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NBA Players Make NBA Coaches

I came across reference to this paper, "Why do Leaders Matter? The Role of Expert Knowledge" by a trio of Cornell researchers, printed in this month's The Atlantic.

A summary of the paper and its conclusions, as printed in The Atlantic. 

The authors calculated NBA coaches' winning percentages between 1996 and 2004 over 15,000 regular-season games. They found that coaches who had spent some time as a player got far better results out of their teams than those who hadn't.


The authors found that former all-stars tended to be better coaches than non-all stars. On average, teams with former all-stars as coaches placed six spots higher in league rankings than teams with coaches who had never played in the NBA, a huge bump-up in a league with only 29 total teams during the years studied.

One of their conclusions...

Leadership skills tend to derive from expert knowledge of a given trade, not from some mysterious alchemy of natural intelligence and interpersonal skills.

I suppose this means that we can now change Isiah Thomas's nickname from "Zeke" to "Statistical Anomaly."

Perhaps this helps explain the difficulties many college coaches (who might not have been professional players themselves) have in making the transition to the pros.  

For what it's worth: Portland's coaches during the time period studied were PJ Carlesimo (not a former player), Mike Dunleavy (former player) and Maurice Cheeks (4 time all-star).  I'll put it to you: what do you make of Portland's contributions to this study? Do you think our coaches serve as examples or counter-examples to the study's conclusion?

Looking forward, this would seem to be relatively good news for the Blazers. We've got Nate (former player, but not an all-star), who is certainly a student of the game and seems to possess the "expert knowledge" that the study argues is so critical to leadership success.

What's perhaps most interesting is that the loudest voices lobbying for NBA coaching jobs (head coach or otherwise) are invariably former players-- Buck Williams and Kareem Abdul Jabbar come to mind. If you're a former player looking at all your former colleagues enjoying coaching success and then you turn to a non-player, say, PJ Carlesimo, you've got to be saying to yourself, "Hey, I could do his job... and not even get choked out while I'm at it."

A similar study, looking at NBA General Managers and their professional playing experience, would perhaps be even more interesting.

-- Ben (