this season, and I think the blame rests squarely on McHale. If we just got at least ONE of those close games back, the Rockets are playing the Spurs with a very good chance of advancing to the second round. This alone should be a fire-able offense, because it has direct playoff implications. Again, if Morey and Les are serious about being championship contenders, they need to look long and hard at this.
For those who say that this is not fair, because I’m not looking at all the games that McHale made good decisions. I say, the games that McHale made good decisions, any average coach would have made those same decisions. In fact, I can only think of ONE decision McHale made that can be called somewhat unique that won the game and that was going with Beverly in the Magics game and benching Lin. But even I (a LOF) would have done that in that game, so I think any old coach would have done that. So McHale has really made NO positive in-game decisions that any average coach wouldn’t have made and he has made PLENTY of poor in-game decisions that any average coach wouldn’t have made. To me, this is the definition of a way below average coach.
Throughout the season, McHale has committed many mistakes and poor judgments. Here are just a few. NOTE: What follows is admittedly poorly written, because I’m more concerned about just throwing out a bunch of evidence, rather than the prose, so feel free to skip over this part unless you are looking for specific evidence for McHale being a below average coach.
- Lack of end-of-game strategy. McHale’s end-of-game strategy amounts to giving Harden the ball ALL THE TIME and praying Harden does something. When I refer to “end-of-game” I’m not just talking about the very last possession. I’m talking about the last few minutes of a close game. Sometimes, McHale’s “strategy” works, but most of the time, it ends up with Harden turning the ball over, throwing up a prayer, throwing up highly contested shots, or giving it up to his teammate with the clock winding down, because he can’t figure out what to do with it. The problem with McHale’s strategy, is that when Harden has the ball, everyone just stands around ball-watching, waiting to see what Harden is going to do. Since McHale doesn’t run any sets, players don’t know where to move on the court, because they don’t want to mess up the spacing for Harden. I get that this is a strategy that a lot of teams employ: iso your best player. In GENERAL, it is okay to fatten out a good majority of the time in end of game situations. This is very common in the league. I think this is so commonplace in the league, because not too many teams have multiple clutch players who are also great ball handlers and play makers. Rockets happen to be a team that has two guys who are great ball handlers, play makers, and are also clutch, so I think it’s a mistake to fall into the convention. It shows a lack of understanding of your team to use a cookie-cutter approach. I’m fine with Harden being “the man” a majority of the time, but I think to have Harden be “the Man” ALL the time has hurt this team tremendously and it’s the reason why Rockets don’t do well in close games and this is going to really show in the playoffs if McHale continues to follow this cookie-cutter approach blindly. McHale ONLY uses Harden during clutch time and ignores the rest of the team to their detriment. Rockets become a one-man team. I actually think it’s much wiser to have the ball in your best decision-maker’s hands rather than your best scorer at the end of games. And to me, that’s clearly Lin. Go here for a more detailed discussion: http://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/rockets-is-more-dangerous-with-the-ball-starting-out-in-lins-hands-with-the-game-on-the-line/. I’m not saying to ALWAYS do this. But I’m saying it’s wrong to ALWAYS do the same thing every time and give the ball to Harden and flatten it out. It’s way too predictable and causes everyone to stand around. When the ball is in Lin’s hands Lin has a higher probability of make the right decision and find the optimal play and guys move around when Lin has the ball, since they don’t expect Lin to just go iso. Rockets also have another clutch player in Parsons. And I think if Lin handles the ball in end of game situations, you have a guy like Parsons that suddenly comes into the fold. There have been an over reliance on Harden in clutch time and that’s been a detriment to the Rockets, I believe. It has caused us to lose a lot of close games and this is all on McHale.
