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The Impact Of Playing Experience On Coaching

There are many ways we can categorize the experience that coaches bring to their jobs: retreads and first-time hires, college guys and NBA lifers, former assistants and those who skipped that step. Perhaps the most important of distinctions is the one that either allows them to tell their players they've been there and done that or not.

In an offseason when we've seen record-high turnover in the coaching ranks, seven of the 13 new hires are without NBA playing experience. That's an unusually high ratio in a league where most coaches were at least bit players in the Association at some point in their lives. In the last five years, teams hired 34 coaches who had played in the NBA, but only half as many who didn't. The records of those 51 total hires suggest a reason why there were more non-players hired this year. Those without playing experience compiled a .495 winning percentage, superior to the .449 winning percentage the ex-players managed. It's also worth noting that neither group of coaches hired within the past five seasons reached .500, but that's a phenomenon that's probably worth its own post.

Here's a list of this offseason's hires, broken down by ex-players and non-players:


  • Jason Kidd, Nets
  • Brian Shaw, Nuggets
  • Maurice Cheeks, Pistons
  • Doc Rivers, Clippers
  • Larry Drew, Bucks
  • Jeff Hornacek, Suns


  • Mike Budenholzer, Hawks
  • Brad Stevens, Celtics
  • Steve Clifford, Bobcats
  • Mike Brown, Cavaliers
  • Dave Joerger, Grizzlies
  • Brett Brown, Sixers
  • Michael Malone, Kings

The chart that follows shows each of the coaching hires since the 2008 offseason, with the exception of coaches who kept their jobs for 10 games or fewer — in other words, placeholder interim choices who kept the seat warm after a coach was fired midseason. Note that some coaches are listed multiple times, like Vinny Del Negro, since they held more than one job over the past five years.


Of course, this doesn't definitively prove coaches without playing experience are better. It merely provides a small window into the issue, and helps explain some of the hires that were made this summer. After a Finals in which both coaches never played in the NBA, we'll see if the trend toward more such coaches continues in years to come.

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