One wouldn’t be met with much protest by stating that Mike Brown is likely on his way to winning the NBA’s Coach of the Year. With what he’s done to alter the culture in Sacramento and to keep the Kings up near the top of the conference for most of the season, it’s no wonder why he’s got the best odds to be conferred with the award.
He’s had a lot of fine moments from emphasizing accountability to fighting tooth and nail for his guys, but it was at the start of this week that one occurred which may be overlooked.
On Sunday, De’Aaron Fox was listed as questionable for Monday’s game against the Pelicans due to left hamstring soreness. When game day arrived, the all-star point guard was ruled out.
Prior to the contest, Brown said that while Fox wanted to play—and would have in a playoff scenario—it was his decision, as the head coach, to have Fox sit out, noting the two consecutive days off and the sensitive nature surrounding hamstrings.
“We have a lot of games bunched up into a short amount of time, so with (Tuesday and Wednesday off), I just felt it’d be best to sit him right now instead of turning something really, really small into possibly something really big or that can linger for the rest of the year,” the coach explained.
Most can probably agree that Brown made the prudent—almost obvious—decision, but in the grand scheme of things, that wasn’t the most positive part.
On multiple occasions, Mike Brown has made it clear that he knows this is a players’ league.
“My voice can only take them so far, and sooner or later it’s got to come from within,” he said, for example, after the win over Portland a few weeks back, which was the first game out of the all-star break.
That understanding is one of his strengths, but conventional wisdom dictates that a good coach puts his players in the best possible position to succeed. There are undeniable benefits to trusting your players—after all, it’s they who ultimately decide the game—but without any check on them, their competitive mindset is prone to put them in the opposite position.
It wasn’t that long ago that a foot bruise worsened over the course of a whole month, sending Fox into a horrid seven-game stretch in late November and into December before he sat out for two games. In that span, he was scoring 16.1 points on a meager 38.2% shooting from the field with just 4.0 assists to go along with it. (For reference, on the whole year, he’s averaging 25.5 points on 51.5% shooting with 6.3 assists per game.)
Beyond the individual stats, a depleted Fox negatively affected the rest of the team as well. On the year, the Kings average over 120 points per game, and that was the case in the first 16 games of the season, but in those succeeding 7 games where the effects of the foot bruise materialized, the team was averaging 115.7 points per contest, going 3-4 in that timeframe.
According to The Sacramento Bee, the foot bruise was sustained on November 3 when the team was in Orlando, but the point guard played on it for close to three weeks before it eventually compounded with other issues—a stomach bug as well as a thumb issue—and began to make a significant impact on his play.
It is De’Aaron Fox’s job to play and to lead, and thus it is part of that job to attempt to battle through discomfort and/or injuries. And that’s where the head coach comes in, that’s where the executive veto comes into play because it is part of their job to override when necessary.
The first time around with the foot bruise, when Mike Brown finally stepped in—a month after the original injury took place—he explicitly stated that “sometimes you’ve got to protect a player from himself.”
He probably should have stepped in to “protect” his guy sooner, but for however late his initiative took to arrive that first time around, he—to his credit—made sure not to make the same mistake twice, and that is the prevailing takeaway here.
Coach Brown, himself, showed growth.
And when it’s all said and done, if a team is to have any chance to get better and improve in response to the mistakes it makes, it helps immensely to have a coach who’s proven he can do the same, who can demonstrate some form of a retrievable model to achieve that growth.
If indeed it’s on the players to produce the optimum results, it’s on the head coach to set the right example.