The Raptors Coaching Options

With all the rumours flying around and a bit of “selective memory” arguments on who should lead the Raptors next season, we thought it was an opportune time to set the record straight. We put together coaching data from several sources as we not only wanted to show historical W-L, but perhaps more importantly metrics like Offensive and Defensive Ratings.

During Bryan Colangelo’s presser on June 1st, he noted he was looking for candidates with “a great deal of experience” and one with a defensive focus. The typical list of potential candidates include: Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman, Lawrence Frank, Dwane Casey, and Maurice Cheeks. I believe that both Van Gundy and Adelman are long shots as I see them only stepping into a situation were the team is poised to make a significant playoff run. So our focus was narrowed to the three most rumoured candidates: Frank, Casey and Cheeks.

I wanted to build a comprehensive picture of their coaching records as certain “pitches” supporting one candidate or another seem to leave out some pretty important data. I also included their records as assistants, even though we do not much too much stock in them.

So what does the data tell us?

All three have quite average overall track records. A 48.3%, a 43.4% and a 49.8% winning percentage won’t get anyone too excited. Average defensive rankings (out of 30 teams, of course) of 14th, 16th and 17th respectively are dead in the middle of the pack. Lawrence Frank has led teams to near the top AND near the bottom in defensive ratings. His offensive ratings have been consistently poor. Dwane Casey’s data as head coach is quite limited. As a head coach, his teams were also quite poor offensively, while teams were he was an assistant performed quite well. Mo Cheeks guided teams more consistently, but was in the middle of the pack most years.

As I argued recently, a coach can certainly make a big difference, but personnel is obviously key. Doc Rivers went from 29.3% winning percentage season (and universal calls to be fired) to a 80.5% winning percentage and a championship trophy the very next year. His team’s defensive rating went from 106.9 in ’06-07 to 98.9 in ’07-08. Did he all the sudden become enlightened with a new defensive scheme? Or perhaps did the Celtics add one of the best defensive of all time to their lineup?
(Note: the playoff data is cut off – click the chart to see it enlarged.)

As I’ve stated, so much depends on the players. But is there a way to measure the impact of coaches given the variance of talent they have worked with over the years?

Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) for Coaches

Timing is everything: I recently discovered Jeremias Engelmann’s great site (for geeks) “Stats for the NBA“. Mr. Englemann updated (last night in fact) the approximated regularized adjusted +/- (RAPM) numbers [and incredibly simple task ;)] for coaches. For the complete list, click here.

The easiest way to interpret this analysis is this: it attempts to treat the coach as if he is the “6th man” on the court. It’s measuring the coach’s influence on those who play, but as Mr. Englemann highlights “it can’t tell you whether a coach is good at identifying who is good and who is bad, and if he plays the good players more because of that.” For an accessible read of the evolution of plus/minus to RAPM, I recommend this: “A Review of Adjusted Plus/Minus and Stabilization

With other data being relatively equal, RAPM highlights Casey as a favourite. Almost all of his success differential is at the defensive end as well. Another nice metric: as Dallas’ defensive “coordinator”, the team held league MVP LeBron James to 11 points (on 4 for 15 shooting) in the first five games of the NBA finals.

For the non-statophiles, a Rick Carlisle quote on Casey: “I’m shocked that we still have him here. He’s that good. That situation will be addressed at the right time, but my level of respect for Dwane and what he’s brought our team is extremely high.”

Hire the man.

Questions? Email me: [email protected] or find me on Twitter.

Oh, and don’t forget to attend the “party of the summer” – the RR draft party at St. Louis Wings – 528 Yonge Street location.

  • Big D

    Please go for Casey BC because the Pistons have their eye on him

  • Nilanka15

    I wonder where we’d be right now if Babcock hired Casey instead of Smitch back in the day…

    Anyone got a flux capacitor?

    • Juicey

      If I got a flux capacitor, I’m starting with not hiring Babcock in the first place.  Then I’ll think about things like trading Vince for a young Kobe, drafting Iggy instead of Araujo, Aldridge over Bargs and trading Bosh for something, or anything…

      • Nilanka15

        Really?  I’d just invent some internet software, sell it to Yahoo, and buy the Dallas Mavericks.

