A while back, I posted a request for questions to ask Coach Popovich. At the time I thought it would be a useful way for me to gather good questions as well as provide you guys with some access to Pop's thoughts. Part of my problem with approaching Coach Pop was that I had fairly complex questions I wanted to ask--questions that he probably couldn't satisfactorily answer without me using a lot of his time by asking follow-up questions. When you guys gave me your suggestions, they were the same type of good, but complex, questions. It was the pursuit of an answer for "what does a pick-setter do" that got me some time to talk to Coach Budenholzer.
While waiting to talk to Coach Budenholzer, I hit pay dirt. It was ATS Nirvana.
LatinD and I were standing on the edge of the court waiting to talk to Coach Budenholzer. While hanging out, we met a man named Toracio. He's the other guy in the photo with me and Coach Budenholzer. If LatinD ever gets around to writing again, I'm sure he will include Toracio. As LatinD mentioned from the Hawks game, it's great fun to watch the guys shoot in warm-ups because they are just so good. They simply don't miss. After finishing up his work with Michael Finley, Coach Engelland came over to say hello. He still remembers me from media day and invariably makes a crack about using my quads (see, he'd fit in around here easy). I introduced him to LatinD and Toracio and we hung out chatting for a minute or two. Then the PR guy who was arranging for us to talk to Coach Budenholzer came by and said, "Hey. He's an assistant coach. Maybe you guys can ask him some questions." What a grand idea.
I started in with LatinD's question. What does an assistant coach do during the game? He replied that it depended on the team. It was one way when he was in Denver and a different way in San Antonio. He said that for the Spurs, each coach has a different area of the game they are in charge of. Rebounding, matchups, etc. He is in charge of charting the shots. OH REALLY?
You see, I chart shots. Possession by possession, I chart all the shots we take during a game. LatinD referred to it in his Part 5 post when he had his media pass. I find it a very effective way to get a grasp on trends during a game. At a glance, I can see (for example) that we made 4 layups in 6 possessions. Or that we turned the ball over 4 times in a row. Or that we were scoreless 8 out of 9 possessions. All those things are laid out in front of me like a picture. At some point, I will transcribe all the charting into data and overwhelm you with charts. But today is not that day.
So when Coach Engelland said he charted shots, I said, "Oh really. I chart shots as well. That's what I do when I watch a game." And I went on to explain what I just told you in the last paragraph.
That's when I jumped in with my own question. Well, not really my question, but our Laker troll Olf's question. I had been turning it over in my head for several weeks and this seemed like the perfect time to bring it up. "If I'm a fan watching the game and not looking at a box score, how do I know if the Spurs are executing their offense?" That was the launching point for the discussion (thank you olf). I told Coach Engelland that I thought it was a difficult question and that I had thought about it quite a bit. Obviously layups are good. And open 3-point looks are good. But not all open shots are good. A guy taking a wide open 20-footer with 18 seconds on the shot clock isn't good. The same shot with 4 seconds on the shot clock is a good shot. I also told him that I thought shooting percentage was misleading because sometimes you make shots and sometimes you don't, so a shooting percentage for a quarter or two doesn't tell you whether you are executing. So what's the secret?
He said he really pays attention to ball movement, determined by how many open uncontested looks the team gets as well as balance. Are they getting a good ratio of attempts near the basket vs from the outside? He said there are times when they go into halftime with a lead and have scored a lot of points, but that he thinks they aren't moving the ball well and have just managed to hit contested shots. He said those are the games where the law of averages tend to even out and we can expect to start missing shots if we keep doing what we did in the first half. So if we are making contested shots, he wants to encourage the team to start moving the ball more because we were fortunate to have been making shots.
He then made the statement that we are a much better shooting team on open shots than on contested shots. That's when I got to surprise him. You see, I have this uncanny ability to take observations and turn them into numbers. I can watch something, observe a trend, and then put a number to it. So I might be able to watch a game, note that we were going to the left side of the court a lot, then be able to say we went to the left on 60% of possessions. I'm strangely accurate with these numbers.
So, I said, "Yeah. We are a lot better shooting team when we are wide open. It's got to be something like 25% better." He sort of backed up a bit and said, "It's exactly 25%". And on we went. We talked about what he considered a challenged shot and how it was different from other coaches. What was a weakly challenged shot vs really getting a hand in the face and obstructing the shooter's view. He also said it is this data that he uses to talk to players about how they shoot from the floor and what they need to work on.
I was able to bring up enough of my questions and describe enough of my observations to take comfort in knowing that my analytic approach to the game is sound. I spend so much of my time watching and writing about the games by myself that sometimes I'm not sure whether I'm just making stuff up or whether I might know what I'm talking about. After talking to Coach Engelland, I have a little more confidence that it's the latter.
It was a hell of a day for me.