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Just The Sports: Flip Saunders and Larry Brown

Just The Sports

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Flip Saunders and Larry Brown

Following a legend in any field will result in the successor receiving a larger helping of criticism than praise. Every move made ends up under the lens of a high-powered microscope and antagonizing questions are asked when the successor performs tasks in a different manner, as if different is somehow magically synonymous with worse. When the succession happens in a nationally prominent field, such as NBA coaching, the criticism becomes worse since more than a few media members have no idea what they are talking about, as Flip Saunders has found out.

The way in which some journalists and pundits describe matters, Larry Brown was the best defensive coach in the history of NBA basketball, the Detroit Pistons played the best defense ever beheld by the eyes of man with him as the coach, and the replacing of Brown with Saunders has resulted in the Pistons no longer caring about the defense they play or even playing it well.

For a team, providing a comprehensive measure of how well they do requires more than just picking which part of the team's proudction, offense or defense, to examine. Neither offense nor defense can be looked at in a vacuum. If a team scores 115 points per game and gives up 120 points per, then there is no point in praising the players for their offensive capabilities. The same can be said for a team that holds its opponents to 65 points per game, but struggles to score even 62 points per game. Only in outscoring an opponent is offense or defense something a team can take pride in.

So while the Detroit Pistons did play better defense under Larry Brown than they have under Flip Saunders-they gave up 98.7 points per 100 possessions under Brown compared to 104.2 points per 100 possessions under Saunders-that deficit does not matter. That is because the Pistons have more than made up for it on the offensive side, scoring 110.8 points per 100 possessions with Saunders coaching and 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Brown coaching, which gives the Pistons an overall advantage of +0.8 points over 100 possessions with Saunders at the helm. In this way, it can be said that the Pistons are playing better defense with Saunders relative to their offensive output.

Assigning all the credit to Saunders, though, may just be a simplistic answer. Although he is a more offensive-minded coach than Brown, the personality of the Pistons has not changed all that much. They are averaging almost the same amount of possessions per game so the gain in efficiency may be more a result of roster stability than coaching. Whatever the case may be, the criticism of Saunders for the defense played by the Pistons under his helm is both unwarranted and ignorant.



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