Yesterday's Mavs game was the catalyst for this post. I've been quick with criticisms of McHale and the bizarre rotations of the 4th quarter were enough to justify a point by point analysis of McHale's failures. Make no mistake, there will be many cons pointed out ... with just a few pros.
First, let's start with McHale's coaching ability overall. He has a losing record after nearly 4 seasons of head coaching. Granted he was in a rough situation over in Minnesota but the point is, he has not done anything as a head coach to justify a long leash or the benefit of the doubt. Most of his credibility comes from being a Hall of Fame player. However player skills don't translate well to coaching ... basketball is an athletic contest while coaching is closer to a game of chess with a healthy dose of management skill mixed in. McHale apologists will say "hey we're in a playoff push and exceeding expectations despite a young and inexperienced team" and while that is true, let's keep in mind that he has been gifted James Harden's ridiculously efficient offensive beasting as well as Asik's zone of pure defensive theory and ridiculous rebounding. Now that we see the powerful weapons this team actually has, it's hard not to wonder what a coach who is actually good at Xs and Os aka strategy, matchups, and adjustments ... could do with such shiny toy guns.
Second, let's go over his use of the most controversial player on the roster, Jeremy Lin. Let's move past the childish Lin Only Fan and Lin Hater nonsense ... and discuss McHale's use of a player that is currently an important piece of the puzzle for the Rockets' future playoff hopes. Lin has been benched twice recently in close games and once in a blowout for the entirety of the 4th quarter. McHale has had a short leash on Lin for virtually the entire season with frequent benchings that were only marginally connected to Lin's actual performance. Lin has a usage percentage ranking of 40 among PGs. That means there are 40 point guards in the league that have the ball in their hands more than Lin per minute of play.
Despite low usage, Lin's production ranks around 20th in the league in most categories. So Lin is delivering pretty good production despite not having the ball in his hands much compared to most point guards. I would make the case that Lin's skillset is being underutilized and that despite having a ball dominant guard like Harden, there's plenty of room to get better production from the PG position. On top of that, the variation of PnR that Lin used to great effect while on the Knicks is almost NEVER run in houston. Instead the Rockets use different variations including the new wrinkle of the Harden-Lin PnR. Still, I wonder why would you stop using the play that led to Linsanity, especially now with the emergence of Motiejunas, a genuine PnR threat?
Back to McHale's short leash on Lin for a moment ... McHale apologists act as if coaching decisions should have no impact on a player's confidence. That's just ignoring basic human nature. Yes Lin has persevered through many rejections ... but McHale's decisions with Lin's playtime over this season are continually providing fuel to the thought that the coaching staff does not believe in Lin. Fans keep saying they prefer aggressive Lin to passive Lin. You can't have it both ways. Frequent benchings for minor mistakes leads to tentative play. Benching your starter for the entire 4th quarter in close games is without a doubt going to cause your starter to wonder whether he's in the doghouse. There are legions of Lin Haters in the world ready to pounce on his every misstep, should he also have to look over his own shoulder and wonder about his own coach?
Which brings up the question of the goal of this season. Is McHale treating every game as a must win? Is a win-now mentality the correct way to deal with an extremely young team that's not going to be a contender this year? Moving past the poor grooming of future starters, there's also the excessive playtime given to Harden and Parsons. Is it worth burning out the health of our young stars? Harden is already getting banged up ... Parsons has been holding up well but I worry given all that he's asked to do. Yes making the playoffs would be nice but not at any cost.
Third, let's briefly delve into McHale Morey relations. This is all speculation but I'm not sure how well they mesh. Posters have speculated that McHale's refusal to give meaningful minutes to D Mo and T Jones were part of a plan to raise the trade value of Patterson and Morris. Certainly the T-Rob trade lends credence to this thought. I do think it's also possible that Morey wanted D Mo to get minutes and engineered the trade to force McHale's hand and overcome his old school refusal to play rookies. As outsiders, there's no way to know for sure but it's hard for me to believe old school McHale is really THAT on board with moreyball.
Finally let's talk about what we would get if we did replace McHale. Despite all my criticism, it could be worse. Heaven forbid we get rid of McHale and end up with an atrocity of a coach like Mike Brown. But even considering a good coach like Jeff Van Gundy ... is that what we want? One of the great positives of the year is the Rockets play an up-tempo brand of basketball that is fun to watch. Do we want a defensive minded coach who will invariably seek to slow down the pace and cut down on turnovers at the cost of offensive efficiency? I think the OKC Thunder and the Miami Heat have proven that in today's NBA, you don't need to be a dreary defensive grind it out team to be a contender and even win championships. Yes the Miami Heat still play great defense ... but I'm pretty sure they would play entirely different on offense under a Van Gundy or Thibodeau.
I've seen enough of McHale to believe that he is not the answer. Poor Xs and Os, herky jerky rotations, and lack of long term vision. Who is the answer? I've heard the Rockets already have a coach being groomed, Chris Finch. After this season is over, I hope he is installed and we get a chance to see what we have with him. McHale still has another year on his contract, but the Rockets will probably be close if not ready to be a contender for a championship next season and McHale is not the right man to guide them to the top.