Q&A: Stan Van Gundy, Part 2

In Part 2, Stan Van Gundy discusses creativity in coaching and whether everyone is fretting too much over how many minutes athletes play.

Stan Van Gundy Q&A: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Does the fear of criticism stifle coaching creativity?

I don't think what would hold me back or hold a lot of coaches back, being worried about what people are going to say. I think it's that I trend toward wanting to go with the tried and true. Something where, I've seen this work. I know this succeeds in the NBA. That's what I want to do.

I know that these principles that we have work and we're going to stick to those. I just go with what I have seen work. I certainly would not call myself creative. There are other coaches who are innovative and everything else. I wouldn't be that guy, that's for sure.

I'd certainly seen four shooters around a big guy work before. So that might not have been the conventional way everybody was doing it, but number one, I had seen it work, and number two, it was certainly what fit our team the best. It might not have been at the time, in 2007, conventional, but I wouldn't say that it was innovative in any way. People had done it. But you can go back to Robert Horry playing the 4 and Matt Bullard [in Houston]. Maybe I was doing it differently than a majority of the league, but it wasn't new.

Who are the most innovative coaches, in your opinion?

Mike D'Antoni might be the closest to someone who's doing something really differently among coaches in our league.

Gregg Popovich was the first guy I know who, and he still does it more than anybody, resting players the way he does over the long haul. There’s still not people who do it like he does. I don't think I would ever do it that way. But he's done it with great success. That's an innovation I guess. In the Xs and Os, there are so few things that you see and say, "Wow, I've never seen that before."

How do you feel about reducing minutes?

It's sort of in all sports now. You look at baseball and pitchers have gone from a four-man rotation to a five-man rotation and pitch counts and all of that. And if you're a guy in the NBA who plays your players 38, 40 minutes a night, the media's going to beat you up for it. That's always been a curious thing to me, because, number one, so many people in the media who'll beat coaches up for things supposedly have this analytical background, but I haven't seen them come out with one thing that indicates that, you know what, if guys play this many minutes then they get hurt less than guys who play this many minutes. I haven't seen any of that so that's curious that they've sort of accepted the value of playing guys fewer minutes over the course of the year.

The second thing that's curious, could be in all sports is supposedly now, if we go back 30 or 40 years, maybe only 20. Supposedly now, our athletes are better, they're bigger, stronger faster athletes.

We've got better training, OK. We've got better nutrition. We've got all this technology. Our travel is a lot better. They're not traveling commercial. Everything is set up better, and yet, they're not capable of playing the minutes or pitching the innings that guys did 30 or 40 years ago! I don't get that. And it's not like players are hurt less now than players in those years. Those guys used to play every day. They played 82 games, they played 40 minutes a game. Now, supposedly all these great improvements we made, our athletes aren't capable of doing that.

The media is not privy to what goes on in practice. So, the media assumes that the only thing that matters in the balance between rest and work is, “How many minutes a guy plays in a game.” Well, to me, and I'm not saying this happens, but let's say a guy only averages 32 minutes a game but that coach practices really hard on the days in between. To me, that guy is going to be potentially more fatigued than a guy who plays 38 minutes a game but gets rest on the days in between.

Every coach in every sport, one of their larger concerns is the balance between work and rest. We all think about it all the time. So, to think about it is good. But for people to pretend, again, if you want to do it and you want to figure it out and you want to show me that, throwing 200 innings a year instead of 300 that they used to throw will prolong careers, well show me that. If you want to show me that playing 30 minutes a game will prolong someone's career over playing 36 minutes a game, well show me that.

One of the knocks when I was working for Pat Riley was, "Oh, his practices were so hard. You go to him, it's going to shorten your career." Then I look around and say, well, Patrick Ewing played a damn long time. Charles Oakley played a damn long time. And Derek Harper played in his 30s and played a long time. And Mo Cheeks. And it's, "C'mon!" Where's the evidence of this?

That this work is shortening careers. And then you get these things like, Stephen Strasburg can only throw 160 innings last year. And I'm sitting there going, "Really? Where did you come up with that number?" Maybe 165? Maybe he should have thrown only 140? You guessed it! Come on, you guessed it! The hope is, that fewer innings means fewer problems and it will help him in the long run. But, they don't know and they had a great chance last year. Sitting him down certainly decreased their chances. And they're not even going to get in (the playoffs) this year. Maybe they wasted the only chance they're going to have.

Everybody is in a different situation. Gregg Popovich has had great players. So Gregg Popovich goes into the season knowing he's going to make the playoffs. And so, he can rest guys throughout the years. Well, if you're Mark Jackson and the Warriors or you know, you're the Dallas Mavericks last year. You've got no guarantees.

I think the most frustrating thing for a coach is those kind of things. Where you're being criticized for things that have no basis in reality. They're simply just opinions. We all got into this on the NBA level knowing, fairly or unfairly, we were going to be judged by winning and losing. And that's OK. But now you're Tom Thibodeau and you're winning. And you're still being judged because you're playing guys too much.

My brother's always asked the question: Does the human body really know the difference? Are you really more fatigued after having played 38 minutes over 36 minutes? Over the course of the year you're talking about, let's say it's 40 minutes over 36. You're talking over the course of five and a half months, a difference of 328 minutes on your body. Over five and a half months. Are you telling me there's an appreciable difference in fatigue at the point? I'm not buying that. But people just accept it.

There are some people, some strength and conditioning coaches that are on the cutting edge. Those people, they're zeroing in on it. Not on a number of minutes, but actually on good measurements of the human body to determine when guys are fatigued and when they're not. And that's the key point. I don't care about how many minutes you play. It could have been only 18 minutes. Maybe the guy's worn down or whatever, or he's not getting enough sleep. Right now, he's fatigued and needs rest. That is helpful information to a coach. Or to anybody running a team.