About a month ago I wrote a piece on why Fred Hoiberg would be a perfect fit to be the next head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since then, Hoiberg received a huge extension from Iowa State University, so it doesn’t look like my choice will come to fruition. However, there is one coach I think who could do a good job with the Timberwolves: Stan Van Gundy.
Van Gundy has gotten the short end of the stick more (no pun intended) than once in his coaching career. A lot of people feel Van Gundy got a raw deal when he was run out-of-town by the Orlando Magic after the huge “Dwight Howard debacle”. It’s a lot easier to fire a coach than it is to trade away a superstar. However, the Magic ended up doing both because they traded Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers. A lot of people also feel that he still should have coached Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat during the 2005–2006 (their first championship). But when the Heat started out 11–10, Pat Riley felt that he needed to fix a wrong. So he fired Van Gundy and coached the team to the 2006 NBA championship.
Since being fired from Orlando in 2012, Van Gundy recently landed a new television gig with the NBC Sports Network.
But that could change pretty soon.
If Van Gundy isn’t already on the list of potential coaches for the Minnesota Timberwolves, he should. And, quite frankly, I think it would be a great fit.
Van Gundy has had a lot of success as a head coach. In eight seasons as a head coach, he has accumulated a record of 371–208. His teams have been some of the best defensive teams in the league year in and year out. It helps when you have Dwight Howard as the anchor of your defense, but his teams never relied on just one player. His teams played “team” defense, something the Timberwolves know very little about. Whether he was coaching Miami or Orlando, Van Gundy’s teams never finished lower than 11th in opponents points per game allowed. The year they finished 11th, Van Gundy’s Magic gave up 99 points per game. The Timberwolves finished this season 26th out of 30 teams in opponents points per game (104.3). Van Gundy’s teams never gave up 100 points per game in his eight seasons as a head coach.
The Timberwolves defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) was good enough for 12th at 106.2. Van Gundy’s teams never finished with a defensive rating higher than 104.1 or lower than 12th in the league. However, he has had six seasons in which his team ranked in the top ten in the league in defensive rating and three times in the top five.
On top of that, he has made it the NBA Finals one time and holds a record of 48–39 in the playoffs and has advanced past the first round five times.
But the struggle for the Timberwolves is making the playoffs in the Western Conference and defensive and offensive efficiency is the main cause of that struggle. I don’t think hiring Van Gundy would hinder the Timberwolves offense much, because they were able to score enough points before they were introduced to Rick Adelman’s “Corner Offense”. Ever since Flip Saunders was wrongly fired by then GM Kevin McHale, the T’Wolves have been really bad defensively. Flip’s team were pretty average defensively, but extremely efficient offensively.
In Van Gundy’s first season as coach of the Magic, his team shot 47.4% from the field and 38.6% from 3. The league average was 45.7% and 36.2%, respectively. Every year until he got fired, Van Gundy’s team were either at or above league average in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, or both.
This season, the T’Wolves shot 44.4% while the league average was 45.4%. The T’Wolves play at an extremely fast pace, making their already weak defense even more vulnerable. And when the league average for 3-point percentage is at 36% and your team is shooting 34.1%, it makes a huge difference, despite the fact that you made OVER 500 MORE free-throws than your opponents. It cancels out when your opponents make 63 more 3-pointers and over 140 more two-point field goals than you.
Even though I went off on a tangent there, I think you can understand my point and why I think Van Gundy would be a great fit for the T’Wolves. Despite that he is extremely blunt about his players’ effort at times, he says what he thinks and feels, and he has been extremely successful. I think the players will buy into his schemes and techniques. He might even be able to take Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio to another level.