- Poor understanding of his players. McHale’s singular focus on Harden during clutch time points out that McHale is actually blinded to the talent on his team. He doesn’t recognize that Parson and Lin are actually clutch players in their own right and have the ability to deliver in end-of-game situations. McHale also has fixations on a lot of his players–either seeing only faults or only strengths. He doesn’t seem to see them as they are. With certain players, he’ll stick with them no matter what and relies on them heavily, even when they’re clearly not doing well. Delfino is a great example of this. Ever since Delfino messed up his elbow a couple of months or so ago, Delfino hasn’t been the same player. His shot has been unreliable, going 2 for 10 from three on some nights. Delfino also tries to do too much on the court and often turns the ball over. But McHale can’t seem to see any of Delfino’s faults, since Delfino was his only veteran player in the beginning of the season. So McHale let this fact cloud his judgment of Delfino. McHale also inexplicably uses Beverly as a floor general, even though Beverly is just a talented defender, but an inadequate floor general. McHale also over-value’s Beverly and finds every reason to keep Beverly on the floor. It’s as if 1 good thing Beverly does counts as 4 good things that Lin does. I’m a fan of Beverly for his defense and his energy, but McHale often rides Beverly for too long–past the time that Beverly is effective. Beverly is an energy guy and should only be used sparingly. Beverly also shouldn’t not be used as the floor general anywhere close to 100% or even 50% of the time when he’s on the floor. And, of course, the big one is McHale’s lack of understanding in Lin’s game, as well as his doubt in Lin as a player. I’ve beat this horse to death, so there’s no need to say anymore about it here. If you want more information, you can watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPStYh4Zxj8. Also, McHale has been a big reason for Lin’s struggles early in the season. Go here for a more detailed breakdown: http://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/reasons-for-lins-scoring-struggles-and-why-the-spurs-game-is-his-breakout-game/. Since Lin is a key player on the Rockets, I think McHale has hurt the team by his lack of trust in Lin and his misuse of Lin. Had Lin been allowed to play Lin’s game more this season, I think the Rockets would have been a 50+ winning team, but again, it’s hard to prove a “what if.” Just to give you an idea, however, here are a few games in which Lin was not just misused (since Lin is misused all season and continues to be misused), but not used or under-used altogether (in terms of minutes) that MIGHT have made the difference in Rockets winning the game: Benching Lin vs. Lakers on April 17, 2013 (McHale sat Lin with 4:24 to play in the third and didn’t bring Lin back again until 6:19 to go in the fourth, even though Lin was hot in the third); vs. Dallas on March 6, 2013; vs. Indiana on March 27, 2013 (http://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/rockets-lose-to-pacers-due-to-poor-management-of-player-minutes-by-mchale/); vs. Denver on January 30, 2013 (http://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/rockets-lost-a-game-they-could-have-won-against-denver/); vs. Dallas on December 8, 2012
- Poor management of player minutes. McHale plays Harden and Parsons to death–even though Rockets have players who are capable of spelling both players. Anderson is a player who has been severely under-utilized by McHale, because McHale doesn’t trust ANYONE to spell Harden. But I don’t understand why McHale would trust Anderson to start in place of Harden when Harden was injured, but then not play Anderson any minutes when Harden isn’t injured. That rationale doesn’t make too much sense to me and I think has to do with McHale’s fixations. There have been far too many games in which Harden plays an entire half with no rest. Same with Parsons, although McHale is finally trusting Garcia (again his eyes were only opened due to injuries when he was forced to play Garcia big minutes in the Clippers game on March 30, 2013 http://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/rockets-success-against-clippers-should-put-mchales-usage-of-players-into-question/) to spell Parsons towards the end of the season. Most recent examples of McHale playing Harden to death: vs. Pacers on March 27, 2013 McHale played Harden for the entire second half in a game in which Harden was clearly struggling and playing hurt, which resulted in Harden having to sit out the next couple of games due to injuries. And when Harden came back, McHale, again played Harden for entire second halves vs. Suns on April 9, 2013 and vs. Grizzlies on April 12, 2013. McHale severely over-utilizes a few players and under-utilizes the rest of the team. I think this is even more misguided considering that McHale’s ENTIRE offensive scheme relies on having fresh bodies that can hustle up and down the court. I think for McHale’s offense to run the way he designed it, it’s actually more important to have fresh bodies than to run a few guys to the ground, because you don’t trust anyone else. Also, McHale’s poor management of player’s minutes is partly responsible for Rockets’s turnovers. In particular, Harden has been racking up the turnovers in those games that he played the entire second half: 9 turnovers vs. Suns and 8 turnovers vs. Grizzlies.
