Thursday, May 29, 2008

On Doug Collins and Pace

An Illinois guy? A former Bulls coach? Someone with head coaching experience? The new head coach of the 2008-09 Bulls? Doug Collins?

Yes, it appears Collins fits into each of the above questions, as K.C. Johnson reports that GM John Paxson is expected to hire his former coach.

While my immediate reaction to this news was shock, I admit I am somewhat pleased after looking beyond the surface of hiring someone who looks pretty comfortable in the broadcast booth over at TNT.

Collins began his NBA coaching career as head coach for the Chicago Bulls, joining the organization on May 23, 1986 and coached the Bulls for three straight seasons. He coached them to their best record (50-32) in 15 years during the 1987-88 season. He also brought the team into the playoffs three straight seasons, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to Detroit, 4-2, during the 1988-89 season.

Much has been made over at Blogabull about the fact that Collins' teams finished in the bottom of the league in pace during his tenure as the Bulls head coach from 1986-89.

While this is true, I wouldn't use one random statistic to determine the validity of whether or not the man can coach. If you look at the teams that finished 1st in Pace during Collins' tenure, you'll see the Denver Nuggets lead every year.

While that's all well and good for the Nuggets, their high pace didn't necessarily lead them to the NBA Finals as they were only able to make it as far as the Western Conference Semifinals in 1987.

The Nuggets were swept in the 1st round both in 1986 by the Lakers (10th in the NBA Pace at 101.6), and again were swept in 1989 by the Suns, while the Pistons went on to win the 1989 NBA Finals, despite finishing dead last in Pace at 95.5.

Let's look at how Collins' Bulls teams fared in pace in relation to the league average and compare it to the Bulls' Pace from the last three years under Scott Skiles:

Seeing what I'm seeing? While I'm sure Paxson isn't even aware of this small statistical aspect, apparently the entire league's Pace has slowed considerably. Going back to what I said about the Nuggets before and even applying that idea to the Suns and the Warriors: high pace doesn't equal championship teams.

Teams like Phoenix and Golden State are still playing uptempo, but the numbers just aren't what they were 10-15 years ago. Chalk it up to better defense, more athletic players or a more individualistic game, but it looks like Pax might be going with just the right candidate for the job.

Collins is a firey individual, unlike a certain Skiles butt buddy who just sat around moping all the time and provided the occasional jab in the media.

Paxson's next job will be to collaborate with Collins and bring in some high-quality assistants to keep the team moving along in his direction. Clearly there will be some trades made before the next season starts, but having the right personnel in place is the first step to establishing some solid ground for the young players who are going to be the foundation from which the next five, 10 years of this program is built upon.

Call me an optimist but I think the D'Antoni baffle could be a blessing in disguise for the Bulls. Sure he would have came in here and ran the Bulls up and down every night, assuring Big Macs for every fan while the team struggled to stay at .500. Collins will bring invaluable coaching experience and lessons from an era where MJ and Pippen started on their paths to greatness. How many stories do you think he has about Jordan fighting someone in practice over their lazy attitude? Think our current team needs those to be pounded into their heads everyday? I do. Collins can be the guy to maximize the amount of talent that these young guys possess.

And if that doesn't happen, let's remember that the Bulls replaced Collins with his assistant coach, Phil Jackson, who went on to do some pretty good things. So we got that going for us, which is nice.

BallHype: hype it up!

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