In this week’s basketball coaching conversation, current NBA analyst, and former NBA head coach, Jeff Van Gundy, joins the Basketball Podcast to discuss basketball teaching and coaching. Van Gundy joined ESPN in 2007, and is currently an NBA analyst who has called 12 NBA Finals, the most Finals ever for a TV game analyst. He has also recently undertaken nine different USA Basketball assignments since 2017. He has compiled a 15-2 overall record as a USA head coach for a sterling .882 inning percentage.
Van Gundy boasts of 18 seasons of NBA coaching experience, including 11 seasons as a head coach for the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, and seven seasons as an assistant. All tallied, as a head coach he compiled an overall record of 430-318 (.575), and led teams to the NBA playoffs in nine of his 10 full seasons and posted a 44-44 all-time playoff record.
Van Gundy was named head coach of the New York Knicks on March 8, 1996, and while in that capacity for seven seasons (1995-96 – 2001-02), he compiled a 248-172 record and led Knick teams to six NBA playoff appearances.
In advancing to the 1999 NBA Finals the Knicks became the first 8th-seeded team in NBA history to reach the NBA Finals. Nine games into the 2001–02 season, Van Gundy resigned as New York’s head coach.
On June 10, 2003, Van Gundy returned to the NBA and was named head coach of the Houston Rockets. In his four years (2003-04 – 2006-07) as the Rockets’ head mentor he compiled a record of 182-146 and advanced Houston to three NBA playoffs.
In his first season in Houston, the Rockets finished the 2003-04 season with a 45–37 record and made the NBA Playoffs for the first time in five years. In his second season, Houston compiled a record of 51-31 and again advanced to the playoffs. The 51 wins marked Houston’s first season with more than 50 wins in eight years. Two years later he again led Houston to the playoffs and a 52-30 record.
Van Gundy also spent six and a half seasons (1989-90 through 1995-96) as a New York Knicks assistant.
“I do think head coaching experience is so valuable in that you can make many mistakes . . at a lower level.”
“I also think it’s critical that you have Hall of Fame players to bail you out of your early mistakes where you are the only one that knows that maybe the play call was wrong, the scouting report was wrong, the scheme you employed was wrong . . Most [coaches] have to pay for their bad decisions with losses.“
“The one common denominator for all coaches that are considered great is they have Hall of Fame players attached to their name . . there’s never been a ‘Hall of Fame coach’ without Hall of Fame players.”
“I think the best ones [NBA coaches] make sure that they’re getting the proper effort to execute what they think is best . . if they’re not getting the proper effort, it’s hard to change your plan because you’re not giving the plan a chance to work.”
“NBA coaches are outstanding at getting on to what the next best thing is and they’re not as rigid or stubborn as maybe a high school coach whose . . players can only retain so much and they can’t really be good at Option A and Option B.”
“I’m always interested in how people use practice time . . I wish I could go back to my high school coaching years knowing what I know now and get more to the nuts and bolts of what wins and what loses.”
“NBA coaches . . do a great job of using their time to put their players in the best possible position to win . . I don’t think NBA players require as long to be able to retain some knowledge that may go directly to winning or losing.”
“That’s how you learn. The game’s played 5-on-5. It got us in great shape. I thought an undersold part of that was it was a great evaluation tool for who could play and who couldn’t play. Your decision-making is based on that. The game is about decisions and making the right ones more than your opponents do.”
“I am so tired of seeing 1-on-0 drills . . I’ll just go back to me as a player. I was an absolute bitch against chairs and cones. It was those other players that made me a mediocre player.”
“Play 3-on-3, 4-on-4, learn how to play, make decisions. A lot of it isn’t the actual skill, it’s when to use the skill . . I’m watching [college basketball] . . guys pull shots out and try to use them just because they practiced it versus this is the right time or this is the right area on the court . . “
“If I was a coach in college, I would have the shortest practices of anybody . . It would be hard, it would be fast, it would be challenging, and it would be 5-on-5 for the majority of the time.”
“If I had one thing I could have done differently in high school, it would have been to practice less and play more.”
“One of the best things we ever did for intensity, and it was slower in terms of repetitions but it absolutely shot the intensity through the roof, was we played 1-on-1 with three different groups at one basket so everybody saw every repetition.”
“I think one of the biggest . . skills you’re trying to develop as a practice coach, and that will gain your players’ trust, is if you can see all 10 players on the court on every trip. So when you stop it, you can make quick, multiple points to multiple players on the same stop of possession.”
“I think all of us should evaluate every year on things that we can do better and not be seduced by good enough.”
“They [international teams] place a much higher emphasis on offensive rebounding, particularly from the perimeter . . if I coached again, I’ve never emphasized offensive rebounding and I absolutely would . . to try to generate extra possessions.”
“One of the things I think is under done at all levels, for so many varying reasons . . play your best players more. That leads directly to winning.”
“Everybody has to understand, at the end of the day, the head coach has to make hard decisions. And the one thing he’s always going to do as a head coach is try to make the decisions that he feels gives his team their best chance of winning.”
“My best players that I’ve ever coached . . I’ve been so fortunate that they had the right amount of stubbornness versus coachability. You can’t be too coachable and you can’t be too stubborn.”
“Look at what’s happening on the practice floor. When the guy does something good, tell him it’s good, so he knows, ‘I’m only getting praise when I deserve it.’ And when it’s unacceptable and needs to be changed, that’s what you tell him, too.”
“One of the most important jobs any coach has is to pace his team correctly . . pacing your team has always been vital to your overall success.”
“If I was out recruiting in college, I would always look out for players who played football. I love the idea of guys who have learned to absorb contact. One of the worst things about some of our best high school players is that they’ve never been challenged physically.”
“I believe in strength training. . . when you see your body changing for the better I think it brings out a lot of confidence . . we want to be the lightest and leanest and strongest and fastest we can be. And whatever gives us the best chance to be those four things, that’s what I want implemented.”
Jeff Van Gundy Selected Links from the Podcast:
Jeff Van Gundy Breakdown:
1:00 – Things Learned
3:00 – Nick Nurse
5:00 – Advantages of Having Experience
9:00 – Things that Coaches Don’t Get Enough Credit For
11:00 – Improvisation
13:00 – Time in Practice
15:00 – Flop
17:00 – Perception and Repetition of the Game
20:00 – Things that are Challenging
23:00 – Right to the Point
24:00 – Playing 1-on-1
26:30 – Practice Less
28:00 – Organize the 1-on-1
33:00 – Overcoming Cultural and Historical Norms in Basketball
35:30 – Learning from International Coaching
40:00 – Best Methods
43:30 – Perspective of Coaching his best players more
45:00 – Receiving Feedback
49:00 – Load Management
51:00 – Early Specialization
53:30 – Words to the Parent
55:00 – Summer League
56:30 – Weight Room
58:00 – Sports Science
1:00:00 – Conclusion
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