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Just The Sports: Isiah Thomas The Coach

Just The Sports

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Isiah Thomas The Coach

This article is a little old, being written six days ago, but it is still worth writing about and adding a few details to it that the author Dave D'Alessandro left out. In the article, D'Alessandro makes the claim that Isiah the coach will save Isiah the GM, which is probably right. The Knicks certainly won't get any worse so there is a high probability Dolan will not fire Thomas right away. Actually, just by virtue of the team suiting up for all 82 games next year, the Knicks can be expected to improve their winning percentage by 9% which would give them thirty wins next season.

That will be the summer focus in New York, which is to basketball what Islamic fundamentalism is to Iran.

I highly doubt it. Highly. Plus your analogy is backwards if you want it to make sense. If you don't, then it makes perfect sense.

As an executive, Isiah Thomas is a human pratfall. But coaching always has been his passion, and when you take an objective look at his track record in Indiana, he is good at it.

Following D'Alessandro's advice, I took an objective look at Isiah Thomas's coaching career. When he took over the helm of the Indiana Pacers in 2001, he was taking over a franchise who had gone to the NBA Finals the previous year. Not only had the Pacers done that, but they also led the NBA in offensive efficiency. In Thomas's first year, there was a huge drop-off in offensive efficiency going from 108.6 in 2000 to 103.0 in 2001, which was good for 13th out of 29 teams. The Pacers finished with a 41-41 record. So Isiah did a horrible job, right? Not so fast.

The roster stability for the 2001 Indiana Pacers was only .75. What this means is 75% of the minutes in each season were played by the same players. This is the equivalent of losing 1 1/2 positions, not at all an insignificant ordeal to face. Still, he managed to take the Pacers back to the playoffs, where they bowed out to the Philadelphia 76ers that went on to the NBA Finals.

In 2002, the roster stability for the Pacers was even lower than it had been in 2001, coming in at .73. Despite that, Thomas led the Pacers to the playoffs, losing again in the first round. That time it was the New Jersey Nets who ended the Pacers' season. Like the 76ers, the Nets went on to the NBA Finals.

The year 2003 was a different beast altogether for Isiah Thomas and the Indiana Pacers. With a roster stability of .92, they basically had the same roster in 2003 that they had in 2002. As expected, the Pacers rewarded Thomas with posting a high in offensive efficency and a low in defensive efficiency over the three years of Thomas's coaching tenure. They also had a 48-34 record, again a high for an Isiah Thomas-led Pacers team. Based on point differential, the Pacers should have been 51-31, which could be used as a mark against Thomas, but could also be chalked up to bad luck.

However, the season for the Pacers ended in disappointing fashion because they lost again in the first round of the playoffs. What made this first round loss different than the others is they lost to an inferior team in the Boston Celtics. How much more improvement Thomas could have squeezed out of the Pacers if they had maintained a high level of roster stability for another year, but Thomas was fired by Larry Bird after this season and replaced by Rick Carlisle.

It's [leadership's] about imparting a vision (think Phoenix East), infusing some affinity, settling on a rotation and restoring the confidence Brown methodically shattered.

If anyone wants to get a handle on how hard a roster this was for Larry Brown to coach, the roster stability for the 2006 Knicks was .39, the equivalent of losing three positions from the 2005 Knicks. I haven't looked at the other NBA teams' roster stability, but I am pretty sure the Knicks have the lowest stability in the league.

Yes, Brown could have settled on a rotation, but this Knicks team was doomed from the start by all of Thomas's ill-conceived moves in the offseason and during the season.


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