|Can Tyrone Corbin right the ship for this Sacramento Kings team? Management seems to hope so, as they have signed him for the remainder of the year.|
So it's official. Tyrone Corbin is going to be the head coach for the remainder of the season. While that is not ruling out the possibility of George Karl or Chris Mullin taking over the team at the end of the year, management has made it clear that they are going to be sticking with the former Kings assistant and Utah Jazz head man for the near future. Considering how much outrage the firing of Mike Malone generated in the Kings community, this isn't the most inspiring hire, especially with the Kings struggling to a 2-5 record, and seemingly falling apart at the seams on the court and in the locker roomer (allegedly).
So what can Kings fans expect from Corbin? Now that we know he is going to be the solution for this year at least, can Kings fans have any hope, or is this pretty much Kenny Natt and Keith Smart 2.0? Let's take a whole look at Corbin's profile and what he brings to the Kings organization as the head coach.
A 16-year veteran as a player in the NBA, Corbin first broke into the coaching ranks in the early NBA D-League working as a player mentor with the Charleston Lowgators after he retired. In 2003-2004, Corbin was hired by former New York Knicks GM Scott Layden as Knicks manager of player development for the 2003-2004 season, working under Layden as well as head coach Don Chaney (who was fired later that year). In 2004, the Jazz, a team he experienced his most success with as a player, hired him as an assistant under Jerry Sloan, and he worked as an assistant from 2004-2011 before taking over as the head man following Sloan's retirement. Considering his status as a player with the Jazz and experience under Sloan, many Jazz fans at the time felt it was a good, though unspectacular hire.
After struggling in the 28 games to finish the 2011 season for Sloan (they finished 8-20), Corbin surprised in his first full year as head man in a lockout shortened season. Corbin built his team around his two solid offensive post players (Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, who was acquired that off-season) and complemented them with young talent (Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and CJ Miles) as well as a cast of hungry role players who had been cast off from other teams (Demare Carroll, Devin Harris, Raja Bell and Josh Howard). The Jazz finished the year 36-30, with a SRS of 0.92 and captured the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Even though they were swept in the first round by San Antonio, the solid first year, especially in the wake of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer leaving less than gracefully the previous year (Williams was widely credited as driving Sloan to retirement) seemed to be a good sign of the franchise under Corbin going forward.
With the same Jefferson and Millsap combo, the Jazz competed for a playoff the whole season in 2012-2013, actually holding the 8th spot in the west for a while until eventually conceding it to Houston in the final month of play. The Jazz finished 43-39 with a SRS of 0.30 and seemed to overachieve with Corbin, as they're Pythagorean W-L actually was 41-41 (so they two games better than they should have been). Jefferson and Millsap continued to be solid (20.9 and 19.8 PER, respectively) and the young trio of Favors, Kanter and Hayward seemed to be progressing and showing hope for the future.
But, in the 2013-2014 season, the Jazz decided to go with an identity change, letting Jefferson and Millsap go in favor of building around their young core of Favors, Kanter and Hayward. By losing their two mainstays, the Jazz went into rebuilding mode, which Corbin seemed to struggle with. After being above .500 in his first two years as head coach, the much younger Jazz plummeted to a 25-57 record with a SRS of minus-6.26, third-worst in the league. Corbin failed to generate much on either end of the ball (25th in offensive rating and 29th in defensive rating that year), and it was obvious that he wasn't reaching the young talent on the roster. Feeling that a new direction was needed, Corbin was let go at the end of the 2013-2014 season.
What Corbin Does Well
Corbin has a solid record of utilizing his post men in the offense as his starting big men have usually led the team in usage rate in his tenure as coach (meaning the offense runs through his post players). While this paid off for him with Jefferson and Millsap, it paid less dividends with Favors and Kanter (though they were younger and it was their first season with major minutes, while Jefferson and Millsap already had lots of experience with major minutes when Corbin took over as head coach). This is comforting for those fearing that the Kings are going to get away from feeding their best player (Cousins) in the post. If history shows anything, Corbin's gameplan will continue to utilize Cousins' talent and strengths in the low block.
Also, one of the reasons Pete and Vivek hired Corbin as an assistant before this season is that he showed some aptitude coaching the offensive side of the ball early in his career with Utah. Though his last year was a blood bath offensively, they were actually pretty good his first two seasons. In the 2011-2012 season, the Jazz scored 106.8 points per 100 possessions, 6th best in the league and in 2012-2013, they scored 106.7 points per 100 possessions, 10th best in the league. On paper, there is a lot to like about Corbin fitting in with this roster: he has success utilizing the talents of his big men and he has had a history of finding offensive success with his teams, something management was unsatisfied with incumbent Mike Malone.
