Repeatedly this season the coach has been asked if his team needs an identity. “No,” he replies
Is Maurice Cheeks a good offensive coach, a good defensive coach, both or neither? Do his teams play fast or slow?
It’s difficult to answer those basic questions. In eight years as head coach, Cheeks has led teams with varying identities. He’s coached three top-10 offenses and just as many in the bottom-10. He’s coached two top-10 defenses, and again, the same number in the bottom 10. Four of his teams played in the bottom 10 of pace, but another ranked as high as sixth.
Of course, Cheeks has coached two teams and a variety of players, so that certainly plays a large role in these stats. But the numbers can still provide clues.
Here are his ranks in three general categories (using the date of his last game during the years he was fired mid-season):
- Offensive rating: 6,8,10,24,13,26,20,28
- Defensive rating: 12,11,21,17,24,15,10,8
- Pace: 23,23,29,21,6,20,20,17
Now, lets look a little more in depth at each side of the ball.
Cheeks’ teams have placed in both the top 10 and bottom 10 in each of the offensive four factors, so it’s difficult to say with certainty there’s anything distinctive about his offenses.
Anecdotally, the 2007-08 season seems to support the theory Cheeks isn’t tied to a specific offensive style.
The turnaround can be traced to Dec. 4, when the Sixers hired former Nets G.M. Ed Stefanski to replace the deposed Billy King. One of Stefanski‘s first moves was to meet with coach Maurice Cheeks to discuss the team’s style of play. “I thought we could score some points if we played at a faster pace,” says Stefanski. “Mo was all for it. He was very comfortable with that style.”
On the Sixers’ turnaround, from 16–28 to 40–40
One day in practice, Coach [ Maurice Cheeks] was like, we’re going to start running. We did a drill, five-on-five, and just pushed it up the court. That changed things. We found an identity.
A coach with a more defined offense would probably be more dismissive of changing his scheme.
To a degree, I view this as a positive. It indicates a willingness to adjust to his players.
But considering Cheeks’ offenses have mostly struggled – and ultimate got him fired twice – a willingness to adapt means only so much unless he’s capable of implementing varying schemes.
Defensively, Cheeks’ teams are much more distinctive.
All eight have been very good at avoiding fouls, and most have been good with forcing turnovers. That can be a difficult duality to pull off, but perhaps Cheeks, one of the NBA’s all-time steals leaders, can teach how to get steals without fouling.
The downside to the going for so many turnovers is opponents have generally shot well and offensively rebounded against Cheeks’ teams.
Plenty of coaches talk about getting more aggressive defensively, but for better or worse, Cheeks has the track record to back it up.