January 6, 2006

I Never Ever Ever Made A Hoe Stay, But I'm Down With Dre Like AC Is Down With OJ

That might be the best rap song ever recorded.

So Dwane Casey. He's a good coach, and my feeling is that he is exactly what this team needs right now. His stressing of defense is peculiar. I don't mean that in a bad way, but Flip used to talk a lot about defense, and he used to say that he stressed it quite a bit during post-game interviews and what-not. But Casey actually DOES stress defense, which is very different than Flip just saying it. This is absolutely not a knock on Flip. He was a fantastic coach and I wish he was still here. Casey really does live defense though, and it's worked so far this year.

Any time there is a change in coaches, there is usually a change in philosophy as well. Casey and Flip are both good coaches, but they stress different things. Flip's motion offense is long gone, replaced with Casey's pick-and-roll, swing-the-ball offense. Flip's zones are still here somewhat, but Casey is much quicker with his defensive shifts, and as a result, there has been much less penetration by point guards this season. It's always interesting to think what this team would look like with Flip coaching it... or anyone else for that matter. Last year point guards blew by Sam and Troy just about whenever they wanted. While it's very easy and certainly proper to blame Sam for not trying and Troy for being so dumb, eventually we must evaluate how Flip dealt with that (I don't remember anyone else coaching the Wolves last season, so don't even try it). Well, it seemed as though Flip put more emphasis on help defense than Casey, constantly reminding his point guards that they had help behind them. And they did, certainly. The problem was that Sam would ole a point guard past him down the lane, KG would step up for a block, and the point guard would either dish to the perimeter or to the center inside for an easy dunk. If he went to the perimeter, the shooting guard would likely be open, because Spree had stopped trying after the 3rd game of the year. With Casey's system, Troy and Marko know they've got help behind them, but it seems like they are also accountable within the greater system. They know they need to rotate to cover open shooters, they know what to do when the defense breaks down (which it does MUCH less than last year). Casey will shift to a zone on a whim, and back to man-defense when the situation warrants it. Eddie G looks a thousand times more confident and stable on defense, even Kandi shows discipline in the defensive post. KG is always KG, and we don't need to worry about him. The Wolves are playing excellent team defense, and that's really the product of Casey's philosophy. The entire team relies on one another, and as long as everyone works hard, there are usually good results. They have defensive problems, hell, who doesn't? But they are much more disciplined, and play a better rotational defense than most teams in the NBA.

On offense, Casey uses his bench differently, but effectively. He has players who legitimately go into his "doghouse". Troy takes a few games off, and Casey will put him on the end of the bench. AC has gone in and out of favor a few times already this year. Right now, Kandi is languishing on the pine, which makes me smile and beam. Casey has tightened up the lineup too; gone are the days of putting Gary Trent in and letting him do whatever he wants. If Casey was coaching Gary Trent, he would never get in the game, ever. Look at Skita. He's played in what, one game this year? He isn't playing because he sucks and doesn't play defense. Casey is saying "Hey Deadzo, just because you get enamored with a guy because of a good summer league game and sign him to a stupid contract doesn't mean I have to play him, dumbo." And it's great. Guys who play hard get playing time, simple. Guys who don't fit (sadly, Madsen is one of them) aren't getting the time.

I can't say I've thought that Casey has pulled any brilliant moves yet this season, but that's not to say he's not a good coach. I trust him to make defensive adjustments between quarters and halves, and I trust him to not let games get out of hand (only two blowout losses so far). You cannot make an argument that this team is more talented than last year, however through 19 games, they are only 1 game behind last year's pace. Throw out all arguments about Sam, Spree and Deadzo and look at what Casey is getting out of this team. He certainly hasn't been a miracle worker, but he's very solid. He's actually more similar to Flip than different: his demeanor and his handling of the team basically mimic Flip. It's simple - Flip and Casey are not "teachers" in the classic sense of the word. They don't waste their time working with players to hone skills. This is the NBA, and these athletes should know how to do things at this stage in their careers. Larry Brown is on the other side of this spectrum, he teaches his players techniques and different ways of playing that they never learned before. Nobody is arguing with his success. But KG and Wally and most of the rest don't need anymore basketball lessons (Kandi needs to go to one of Fred Hoiberg's kids camps during the offseason and learn how to play the sport, but he's the only one), what the team needs is a coach who uses what players do best in the best way. A coach who recognizes Wally's unique talents and caters plays and sets to him. And above all, they needed defensive confidence. They needed to make it a priority, to make that their identity.

And they have. They are a defensive stopping team, and it's wonderful to watch. Here's to the rest of the season, may it continue to be fun to watch.

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