Lastly, Corbin is a cool-headed personality that should be good amid this period of chaos with fans and even some players dissatisfied with the firing of Malone. Corbin is not a big media guy, he's not going to be outspoken in his interviews, and he's the kind of coach that keeps things in house. It was one of the reasons Jazz management hired him, simply due to the fact they were looking for a much calmer personality after experiencing so many years with the much fierier Sloan. Considering Malone was deemed a "player's coach", Corbin should fit in nicely considering he's not the kind of volatile personality that has rubbed Kings players wrong in the past (like Smart, Westphal, Theus and Musselman...basically every Kings coach after Adelman unfortunately).
What is worrisome about Corbin
The Kings biggest issues seem to be on defense as of late, and unfortunately things don't seem to look to get better under Corbin. The defensive ratings for Corbin's Jazz teams went from 12th to 21st to 29th in his three seasons. While Corbin has proved to flash some success with his scheme offensively in his time in Utah, he really hasn't been able to do that in Utah. His teams give up a lot of points, and have struggled in terms of communication and being able to switch and defend shots properly (the Jazz were 30th in the league in FG% allowed and 28th in 3FG% allowed his last season). And unfortunately for Kings fans, the Kings are showing a lot of the same unfortunate signs that plagued Corbin's squads last seasons (lack of communication, getting back in transition defense, contesting shots).
While Corbin has gotten the most out of his post players, perimeter players haven't really developed as much under his tutelage. Despite his high draft pick status, Hayward seemed to underwhelm in Corbin's system (and after the big contract they gave him, this was probably a reason why Corbin was let go: he was unable to reach their franchise player). While Jefferson and Millsap stood out for Corbin's teams (and to a lesser degree, Favors and Kanter), it's hard to categorize any perimeter players that had a major impact outside of Hayward (whose impact still was underwhelming). This is a concern for Rudy Gay, who is obviously the vice president to Cousins when it comes to Franchise players. Gay has looked better in his time in Sacramento from his previous destinations (Toronto and Memphis), and he really seemed to gel well with Malone and his system, especially to start this season. How Corbin is able to reach and utilize Gay will be a big thing to pay attention to. If Corbin can keep utilizing Gay as an important part of his offense, then that will bode well for this team as well as Corbin if he has any hopes of keeping this job (though to be honest, I doubt it considering his history...but like I said, I feel more confident that he's going to keep Cousins as the centerpiece due to his work with Jefferson and Millsap before).
Another reasons Malone was let go was due to the desire of management to play a more up-tempo pace. Though the Kings played a decent tempo last season (94.4 possessions per game last year and 93.6 possessions per game this year; rated 14th and 15th respectively), Vivek seemed to want even more up-tempo, more akin to what the Warriors are doing south in the Bay (not surprising considering Vivek used to be a board member for the Warriors ownership group). The head scratching thing is that Corbin has never showed a propensity to ever be an up-tempo kind of coach. His Utah Jazz teams put up a pace of 91.4, 90.9 and 91.4, good for 12th, 21st and 26th in the league those seasons, respectively. And if you look at what Corbin has done offensively, and the blueprint of his teams (building around his post players), it doesn't scream to anyone as characteristic of a George Karl, Mike D'Antoni or other "up-tempo" coaches. Thus, I think not only are the Kings going through a learning curve playing more up-tempo, but I think Corbin is as well, which can explain their ups and downs on the offensive end during this seven game stretch. Though there is still a long way to go this season, it isn't a good sign when your coach is about as green with up-tempo basketball as his players, especially considering that seems to be the style pushed for by management.
Outlook for Corbin
I think Corbin will have a better effect on Cousins than people think. Corbin has a good reputation utilizing the talents of his bigs, and no one can say that he didn't utilize his talented posts in Utah in his three full seasons there. His work on the perimeter and how he will grow as a teacher of up-tempo basketball is a little bit more up in the air. He certainly has potential since he's been on staff since training camp and coached a lot of them in Summer League, but I think Corbin trying to teach up-tempo basketball is like putting white stripes on a donkey and calling it a Zebra.
However, the biggest pitfall I think for Corbin going forward will be defense. Corbin is certainly not as seasoned and creative a defensive mind as Malone, and it has showed not only in his history in Utah, but early in his tenure in Sacramento. This Kings team struggles to communicate, struggles in transition and struggles to consistently contest shots, and I don't think Corbin is equipped or masterful enough as a coach to change those deficiencies in a major way for the remainder of the season. While the offense may get better, I don't think Kings will develop enough defensively to make Corbin's tenure last anything longer than this season.
Again, it's a long season and while some things look bleak, you never know. If Corbin can adjust and learn from his pitfalls defensively in Utah and in the past seven games, then Corbin may have a chance to turn this team around. But, in all frankness, the odds really are against him, especially considering where the team is attitude-wise following Malone's firing.