Even a team as star-studded as the Nets needs structure. And guidance. And the occasional kick in the derriere.
Steve Nash may be a novice in terms of his NBA head-coaching experience, but rookies grow and he’s no different. As his Nets faced the Magic on Thursday night, they were riding a league-high seven-game winning streak (achieved mostly sans Kevin Durant), and according to Kyrie Irving part of that is due to how hard Nash has coached them.
The Nets were a subpar 14-12 after a humbling loss in Detroit on Feb. 9, and had suffered a host of defeats at the hands of losing foes. But beginning with the next night versus the Pacers at Barclays Center, the Nets have become the NBA’s hottest team and, entering play Thursday, had pulled within a half game of the 76ers for the Eastern Conference lead.
“Guys came out in that Indiana game and played with effort, and we’ve continued to do so since then, to go out there and do what we say we want to do,” Irving said. “You could see on the floor, we weren’t connected at all [previously]. Especially going against sub-.500 teams that we [had] a losing record to; that was embarrassing. So we just want to continue to demand that standard of excellence.
“The preparation is where it starts: walk-throughs, being able to do the little things, remember the details to throw out there and just play your game with a structure in mind. We need structure. NBA players, entertainers, anybody out there, we need structure to be able to succeed at the highest level. That’s why you see the best teams have coaches that coach the [crap] out of the players, and guys that go out there and do it. So we just want to be able to continue to stay consistent.”
After that embarrassing loss at Detroit (in which the Pistons, the worst team in the East, shot 56.4 percent) left the Nets in third place, 4 ½ games behind the Sixers, even the upbeat Nash was vexed.
Nash not only had stern words for his players, but also he doled out some extra work after that defeat.
“It was a back-to-back, we came home, we’re playing a very dangerous Indiana team, and laid it on the line for them before the game, which is not ideal in the regular season,” Nash said. “You don’t want to necessarily bring negative teaching clips before a game. But we didn’t have a shootaround on a back-to-back with travel, so I thought we couldn’t pass the opportunity to keep getting better.
“It started there. I don’t want to say went after them, but we were very constructive with our criticism in what needed to improve. That started it. We started adding in shootaround, which — because of COVID and a condensed schedule — we tried to go away from to start, just not have it be too waterlogged for the guys.
“Now we’re having shootarounds, getting a few more touches, to be more critical with our growth in a constructive and positive way. I don’t know if we’re coaching them any harder, but we’re definitely trying to cut to the chase and make sure we are pointing out and improving and addressing issues.”
With the NBA schedule crammed into just five months this season, there have been precious few practices to drill down on the fine points. But after eschewing shootarounds (a common practice under former coach Kenny Atkinson), Nash had no choice but to get in the extra work by any means necessary.
The result was been spectacular. Since Feb. 10, the Nets were 7-0 with a 9.1 net rating that was third-best in the league.
“I don’t say I’m a way better coach than I was 10 days ago. That’s hard to determine,” Nash said. “I’m gaining comfort. I’m learning, getting to know my team and our challenges. It’s on the players, a lot of it. They deserve the credit. We try to guide them and help them. But I don’t sit and say ‘Oh yeah, I’m coaching the heck out of my team. I’m balling over here.’ Take it one step at a time.”