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Rivers: A PhD in Coaching?

Doc Rivers (Courtesy of NBA.com)
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, above, will be on the hot seat all season.(Courtesy of NBA.com)

I don’t think there’s any seat hotter in Boston than the one that sits in Doc Rivers’ office. We are approaching one of the most anticipated Celtics seasons in at least the last 15 years, and the man who is paid to lead them deep into the postseason has gone a combined 110-144 during his three seasons here. Even if he helps the Celtics to the postseason, Rivers carries a weak 8-14 record in playoff games. He’s never won a playoff series as a coach. Those are just the numbers. How good or bad is Doc as the C’s coach?

First, I think a lot of a coach’s success has to do with the talent-level of the team. The talent of the C’s increased dramatically with new additions Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, James Posey and co. In most cases, a coach is only as good as his team is, and may directly impact just a few games per season. Now, Doc can’t be criticized for his inability to coach an untalented team.That excuse won’t work anymore. They C’s, under Doc, have never truly had the large amount of quality players they have now.

Before his career in Boston began, Doc Rivers began his NBA career as a player for the Atlanta Hawks in the 1983-84 season. He played his first eight seasons with the Hawks, and also played for Clippers, Knicks, and Spurs before retiring at the age of 34. In 864 career games played, the former point guard averaged 10.6 points and 5.6 assists per game.

His coaching career began in the 1999-2000 season, when he won the NBA Coach of the Year after guiding the Orlando Magic to a 41-41 record with a team lead by Darrell Armstrong and former Celtic Ron Mercer. He earned the award, as the Magic had just lost Penny Hardaway and Nick Anderson to free agency.

Throughout his coaching career, Doc has been labeled a good teacher for younger players. He’s been with the young guys for a while (some of them three seasons). I think one good way to judge Doc besides his career record is the way he helped raise the young ones. Let’s take a look at a few players that Doc helped develop during his Celtics tenure.

Al Jefferson, FC

Year G MIN PPG RPG APG BPG
2004-05 71 14.8 6.7 4.4 .3 .8
2005-06 59 18.0 7.9 5.1 .5 .8
2006-07 69 33.6 16.0 11.0 1.3 1.5

Reaction: Doc did some great work here. Sure, he was a great prospect out of high school, but oftentimes potential doesn’t fully come to fruition. It did for Al. His numbers increased in every season, and last year when he got 30+ minutes for the first time in his career, he responded with career bests in points, rebounds, blocks, and assists. By his fourth season (2007-08), he became a major trading chip for 10-time all-star Kevin Garnett. That’s big company.

Kendrick Perkins, C

Year G MIN PPG RPG APG BPG
2003-04 10 3.5 2.2 1.4 .3 .2
2004-05 60 9.1 2.5 2.9 .4 .6
2005-06 68 19.6 5.2 5.9 1.0 1.5
2006-07 72 21.9 4.5 5.2 1.3 1.3

Reaction: Perk has developed some since his rookie season, but obviously at a much slower pace as Al Jefferson. Doc and his assistants have tried to adjust Perk’s stance in the paint to keep him out of foul trouble, but nothing has completely worked yet. Doc’s job this year with Perkins will be to first keep him out of foul trouble, and if he gets into the foul trouble, Doc should trust him more. He needs to play more than 21.9 minutes per game. I’d like 30.

Tony Allen, G

Year G MIN PPG RPG APG SPG
2004-05 77 16.4 6.4 2.9 .8 1.0
2005-06 51 19.2 7.2 2.2 1.3 1.0
2006-07 33 24.4 11.5 3.8 1.7 1.5

Reaction: Tony Allen is probably the most athletic guard on the Celtics, but he may also be the most fragile. Doc needs to limit his minutes early in the season due to his horrific knee injury last season. Before the injury, Allen was awesome playing for the first time as a full-time player. If he can stay healthy this year, Doc can use him as an important 7th or 8th man in the rotation.

Delonte West, G

Year G MIN PPG RPG APG SPG
2004-05 39 13 4.5 1.7 1.4 .5
2005-06 71 34 11.8 4.1 4.6 1.2
2006-07 33 32.2 12.2 3.0 4.4 1.1

Reaction: Delonte was a very good player in his days with Boston, and developed quickly in Doc Rivers’ system. He had a great sophomore season, shooting over 48% from the field in 71 games (all starts). He, like most on the team not named Al Jefferson, slumped a little in his third season, but still gained a career high in one category (12.2 points per game). At 24, West looks to lead the new wave of the Western Conference with the Sonics.

Doc Rivers Career Coaching Record

Year Team G W L PCT
1999-00 Magic 82 41 41 .500
2000-01 Magic 82 43 39 .524
2001-02 Magic 82 44 38 .537
2002-03 Magic 82 42 40 .521
2003-04 Magic 11 1 10 .091
2004-05 Celtics 82 45 37 .549
2005-06 Celtics 82 33 49 .402
2006-07 Celtics 82 24 58 .293

Doc has done a nice job with some players, but too bad that’s not all to his job. He desperately needs to go deep into the playoffs this season, especially now that expectations are so high. When your team acquires two multiple-time all-stars, then your expectations as a coach will rise too. Rivers will be under the microscope all season to make sure that the plays he draws up (which didn’t work so well last year) will work well this season. His use of timeouts will be critical at times this season, especially during close games or playoff games. Does Doc deserve his PhD in coaching yet? An NBA Title would be enough for me…

About KC Downey - @kc_downey

KC is the "head coach" of the Sports of Boston, LLC blog network. Follow him on Twitter: @kc_downey

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