It’s Time to Praise Rick Adelman

I think it’s relatively easy to look at the NBA these days and realize that there is a new generation of coaches who could be among the greats by the time they get a decade’s worth of seasons under their belt.  Men like Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls, Scott Brooks of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Lionel Hollins of the Memphis Grizzlies have taken teams from the lottery to the upper echelons of the playoffs already.  Others like Monty Williams of the New Orleans Hornets and Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors have kept their teams competitive in the face of injuries and adversity.

The top tier is harder to parse.  Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks, Nate McMillan of the Portland Trailblazers, George Karl of the Denver Nuggets and Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat are easy choices.  Rick Adelman of the Minnesota Timberwolves belongs in this class too.  He’s a veteran coach with a stellar record.  This is his 21st season and he has a winning percentage of .604, which means the average Adelman team is 50-32 over an 82 game season.  He’s taken two teams to the Finals (Portland in the Clyde Drexler era) and was flat out robbed of another chance (the 2002 Sacramento Kings).  During his career, he rebuilt the Blazers into a contender, built the Kings into an iconic team, shepherded the Houston Rockets out of the Ya0 Ming/Tracy McGrady era, all while winning.  His only failed tenure was with the Golden State Warriors during a phase when no one could win with that club.

Adelman, now 65, may be doing his best work yet this season.  His Timberwolves are 9-10 following last night’s win over San Antonio, and their point differential is characteristic of an 11-8 team.  If, as is often the case, point differential is an accurate forecaster of future performance, then the T-Wolves are en route to a 36-30 record.  No, that won’t make them a contender to come out of the Western Conference playoff bracket, but it will mark an incredible turnaround.  Contrast the projected .545 winning percentage with last season’s .207, a 17-65 record under Kurt Rambis, a coach who seemed to believe that the best offensive strategy was make Darko Milicic the first option on offense (throwing the ball into the pivot did work fine during Rambis’s playing days with the ’80s Lakers but the center on that team was Kareem Abdul Jabbar).

The stories about the Wolves have centered on the fine play of power forward Kevin Love, but on a per minute basis, his numbers haven’t dramatically improved (his points per game are up, but that’s because what used to be garbage time at Wolves games is now crunchtime, Love’s minutes are up but his shooting percentage is actually down).  Another worthy subject of coverage is the stellar play of Ricky Rubio, but a rookie’s growth and development is one of a coach’s primary responsibilities.

The best marker of a good coach is improvement on the defensive end.  Defense requires commitment and hustle in equal parts to talent, and the big story of the Wolves is their improved defense.  They are currently 13th in the league in Defensive Efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions).  That might not sound prepossessing but they haven’t been outside of the bottom 10 since Kevin Garnett left town.  And aside from Rubio and fellow rookie Derrick Williams, who is still finding his way in the Association, this is essentially the same roster.  They are just playing more organized basketball and with more passion, i.e., they are much better coached.

It’s routine to think about coaching greatness in terms of titles, but Adelman is a great example of a very good coach whose teams consistently improve or weather adversity during his tenure.  We shouldn’t wait for one of his teams to hold a championship parade (as happened with Carlisle) to recognize Adelman as one of the NBA’s top coaches.


About jmartin437

I've worked in and around the world of high end cheese for 27 years. I've been everything from a department manager who hired and fired and trained staffs to a weekend warrior who shows up ties on an apron the middle of a rush and talks to customers and cleans up the place. I enjoy it all, and I especially like my current situation conducting informal seminars about cheese at area bars and in class at the 92nd St. Y. The current schedule is always up at In addition I conduct private events that are perfect to lead off birthday parties for foodies and sommeliers and also they make great entertainment for corporate team building events and associates meetings at law firms. In addition, I've been a freelance journalist for 27 years. Currently my profiles of leading musicians and filmmakers appear in the Wall Street Journal and I also wrote about sports for the Root, and for five loooong years, which included the entirety of the Isiah Thomas Knicks era, I wrote about the NBA for the New York Sun. I enjoyed writing about basketball so much that I now do it here at rotations for free.
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3 Responses to It’s Time to Praise Rick Adelman

  1. Sean Breslin says:

    He’s doing a great job, but he needs to demand more out of the guys surrounding Kevin Love. If they’re not good enough, the franchise needs to build around him. But he has done a solid job coaching this team in 2012.

  2. jmartin437 says:

    Hey Sean, Thanks for the comment. It’s not unusual for a first year coach with hordes of young players to spend the season sorting out the useful ones from the chaff. I think Adelman’s taking the long term approach and seeing what’s he got. For instance, Michael Beasley can’t his the side of a barn this season (38% from the field) but his brief history suggests he’s much better than that. Ditto Anthony Tolliver. Anthony Randolph’s play warrants more minutes but at whose expense? It’s a roster of badly mismatched parts–way too heavy for high upside forwards–and will need to be clarified via trades, probably at the deadline. For a potential model (though of a better roster) look at Doug Collins’s first season in Philadelphia; the team improved by .171 (or seven games) first half performance to second half performance. You could see the same sort of improvement in Minnesota too.

  3. frightwig says:

    It’s worth remembering that, after Rubio’s struggles in Spain the last couple years, most people seemed to have written him off as a probable bust. The fact that he’s sparked the Wolves offense, while adjusting to a new team in a tougher league, in a foreign country, foreign climate, is either some kind of miracle, or, yeah, some credit to the coach is due.

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