While it is trendy to bash Avery Johnson, there is no doubt he is an excellent young coach. Johnson definitely has weaknesses, however, and, looking ahead, it is important to identify Avery's weaknesses and see if new head coach Rick Carlisle can improve them. The early indications make one cautiously optimistic.
Running A Fluid Offense, Empowering Point Guards
The first issue is if Carlisle has a desire to control the flow of the game on the offensive end as Johnson did. Much has been written about Carlisle's time spent at the Suns training camp, observing how D'Antoni teaches and runs his offense. Jerry Stackhouse has also said that Carlisle is the type of coach that adapts to his players. All of this is in direct cotnrast to Johnson, who held the reigns of the Dallas offense with an iron fist, from talented young point guards like Devin Harris to hall of fame point guards like Jason Kidd.
You cant' find a better first-hand observer of Carlisle's work with point guards and an offense than Chauncey Billups, the Detroit Pistons all-star point guard who blossomed on Carlisle's watch. Here is Chauncey on Carlisle :
You know what, it was great. He gave me the freedom that I hadn't got in league yet, so it was a great opportunity for me and that was really my coming out party playing under him and letting me play my game. It worked well and we got to the Eastern Conference finals and we were the number one team in the East. We did not get to go all the way but it worked. I am very grateful to him for that opportunity.
Drawing Up Plays
Another area where Johnson was often criticized was his ability to draw up plays to close out a game or quarter. In contrast, this is one area where Carlisle is roundly considered one of the best in the game.
Here's a lengthy quote from an old article by Dr. Jack Ramsey on when Rick Carlisle was hired by the Pacers that sheds major light on Carlisle's strength in this area:
Clearly, Larry Bird has high regard for Carlisle. When I spoke with Bird last spring, we were discussing end-of-the-game situations and how coaches draw up plays. Oftentimes, the play doesn't work out the way it's drawn up, Bird interjected, "Have you ever seen Rick Carlisle draw up a play? He's superb at doing that."
Which, by the way, is no small task. Oftentimes, while sitting courtside for radio, I'm able to watch what the coaches are drawing up on special plays -- sometimes it looks like a road map in a traffic jam with lines all over the place. You can tell the players are looking, but not necessarily understanding what's in front of them.
Certainly this one aspect doesn't make a great coach, but it's a nice attribute to have and speaks to Carlisle's skill level.
Most of the Mavericks players seemed to love Avery Johnson, but Johnson often seemed to generate that love by giving players playing time, whether deserved or not. One of the single biggest criticisms you can make of Johnson was his inability to commit to a specific player rotation.
Carlisle has a reputation for using his players wisely and consistently. Look at this article (via Smartmarks) from the Associate Press, which outlines one of the main reasons he was hired in Indianapolis: To improve Isiah Thomas' poor player rotations.
It obviously remains to be seen how Carlisle can adapt to the Mavericks. But in terms of shoring up weaknesses left over from the Avery Johnson era, the team looks to have found the right person for the job.