Head Coach Tournament: Jeff Van Gundy v. Ettore Messina

Published: May 27, 2015

The Case for Jeff Van Gundy

by: Mason Ginsberg

To view the previous round with Jeff Van Gundy, click here. 

We all know that Jeff Van Gundy is excellent on the defensive end; that’s not where the main question about his candidacy lies. If anything, it revolves around the fact that he hasn’t been a head coach since 2006, and the game has changed considerably since then. As a response to that reasonable concern, I provide to you the video above, which was recorded during the 2014 NBA Finals.

Within the first 30 seconds of describing his offensive strategy, Van Gundy hits on two key areas, one of which is especially important in relation to his historical coaching style. The first characteristic he points out is a team’s “level of unselfishness” while running an offense. In its simplest form, unselfishness means “making the extra pass.” As I mentioned in my first round argument, Van Gundy has shown an ability to adapt an offensive game plan based on personnel, as evidenced by the change in 3 point attempt rates between his Knicks and Rockets coaching gigs. Whether the shot comes from inside or outside of the 3-point line, he wants his team to get the best look possible based on the players on the floor at the time.

The second point he makes is my favorite, because it is not something that the Jeff Van Gundy of old was ever known for. He mentions “trying to pick an appropriate pace of play that your players can best function in” as one of the most important parts of designing an offense for a team. It is true that Van Gundy’s teams have notoriously played at a slow pace, but both of his prior head coaching stints featured all-time great big men (Ewing and Yao) who excelled in half court offenses. Why are we so quick to assume that a basketball mind as strong as Van Gundy’s would automatically revert back to a slow pace with this Pelicans team? He clearly realizes that pace can and should change based on a team’s roster, and if he were to take over the Pels, rest assured that he will not automatically revert to a similar pace as he did in the past.

The main takeaway for Jeff Van Gundy is this – don’t be deterred by the fact that he hasn’t coached in a while. It’s not like he has been living under a rock; quite the opposite, actually, as we all know he has been broadcasting NBA games on ESPN for quite some time. He is a very smart head coach (as evidenced by playoff appearances in all 9 of his head coaching seasons except for one injury-riddled year), and he has seen how the game has evolved. He will respond accordingly, and his reputation and league connections should bring in a solid coaching staff alongside him.

Ettore Messina

by: Chris Romaguera

To view the previous round with Ettore Messina Bracket, click here. 

To be on the court for Messina, you have to be an active agent on offense. The isolation basketball that New Orleans watched the Pelicans run this year does not fly for Messina. Neither will dribbling the ball at the top of the key for ten seconds before initiating a high pick and roll that results in (maybe) one pass and a shot. Messina wants his team constantly attacking the defense, forcing the defense to react, and having his own players read the defense and react. Under Messina, Jrue Holiday would be heavily utilized, for he has the ability to shoot from range, dribble drive and dish out, and is a true point guard. Eric Gordon would also be featured prominently, since his range gives him a lot of gravity, and he moves well without the ball and can dribble drive if he catches his defender leaning.

Messina’s preaching of getting about 20 shots a game out of touches from the middle of the court is huge as well, for it shows how the team will prominently feature Anthony Davis in the offense. Messina will want to get Davis the ball in the middle of the court and react to how the defense has to bend to him. Davis will get the chance to attack the defense in a variety of ways, in order to set the table for his teammates, and feast on any open space he may find in the middle.

Being in Greg Popovich’s program, Messina has written blog posts about how Popovich likes to be challenged by his assistants, which means if Messina is hired, a “defensive coordinator” will get his share of power along with the rest of the coaches.

For additions, you don’t have to look far from Messina’s Spurs team to see how Danny Green would fit perfectly. Green is a smart wing who can defend multiple positions, use his elite skill (shooting) to open up parts of his game for himself (the dribble drive) and for his team (extra space.) DeMarre Carroll and Jae Crowder also fit well. As for big men, Kosta Koufos and Gustavo Ayon both can fit as replacements if Asik leaves, or as backups. The return of Ayon in particular, with his elite court vision, would be great to see in Messina’s system.

Mostly, Messina will play a fun style that allows and teaches players to make live-action reads of the defense. He believes in building programs, and would be someone that would have a system in place for this team for a long time.


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