- Player Match-Up Mistakes. Going with a Lin-Harden-Beverly lineup vs. Grizzlies on April 12, 2013. This lineup was clearly ineffective (having both Beverly and Lin on the court didn’t do much against the Grizzlie’s lineup), but McHale stuck with it for the ENTIRE fourth quarter, I believe, or nearly the entire fourth quarter, simply because of his fixation on Beverly. McHale wants to play Beverly any chance he gets and since he knew he’d be ridiculed for benching Lin, he kept that ineffective trio in the game, when he should have had Garcia out there for a more reliable spot up three and also for defense against a lengthy Prince, so Harden wouldn’t be forced to match up against Prince. Aside from Harden having to expend maybe more energy than he needed to to guard Prince on the defensive end, Prince made Harden’s life on the offensive end tough by making it harder for Harden to shoot over a lengthy Prince (Prince had at least one block on Harden at the three point line). Using Delfino as a Power Forward against Gasol vs. Lakers on April 17, 2013. This is so obviously bad that I don’t even feel the need to explain it. This being said, player match-up is probably the one in-game area in which McHale actually does do a good job of. He is very versatile with the lineup and will make quick changes depending on the flow of the game. But this only applies to any player that’s not named Harden, Parsons, Delfino and Beverly.
- Slow learner who doesn’t seem to recognize what works and what doesn’t. One example, of course, is McHale’s insane end-of-game tactics. The defninition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. McHale is, indeed, insane when it comes to his end-of-game tactics and he has made no progress the entire season. He also seems to fail to learn what works and what doesn’t. The Rockets played their best ball back in December when the talk about Lin-Harden co-existing really heated up and McHale started really focusing on making it work. After Lin had his breakout game against the Knicks, McHale FINALLY let Lin be the primary floor general and he also staggered Lin’s and Harden’s minutes. The result was one of the best stretches the Rockets had with blowouts against a very strong Grizzlies team, as well as the Bulls. Inexplicably, McHale has gone completely away from this and seems to have stopped trying to make the Lin-Harden synergy work. He seems to have disregarded all of it and stopped staggering Lin’s and Harden’s minutes, even though that clearly was working. The strategy for making the most of Linharden is so clear to me. I don’t understand why McHale still doesn’t get it. When Lin and Harden is on the floor, Let Lin be the floor general 65% to 75% of the time. Either Lin or Harden should be on the floor at all times or nearly all the time. When Lin or Harden is on the floor without the other, Lin or Harden should be the floor general 80% to 90% of the time. Beverly should rarely be used as the floor general. Beverly should generally be used as the floor general to give Lin or Harden a rest from ball-handling duties. Right now, McHale has the usage of Lin, Harden and Beverly so backwards it’s laughable. Harden is on the floor pretty much 100% of the time so there’s no chance for Lin to be on the floor without Harden. And he’s even inexplicably sat both Lin and Harden and let Beverly be the only ball handler on the floor. Lin is rarely on the floor without Harden and when Harden is on the floor with Beverly, Beverly is the primary floor general, but when Lin is on the floor with Harden, Harden is the primary floor general. McHale has had an entire season to learn about his players and how to play them, but I don’t see him making any measurable progress. It takes a lot for McHale to change his views. I think this is partly why Morey traded away the Power Forward lineup to force McHale to play the other Power Fowards on the team. It also took injuries to Harden and Parsons for McHale to discover that Garcia is someone who deserves to be in the rotation. TJones is another player that McHale took a long time to trust to play any minutes–even though he was stellar in the pre-season, in the summer league and in the D-league. And Anderson has been a guy that’s been forgotten all season and McHale still doesn’t recognize that Anderson can actually spell Harden and keep Harden fresh and less turnover prone. As a coach, you’re the closest to the players, so there’s no excuse for not having a deep level of understanding of their capabilities and how to use them. McHale seems to only see his players through his preconceptions of them and it takes McHale a very very long time to break free of these preconceptions and see the players as they are.
- Specific Boneheaded In-Game mistakes. Left Harden in after he picked up his fourth foul with less than a minute left to go in the third quarter vs. Spurs on December 28, 2012. Harden ended up committing his 5th foul before the end of the third quarter and had to sit out for most of the fourth quarter. For more info go here: http://jeremylintelligence.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/valiant-effort-by-rockets-in-loss-to-spurs-i-blame-the-loss-on-mchale/. There were also a few games in which he lost track of Asik and left Asik on the bench when we needed him to get rebounds in end-of-game situations when the opponent was shooting free throws. I don’t remember specifically which games these were, but I do remember that the opponent got offensive rebounds off of their missed free throws and not having Asik in cost us those games.
If you’re still doubtful about whether or not McHale should be given most of the credit for the Rockets making the playoffs, just ask yourself this question: Would McHale be as successful coaching on another team? I think we already have the answer to that, because McHale did unsuccessfully coach on another team (granted he is a little more experienced now). Would the Rockets have made the playoffs with another coach? I’ll leave this answer up to you.