When the Houston Rockets announced the hiring of Kevin McHale as their head coach at the beginning of last season, the consensus in Houston was that is was a bad hire. He did not have a very good track record as a head coach or talent evaluator. The hire seemed like a reach or a gap bridge for the future coach. The upside was that the Rockets would finally be REALLY bad and have a top 5 draft pick, and McHale would then be replaced. But after leading the Rockets to the 2013 playoffs with a highly efficient offense, the question now arises- is McHale a good coach or even an offensive genius?
When people mention Phil you think of the triangle offense. When Tom Thibadoux comes up in discussion, you think of defense. If I say Kevin McHale, would you think offensive efficiency or offensive genius? The Rockets do three things really well: 1) shoot corner threes, 2) open shots in the paint, and 3) get to the foul line. But how much of this efficiency is credited to the coach, and how much is credited to the players? After all, James Harden was doing this with the Thunder last season.
Looking back is always helpful when predicting the future, but unfortunately McHale’s coaching history is too short. In the 2008-09 season, McHale replaced Randy Wittman after the Timberwolves started the season 4-15. He built the team that included rookie Kevin Love, but was not able to win many games or score many points. In 2011-12, the Rockets averaged 98 points per game and had a losing record. The problem with evaluating McHale based on these two seasons is that these teams did not have the talent to win. This season with some nice offensive pieces, the Rockets are leading the NBA in scoring. More points than the talented Thunder and Heat, and more than the “perfectly coached” Spurs.
Points per Game
Rockets – 106
Rockets – 98.1
Timberwolves – 97.8
A good coach will “coach up” a bad team and make them competitive. A great coach will do the same, but with more talented players. Phil coached MJ and Kobe, Popovich coaches Duncan and Parker, and even Spoelstra coaches Wade and LeBron. This is the first time in his coaching career that McHale has a superstar in his prime years and talented role players. He has an offensive system that fits his players and has done a good job coaching a very young team. But to be considered a great coach, he will need to develop the talent around Harden and find a way to improve the team’s defense. McHale might just be an average coach that is leading an offensively skilled basketball team, or this might be the beginning of a great coaching career. Rocket fans are hoping for the latter.
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