        • JESUS

          I’d invent some internet software, sell it to yahoo and buy the Vancouver Grizzles.  
          Draft Kurt Thomas instead of Bryant Reeves
          Kobe Bryant instead of Shareef Abdur-Rahim
          Tracey McGrady instead of Antonio Daniels
          Dirk Nowitzki instead of Mike Bibbby
          Lamar Odom instead of Steve Francis
          Still take Stromile Swift w/ 2nd pick (what a bad draft year…)
          Still take Pau Gasol w/ the 3rd pick
          Tony Parker instead of Shane Battier
          Amare instead of Drew Gooden

          Could this team play together? probably not, but I’m sure I’d get some good trades out of it!

          • Nilanka15

            But the real question is….would you still move the team to Memphis?  😛

          • Juicey

            Why would Jesus need a flux capacitor?

            • Sean

              This is the funniest thread I’v read on here in ages….more flux capacitor talk please!!!

  • Mediumcore

    I’m hoping for Casey as well, but wonder how much of Dallas’ success on the defensive end was Casey and how much was Carlisle. I seem to recall before Detroit canned Carlisle to replace him with Larry Brown, that the Pistons were a great defensive team. Casey has been assistant to two great head coaches in Carlisle and George Karl in his Seatlle days, so how much success of those teams can we attribute to his doing and how much was Carlisle/Karl?

    • Tom Liston

      Great question, but impossible to tell.  Trying to draw out the coaching contribution is difficult enough (let alone splitting among the staff).

    • Marz

      Carlisle had Kevin O’Neil in Detroit. I think he’s a good defensive coach but I also think that a lot of that has to do with his Assistants, O’Neil and Casey.

  • East Coast

    Cuban said his analytic guys are looked at what impact coaches had in the improvement of players who joined their team, versus how they performed on the teams they left.  

    Are you able to do that kind of analysis among our three most likley candidates?

    • Tom Liston

      The RAPM is a different way of achieving something similar. But obv Carlisle was rated better with their methodology.  They may have been weighting more recent performance higher (Carlisle’s Pacers teams in the last two years there were rated 21st and 30st offensively and RAPM weights those years equally as 2011)

  • Juicey

    “With other data being relatively equal, RAPM highlights Casey as a favourite.”

    Enough reason for me to hire Casey, especially considering that with other data being relatively equal, RAPM highlights sticking it out with Triano as a better option than hiring Frank!

    PS:  Maybe Spoelstra is a bum!

    • Juicey

      Hmm… Then again looking at that full list and it says that Sam Mitchell is better than Poppovich, Jerry Sloan and Phil Jackson.  It also says Triano is better than Nate McMillen, Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown and Pat Riley.  So I guess I’ll take this one with a grain of salt.

      • East Coast

        numbers don’t lie

      • Tom Liston

        Two things: data is from ’05-’06 to present, missing a lot of good years from Pops, Sloan, Riley and Jackson.

        E.g. Pat Riley had some poor years as well:
        And remember, they often had the benefit of having very good players on their rosters.

  • Statement

    How does this analysis work for coaches,

    It’s not clear to me.  How are they treated as a sixth man?

    • Tom Liston

      Adjusted plus/minus (RAPM or other methods) attempts to adjust for the strength of the players that you’re playing with AND against.
      Similar concept for the coaches – I’m oversimplifying but you might think of it as “if coach x had 5 average players vs opponents who always played 5 average players, how would coach x impact offense and defense”

      • Statement

        I see,


  • East Coast

    Also it seems at the RAPM tries to take a long term view because one year is not long enough, yet Casey’s only had a year and  a half as a head coach.  So are we neglecting his small sample size, and comparing to the larger sample sizes of longer tenured head coaches.    Even if you take all the coaches over last five years, it would still have the same flaw for coaches who only coached for one season.   You’re not including his time as an assistant coach are you?

    • Tom Liston

      No. You’re correct, sample size for Casey (and some others) is small.

      • East Coast

        I think you’re really good at this and have a passion for it, and I think the level of analysis is something that to do, I mean to really get into, would take more time than dude with a family and a day job can reasonably volunteer.   Once you take this to that next level, it’s stuff teams should have to pay for, not scab off of a blog.

