When discussing the best coaches in the game, Erik Spoelstra often gets left out, only mentioned when talking about the "longest tenured."
I, for one, am sick of "third-longest-tenured-coach" being touted as Spoelstra's most notable accomplishment. When Spo has championship-caliber talent, he wins championships, and he almost always makes the playoffs, regardless of roster. The 2009-2010 Miami Heat team won almost 50 games with Dwyane Wade and practically nothing else, save a defrosted Jermaine O'Neal. During his tenure, the Heat consistently overachieves, the only common thread being Spoelstra (and Udonis Haslem). Here's how he does it:
1. Player Development: RumpleSpoelstra
Don't look now, but Spo is on a tear. He, in concert with Pat Riley, has been plucking under-appreciated prospects and spinning them into gold. RumpleSpoelstra has used his magic spinning wheel on NBA castoff Hassan Whiteside, undrafted free agent Tyler Johnson, and 2nd round pick Josh Richardson (40th overall), producing above-average NBA players.
Now, obviously, the credit here belongs more to the players than Spo, but he is identifying overlooked talent and putting the players in a position to succeed. Did you know the Grizzlies signed and waived Whiteside twice in 2014 before the Heat scooped him up for good?
Hopefully, RumpleSpoelstra can keep his magic wheel spinning on Bam and produce an All-Star level player (or better). The athletic big man is already progressing, busting out impressive agility, smooth jumpers and ferocious dunking. The Heat even ran their offense through him late against the Pacers.
2. Vet whisperer
It’s not just under-appreciated youngsters that Spo gets the most out of. He has a tendency to make his players more efficient, no matter their age. I threw together a little graph compiling the percentages of players in their first year with Spoelstra compared to the season before. (Rookies were excluded since they didn't have a previous professional season). Here are the highlights:
You can peruse the full table here.
You'll see starting around 0:18 in this clip, courtesy of NBA.com, Spo doesn't hesitate to get right in the middle of this scuffle. He defends against one push and gets back in the thick of it, absorbing a second surprise push. And I think we all remember that shoulder bump he took from LeBron James without so much as flinching.
4. Master Tinkerer
Spo is like Shaq back in his Lakers days, he plays himself into coaching shape. Heat teams under Spo don’t always get off to a blazing start, but they usually get significantly better as the season progresses. Last year was a shining example of that, but six of the Spoeltra's nine previous teams increased their winning percentage in the second half. On average, the winning percentage of Spoelstra-led teams' increases by 7.5% after January. After a season-best seven game win streak to help kickstart 2018 gave them a boost in the standings, this year's Heat seem to be getting an early start.
At 24-17 midway through the regular season, they sported a winning percentage of 58.5. If that were to improve by 7.5%, to 66%, in the second half, they would post a 27-14 record. That would put the Heat at 51-31 for the season. That would've been good for a tie for 2nd seed in the East last year.
5. Rocks the backward hat
We haven’t seen this in a while, but I have faith that the technique is still there. If-and-when the Heat win another championship, I hope to see the bill of his hat pointed firmly behind his head.