A refreshingly blunt explanation for the Idaho pace

Updated: January 11, 2010

The NBA D-League’s Idaho franchise is aptly named.

The Stampede run, gun and make themselves quite a bit of fun for their fans to watch. The team scores 111.2 and allows 105.6 points per game, primarily as a result of the fact that its contests consist of an average of approximately 104 possessions on each side. For reference purposes, the Golden State Warriors lead the NBA in pace at 100.9 possessions per game.

The Stampede press in the fullcourt throughout the game every time out and look to get out and run in transition at every opportunity. Coach Bob MacKinnon developed his system with last season’s championship-winning Colorado 14ers team, and he has brought it successfully to Idaho, where the Stampede are off to a 11-6 start. In addition to the fast pace, MacKinnon came to Boise with an original explanation for the motivation behind all the running.

“The great thing about basketball is that it’s a player’s game,” MacKinnon said. “When I got the job last year, I figured ‘What’s most important to the players?’ The most important things are minutes and numbers.  Points, rebounds, assists, that kind of thing. As a coach I thought, ‘What can I do to take some of their concerns away and make it more about winning?’ I thought if we could get our possessions up, the way that we play will be determined more by possessions than by minutes.  If we get our possessions up, the numbers will take care of themselves.”

There has long been something taboo about publicly acknowledging player concerns with individual numbers in any sort of positive light. Many in the media – and I’m guilty as anyone in making it so – love our team values and profess wanting nothing more than to hear players tell us that they care solely about winning, that they don’t know their own stats and that the name on the front of the jersey is the only thing that matters (never mind that those same wonderfully team-centric players somehow also get skewered for being too vanilla with the press). I make no apology for preferring it that way. It stands to reason in my head that team games be about teams winning games first and foremost.

But as is so often the case, reality doesn’t parallel the ideal. For any number of reasons, including but not limited to beliefs about what leads to larger contracts and what will most help players stand out to get to the next level as well as a Shawn Marion-esque quest for some sort of respect that has greater value than simply being regarded as a contributing part of a winning team, numbers do matter to players. As long as that’s the case, conceding that truth and finding a way for players to obtain high volume stats while playing team basketball seems like a refreshingly honest approach.

Judging from the results last year in Colorado and the early returns in Idaho, MacKinnon’s players agree. Lanny Smith spoke glowingly of his coach’s offense during a recent chat in Boise, noting that the Stampede have only one rule on offense: “Open man gets the ball.” Smith talked about how on other teams, players get antsy if they don’t get the ball for two or three possessions, and it becomes obvious that they are going to shoot the ball as soon as they touch it. In Idaho, players know that four possessions without a touch could just as easily precede four possessions of catching-and-shooting. According to the floor general, MacKinnon laid out his strategy to the players at the outset of the season, and they loved his bluntness and took to it immediately.

“It starts with understanding that this is for the players, for the players to get their next opportunity,” MacKinnon said. “That’s why we try to play the way we play, so we afford them opportunities.”

His players are scoring and winning, and MacKinnon has a stat of his own to point out to them.

“We’ve done a little research on it,” MacKinnon said. “Over the past three seasons, 87 percent of players who were called up were on teams that were winning 55 percent of their games or better, so winning does matter. I think that’s another thing we’re trying to impress on our players. Teams don’t want you from a losing situation; they want you from a winning situation.”

This winning situation has already sent two players to the Association this season and played host to assignee Patrick Mills, though Anthony Tolliver has returned after a brief stint with the Blazers. And the coach has his players believing that if they keep doing things his (and thus their) way, there will be more wins to come and more players to go.


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  2. GOKC

    January 11, 2010 at 11:57 am

    I think this guy’s philosophy makes even more sense when you look at it from a sports psychology standpoint and realize that all of those team-first cliches are useless in the first place.

    Anyone can say that they only care about the name on the front or that they only want to win, but what does that mean on the court? Absolutely nothing. The best way for any team to win is to have every player playing to his individual best.

    The whole idea that individual focus and team focus are competing goals is absurd. A player improving his individual statistics – like shooting a higher percentage, rebounding more, improving his assist-to-turnover ratio – will make his team more likely to win. The stereotype of the “unselfish” player is a misnomer.

    This MacKinnon character knows his stuff.

    • Steve Weinman

      January 11, 2010 at 12:22 pm

      Yes, I thought you might enjoy this from a Dick McGuire-ish standpoint.


  3. Riding Pine

    January 12, 2010 at 4:37 am

    This guy’s just bringing SSOL to the D League.

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