        • Bendit

          I understand many teams do do this already. Analytics was what prompted Mark Cuban to settle on Carlisle as coach (he said this). I wouldnt be surprised that this may well have been the case with Casey as well… for asst. coach.

  • East Coast

    So you do all this good work, and it is, and then go and include the performance of teams when they were assistant’s under other coaches? 

    • Tom Liston

      The reason I did this is for all the comments like “Frank was able to maintain Boston’s great D after Thibodeau”  
      Reality is they’ve been a top 5 defensive team the moment Garnett arrived and were likely to maintain that high standard.

      Also, Casey (even though he’s my choice) gets credit for the DAL defence this year, but its also interesting he was an assistant for several for poor defensive clubs as well.

      That is, some folks “cherry pick” data and I wanted to present the full picture.

  • FAQ

    At least Casey, or any other new coach will not be second banana to BC when it comes to player use and assessment … I hope.

    • East Coast

      They will likely have a longer deal, so there may be a shift in the balance of power, forcing BC to listen to the coach and not just hear him, or have the coach rely on him for his chance.

      • ak

         there wont be a shift of power so long as one has an ability to fire the other.

    • points

      as long as Tot Dad has his #1 son here ,it’s going to be the same old dodo

  • Rpsfan95

    BC/DC !!

  • Sheptor

    These stats are great! However there’s a problem with coaching stats…the coaches don’t play the games. Coaches work differently with different groups of players. Every single season a coach works with a different group and in the modern day NBA, players change teams frequently. If I were a Gm I would be looking at defensive rtg, win loss record etc. But the interview and references is how I make my decision. Because I have to know how the personality & philosophy of this coach is going to gel with what I already know about my personnel (players).

  • points

    you heard it from me first tot dad will draft cardiac kemba with the 5th pick and he will be the ROY also he will never trade bargs he will tell you it took dirk 7-8 years to get there so we have another 2 years


      how many times more are you gonna suck cardiac kembas cock. the nickname u keep referring him 2 is fucking homo. jimmer smoked his ass in utah btw….DRAFT JIMMER WALKER IS OVERATED.

  • FAQ

    Okay, now that the 2011 draft picks have been more or less settled, let’s look ahead to the 2012 draft strategy for the Raptors.

    I recommend that the coming season betanked so that the Raps can hopefully get the #1 draft pick in 2012.

     So who’s with me on this deviously, devilishly good strategy??!!!

    • hateslosing

      There should be a dislike for comments like this…can I flag it or is that an abuse of the function?

      • FAQ

        OMG …. the tribal honking fans are out in force now and again casting their hopes on a draft pick to pull the Raps out of the NBA basement … and maybe into the playoffs too ..!!!!

        Sorry for hurting your love and tender feeeelings for your Raps …

        • Alec

          It is hard to cheer for your favorite team to play bad.
          Not to mention its wrong and gives all more fuel to saying that Raptors will never be good

          Now that we will get a system coach and hopefully not overturn 60% of our roster as we do every offseason, we can start to grow

          • FAQ

            Tribal honking fans require instant gratification from their team, and to suggest their team is crap they blame the non-fan for making it so.  THFs can only cheer and make up stories of how good their team can be if everybody supported it with love and loyalty … and those who attack their team with the bitter truth, they must be silenced …. even banned from this Raptor Fan Forum … sooooo obvious.

  • Ryan Scott

    Hoping they hire Casey.  While I think Frank and Cheeks are both solid NBA coaches, I feel like Casey could be very good in the right circumstances.  Get him a solid assistant to help with offensive gameplanning, and let him build a club that can also play some defense.

  • Tom Liston
  • ak

    he never coached before kings in the nba

  • Tom Liston Theus coached the Kings to a 25th and 30th ranked defense although he didn’t have much to work with.
    Ranks in the bottom half of RAPM as well.

  • Beaverboi

    I believe you are thinking of Dr. Zeus.

    Dr. Zeus, Dr. Zeus….

  • Nilanka15

    What about his record coaching the Deering Tornadoes?

  • Tom Liston

    Try this: 

  • Bendit

    What?? You’ve thrown Zarb under the bus for Theus? But Theus does have better hair…