Over the past year or so I've vacillated between being a Mo detractor and a Mo apologist. Mostly, I've judged him by the team's won/loss record, and how I believed the team should've been performing. With Iverson and Webber, Mo got an F
. After the trade, and the remarkable finish to the 2006-2007 season, I was on the Cheeks bandwagon and would've probably given him a solid B.
With 50 games left to go in the '07-'08 campaign, and a full season post-A.I. I think Mo's identity as the coach of the Sixers has been pretty well established, so it's time to take a look at Mo's strengths and weaknesses.
The headline of this post may have been a little misleading, because I don't think Mo is doing a bad job, overall. He's gotten this team to play near-playoff caliber basketball. He's nourished Andre Iguodala into an All Star, he's built Samuel Dalembert into a top-five center in the East, probably top-10 in the league. He's ushered Lou Williams into the rotation, convinced Willie Green to play smart basketball and he's eased Jason Smith and Thad Young into the rotation as well.
For my money, an NBA head coach has two primary jobs. One is to motivate his players, get the most out of them. The other is to put them in a position to succeed. Mo has accomplished his first job possibly better than any other coach in the league. This team plays hard every single night. On most nights, they face teams with more talent, on paper, but he's got them believing they can and should win every single game. That's no small feat when you're dealing with a young team made up of players who have never even sniffed winning at the NBA level, for the most part. Since the A.I. trade, this team's record is three games under .500. Remarkable.
Putting your players in a position to succeed can be broken down into two main categories. X's and o's, and player rotation. Here is where I think Mo is lacking. I've spoken at length about the starting lineup he's used since Willie Green's injury, and it really comes back to haunt the Sixers on a nightly basis. Having Carney and Evans on the floor at the same time makes defending the Sixers extremely easy and it's the very reason that they find themselves down by double digits early on in most games. When the subs come in, the Sixers go on a run. This tells me something about the personnel and I'd hope Mo would notice the trend as well.
From an x's and o's perspective, I think Mo realizes that his offense works best when he just puts the ball in either Miller, Iguodala or Williams' hands and lets them create either for themselves or for someone else. I don't have a problem with that. Cutting off the ball, setting screens etc. makes up the bulk of their offense, but one thing he really needs to do more of is take advantage of mismatches. Andre Miller is the only guy who consistently goes into the post, even though Iguodala can physically overpower just about every guy who guards him. He should be getting touches on the low block much more frequently. Thad Young can be put in that same category. They never use Dalembert or Jason Smith on pick and pop situations, even though both guys can knock down a 15-footer pretty regularly. These are a few wrinkles Mo could throw so the players don't have to work so hard in the half-court offense just to get decent shot off. He rarely does.
On the whole, Mo has done an excellent job as head coach of the Sixers. Getting players motivated, and keeping them that way is by far the hardest part of the job in today's NBA. I'd love to see him fine-tune his rotation and work on some easy offensive sets, but I really can't complain. There are plenty of coaches out there who can't motivate or orchestrate an NBA team, Isiah Thomas comes to mind. There are also plenty of guys who can draw up beautiful plays but their players have tuned them out so they design doesn't mean a thing (Scott Skiles). Mo is growing with his team and there's plenty of time for them to develop their identity on the offensive side of the ball together.
They play hard, they play smart, they play tough defense, they cause mistakes with their hustle and athleticism and they capitalize on those mistakes. Mo is the right guy for this team at this juncture, a year ago I wouldn't have made that statement.