Since the departure of Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan, there has been some discontent among Jazz fans with the new guy, Tyrone Corbin. Fans are saying he’s not maximizing this team’s potential, or he’s screwing up rotations, or his preference to veterans is going to cost the young guys valuable development time. Whatever the argument, there seems to be a lot of talk about this guy and whether or not he’s the right man to coach the Jazz.
Now, one thing I feel like Jazz fans need to be reminded of is this: there were plenty of fans calling out Sloan for not giving enough time to rookies, or his set-in-stone substitution patterns. The point is, there’s no perfect coach and there never will be. Every guy is going to have his quirks and things that are going to upset fans. But if the result is a championship, nothing else matters. However, Sloan’s shortcomings were overlooked because of his incredible record and his hard work ethic. Even though Sloan never got a championship, he’s regarded as one of the all-time greats. So what’s to say that Corbin won’t be another great coach?
Granted, the likelihood of another Sloan-style coach in this NBA is slim. Sloan was the product of growing up on a farm and 10 physical years playing for the Chicago Bulls. He was part of a different era, a different type of basketball that doesn’t exist anymore. The flex offense he ran in Utah for so many years isn’t run anywhere else in the league. To find another Sloan would take an event of epic proportions. He was a one-of-a-kind individual, and his uniqueness is a large part of what endeared him so much to Jazz fans everywhere.
So why is there such a large portion of Jazz fans that dislike Corbin? Is all the blame for a sub-.500 record being heaped on him because fans don’t want the young guys to be at fault? Let’s look at some stats first before we get into the reasons that fans have for having beef with Corbin.
Through his first 126 games as head coach of the Jazz (from his takeover after the retirement of Sloan to January 2, 2013, not counting the game that night against the Minnesota Timberwolves) Corbin has a 59-67 record in the regular season, not counting his playoff series last year that resulted in a 4-0 sweep by the San Antonio Spurs. That gives him a .468 winning percentage. Considering that Corbin went 8-20 to finish out his first season at the helm following the departure of All-Star Deron Williams and the retirement of Sloan, and a lockout shortened season last year, that’s not a terrible record.
Sloan’s first 126 games (from his takeover after the retirement of Frank Layden to Friday, March 9, 1990 including the win that night against the Milwaukee Bucks) produced an 84-42 record, far superior to that of Corbin’s. However, Sloan had John Stockton and Karl Malone, two future Hall-of-Famers themselves, playing for him. Right now, there isn’t a single player of that caliber on the Jazz. To put their numbers in perspective, at the end of the 1989-1990 campaign, Stockton had notched 1,134 assists and Malone had posted 2,540 points. In comparison, during the 66-game lockout shortened 2011-2012 season, Al Jefferson managed 1,170 points while Devin Harris lead the team with 316 assists.
I compare the lockout season of 2011-2011 to the full length 1989-90 one because both of those seasons are the first full seasons coached by Corbin and Sloan respectively. While it’s unfair to compare numbers when 12 regular season games are missing, it proves a point. Sloan had far more talent to work with, including a much deeper bench, than Corbin does at this point in his career.
So if the talent level isn’t at the point now that it was during Sloan’s start, why are Jazz fans so upset with Corbin? What’s he doing that’s ruffling all these feathers?
Well, a large part of the problem is the bench the Jazz now have. Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, and Alec Burks are all lottery picks and all have the potential to be critical franchise building blocks in the future. And as of right now, the playing time those four guys are seeing isn’t what some people would like.
The Jazz starters usually get off to a slow start, struggling on both ends of the court and looking lethargic. Then, the bench guys come in and bring with them energy and hustle. And sometimes, they manage to erase a deficit and create a lead. Jazz fans think that because of this effort seen in the second quarter, the young guys should be starting.
However, when the Jazz bench is in and playing, it’s against the other team’s bench. When Favors and Kanter, both over 6’10”, enter the game, you bet the defense will tighten up simply because there’s going to fewer shots attempted in the paint due to the presence of two long, big defenders.
So is it really fair to say these young guys deserve a start? An argument can be made for Favors because of the huge impact he makes on the defensive end, but his offensive game is still raw and developing. Kanter got a start against Toronto due to an injury Jefferson, which resulted in an 18 point and 8 rebound outing for the young center. However, Kanter’s game suffers from the same inconsistencies that Favors’ does.
Here is where the biggest problem with Corbin comes up – these young guys have the potential to be really, really good. And they won’t get better by not starting, or at least getting extended minutes. Meanwhile, a group of veteran guys who’ve peaked and shown their best are getting starts over young guys fans hope will be the center of the franchise. So why the odd coaching decision? Why not throw the young guns in headfirst and hope they swim through the deep lake of heavy competition that is the NBA?
Because Corbin believes in going with the guys that he thinks will get him the win. His approach is to win now, and raise the young kids in a winning culture. Let them learn from Jefferson and Millsap and Tinsley and Watson, then eventually entrust them with the reins of the franchise and hope they take the team to a championship run.
Basically, what Jazz fans have beef with his the approach Corbin is taking to this team. But I want to point out a nugget of brilliance in the way Corbin has been coaching this team – he’s seen what happens when young guys are given the keys to a team and told to win, with little-to no veteran leadership. Those teams become the Kings, Bobcats, and Hornets of the NBA.
A strong veteran presence is a pretty solid way of getting wins, and getting wins raises confidence and morale. And those two factors play a huge part in the development of young players. Look at Jimmer Fredette, a player many thought many would have a very different NBA career than he has to the present point. He’s under-achieved in many fan’s eyes, but to me he’s done as well as can be expected of a young guard playing in the mess that Sacramento is.
If Fredette had had a strong group of veterans and rookies that could figure out how to win together when he entered the league, he might have a completely different, and potentially more influential role than he currently does.
But back to the Jazz – right now, letting Favors, Kanter, Hayward, and Burks get used to the NBA on a winning team instead of one mired in the bottom of the standings (yes, this team is currently sub-.500, but I highly doubt that will be the case at season’s end) is the best thing for them.
Until this full season is over and we as fans and analysts alike can look at a full 82 games worth of stats, I think it’s unfair to write off Corbin as a failure of a coach. I’ll admit, at this point I’m not completely sold on him being the guy that should be coach – however, as I’ve said, he deserves a chance to prove me wrong. He deserves a chance to properly show what he can do, and this season is the first full 82 games, with a full preseason and training camp, he’s had to do that. So let’s give the guy a chance.
And, just to throw in a couple of fun things at the end, I asked Jazz fans on Twitter what they’re biggest problem with Corbin is. Here are a few of their responses, just to let you know what some fans are thinking.
@Spencer_Durrant A lot of the young guys don’t get enough minutes so they can’t get any better.
Landry E. Heaton @LanRovr0
@Spencer_Durrant Substitutions. I think it will be fixed in time, though.
@Spencer_Durrant substitution and playing minutes. He doesn’t manage that as well as he should.
All statistical information obtained from www.basketball-reference.com