Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Who are the best sideline tacticians in the playoffs?
Steve Aschburner: Let’s do this countdown style, for some semblance of suspense. My No. 3 is Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau because he’s the league’s consensus defensive genius and defense looms larger at playoff time. The adjustments against Brooklyn’s Big 3 Monday produced 2013’s first road playoff victory. At No. 2, I’ve got Miami’s Erik Spoelstra because, even with a star-studded lineup, no one works harder. The refinements in the Heat’s offense around LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are impressive. And my No. 1, based on which coach I’d want working my sideline for one game or one series, remains San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. You’d think he had Manute Bol arms for the number of tricks he always has up his sleeves. Game plans, late in games, out of timeouts, there’s no one consistently better.
Fran Blinebury: Gregg Popovich. Watch the Spurs coming out any timeout. Pop excels at drawing up plays in the huddle that just plain work. And he’s transformed the core of a plodding, pound-it-inside power team into an up-tempo, highly efficient offense. Doc Rivers. He kept the Celtics thriving over the last two months of the season without a point guard, using all of his positions to start and run the offense at times. Lionel Hollins. The bite in that Grizzlies defense comes from the boss. And he knows what he wants in games. Down 91-89 with 21.6 seconds left in Game 2, he drew up play that got Marc Gasol wide open at the rim for a dunk.
Jeff Caplan: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau just keeps coming up with more reasons to tab him No. 1. Just look at Game 2. He wanted to play Joakim Noah between 20-25 minutes and Thibodeau got absolutely everything he could out of Noah in 25:29. And adjustments with Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler limited Deron Williams to 1-for-9 shooting and eight points in 38 minutes. The Godfather of the group remains Gregg Popovich. Look, this guy only changed the entire identity of the Spurs to keep up with the rest of the league as his Big Three got older. And finally, give me Erik Spoelstra. He’s managed to find the proper role for every player on the roster, and that includes the great LeBron James, whose position-less game has greatly expanded and flourished under Spo. Plus, look at all the games Miami won down the stretch when one, two or all three of the Big Three didn’t play. That’s coaching.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Gregg Popovich, George Karl, Tom Thibodeau. As if there was any doubt about the greatness of Pop, the move to the up-tempo game the last couple seasons shows he can make different systems work with the same roster core. It is impossible to overstate the difficulty of crossing that bridge.
John Schuhmann: No. 1: Gregg Popovich. You have to love the way that he’s opened up the Spurs’ offense over the last few years, how they’ve evolved from a post-up team to a pick-and-roll team, how he was one of the first coaches to embrace the corner three, and how he always seems to have something up his sleeve in late-game timeouts. Oh yeah, San Antonio ranked in the top three defensively in his first 11 full seasons on the bench and, after some adjustments to its approach, got back there this season. No. 2: Tom Thibodeau. He’s the architect of a couple of the best defensive teams of all-time, has basically changed the way most of the league defends now, and has managed to make this team with limited talent a group that no one wants to face in the postseason. No. 3: Erik Spoelstra. He’s made the most of the talent he’s been given by formulating an offense that spaces the floor and makes you pay for whatever defensive decision you happen to make and by formulating a defensive system that attacks the ball and utilizes his rosters’ length and athleticism.
Sekou Smith: From a purely tactical standpoint, it’s hard to go against the coaching holy trinity of Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau, three of the best coaches in the game in every facet of the job. But picking just three squeezes out the guy who has become what I would consider the ultimate tactician, and that’s Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. Being a great tactician is not just about in-game moves. It’s about preparation for all things that could be encountered against a particular opponent. Pop showed in Game 1 against the Lakers that he’s going to search throughout his roster for the right mismatch (Matt Bonner) and exploit it every time. Doc has his work cut out for him heading into Game 3 of that series and is sure to come up with the right moves. Thibs showed us in Game 2 that he can always get his team to rebound from adversity, as the Brooklyn Nets found out. Spoelstra’s use of Chris “Birdman” Andersen as his team’s instant energy booster remains one of the most surprising tactical moves any coach has made this season. So I’m going with all four of these guys instead of just three.
Lang Whitaker: I think it starts with Pop. His system is so versatile and applicable to so many different situations, and he’s able to swap in and out different pieces with remarkably similar results. I also always enjoy watching Tom Thibdoeau do work. He’s got a roster of guys that had trouble finding work elsewhere (Nate Robinson, anyone?), but he has them defending and covering for each other’s weaknesses. And I have been continually impressed with Mike Woodson this season, especially on the offensive end. Having watched him in Atlanta forever, it seems like a completely different person in NYC, as the Knicks use a motion offense and share the ball. That triple screen they run Kidd off of is the stuff of a kid doodling in class.