One month before the 2017-18 season tips off, we had a chance to catch up with second year Skyforce head coach, Nevada Smith to discuss the success of last season, the new changes in the NBA G League and how he began his coaching career.
In what ways was last year still a successful season despite narrowly missing the playoffs at the end?
“It was a tough year from the playoffs standpoint. The record looked okay at the end of the year, having the most wins for a non-playoff team in league history. When you get Okaro White a full NBA deal with the Miami HEAT and you get Briante Weber a couple call-ups with Golden State and Charlotte, you see the progress they made and the steps they took to get better. Not only those guys, but Pat Miller got better. Ike Nwamu got better. Marcus Posley got better. I thought when Greg Whittington came back he got better. All of those guys…Bubu, Jabril. I thought they all got something out of last season. You know, it’s a development league. It’s about getting those guys better and getting them to the next step in their careers, and that’s more important than wins and losses.”
How has the NBA G League grown since you first began your coaching career with Rio Grande Valley back in 2013?
“Obviously there’s more teams. The amenities from my first year to now are better. The hotels we stay in…the travel…it’s much better. I think it’ll definitely be a full, 32-team league here very soon. There are some good things about it. The experimentations the league has done. The advance rule, the replay, the challenges. I always liked the ‘pick-your-opponent’ in the playoffs. I like those little quirky things. The opportunity to experiment with things that might get used in the NBA, either from a standpoint of saying, ‘that’s a great idea’ or, ‘no way that’s not going to work’. I think it’s good for the league to be able to do that.”
What are some of the experimental rules and nuances of the NBA G League that you’ve enjoyed over the last few seasons?
“I think the coach’s challenge is something that can be used well at the next level. I think they have to figure out a way to be able to do it a little bit more time-efficiently. I don’t think we’re able to make the most of it in a lot of cases because we don’t have the best camera angles in most arenas, so even if you know you’re right or think you’re right, if the refs can’t see it on the replay, it doesn’t matter. It’d definitely be better at the next level. That’s about it. I miss the European goal tend. I wish we had the FIBA goal tending rule. I think it would make it more exciting. I think if you get guys used to that, with the best athletes in the world, it could be pretty entertaining.”
Are there any experimental rules that you’re not a fan of?
“I actually don’t like the 14-second reset on an offensive rebound, only because it’s really hard to simulate in practice. Guys don’t really know it’s coming. They’re used to the NBA reset, pulling it back out, having time. It’s really hard to simulate. I can’t reiterate it enough in practice. It’s really hard. It’s not something you focus on because it doesn’t happen all that often. Usually shots are taken within five seconds off of an offensive rebound, but the times when you do bring it back out, you don’t realize the clock is getting down to six or seven seconds and you end up taking a really tough shot. You don’t really get rewarded for that hard work. I think if it was a rule forever, it’d be great. A year for just one year, two years? I’m not a huge fan. If we’re going to go with it lets adopt it and embrace it. If not, let’s move on.”
What are your thoughts on the new 2-way player contracts in the NBA this year, and how might those impact you as a coach?
“For players, it’s 60 more jobs. That’s big. That’s great for them. It’s a lot more experience in the NBA, so that’s great. For us, obviously it’s going to help because those guys will potentially, and usually, be around the team for a longer period of time. They’ll know and understand what we expect, so from that standpoint you’re going to have a couple NBA level players on your team regularly. If you think back to last year, in all probability, our 2-way players would have been Okaro and Briante. The two guys that we lose, we probably are able to keep for the rest of the year. So, you know you’re going to have those guys as the corner stone of your team, knowing that they could be gone for up to 45 days throughout the year, but they’re there as the backbone.”
When did you first start to realize that you wanted to get into coaching when you were done playing?
“When I was in college I started coaching my former high school team in the summers. When I was a freshman I went back and coached the younger kids, and kept that team all the way through until they were seniors. I took them when they were in ninth grade for four years, all the way through in the summer. Just doing that, and running our little kid camp at my high school every year when I was in college…so just doing that stuff had a lot of influence on me. It was a natural progression. If I couldn’t play anymore I wanted to give something back to the game and coaching was the best way to do it.
Do you think having played the game of basketball has helped you in your coaching experience?
“I think it helps from a networking and relationship standpoint. You just get to know a lot more people in the game. I think being out there going through what you’re asking them to go through…I think it has its advantages and disadvantages. I don’t think there’s one right answer to the question. I personally think it helps. I know what I’m asking for. I know how hard it is. I know that you make mistakes. Some people…I’ve had some great assistants that haven’t played before. The one thing I’ve noticed is that those guys have a tough time understanding why players keep making mistakes. Sometimes it just happens.”