There’s an old-school saying: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Whether that means the person who speaks up gets the attention, the person who asks for help receives help, or just the person who most obviously needs assistance gets it, the term can apply to everything from school to dating to self-promotion.
In basketball, it seems the grease doesn’t necessarily go to the squeaky wheel, but rather, the biggest wheel.
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a trend among the NBA’s young big men: More of them have personal tutors. The Lakers hired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar almost exclusively to work with Andrew Bynum. The Sixers used to pay Moses Malone to work with Sam Dalembert (apparently he threw his meaty hands up in despair, ’cause I haven’t seen Moses around lately). Dwight Howard has two mentors — Patrick Ewing as a full-time assistant coach in Orlando, and more recently, Hakeem Olajuwon for some offseason tweaking. And today I read that my Pacers have enlisted Bill Walton to drop his wisdom on The Hibbeast.
At the same time, you rarely hear of guards and wings getting the same kind of 1-on-1 teaching from NBA legends. Every NBA player has their guy who they go to for offseason training — a former high school coach, a longtime personal trainer, a celebrity fitness guru like Tim Grover — but you don’t hear about, say, Jamaal Wilkes mentoring Corey Brewer, or Tim Hardaway taking Derrick Rose under his wing.
It makes sense. Any ex-high school guard can coach a perimeter player, but only a handful of people in the world understand what it’s like to be seven feet tall and athletically coordinated enough to succeed at the NBA level. That makes the pool of prospective tutors small and visible. Even legendary big-man coach Pete Newell, while not an NBA-caliber talent, was a post player at Loyola Marymount.
Even though the “true center” isn’t as prominent in the NBA game as it once was — and may become even less prominent in the future — there will always be talented and promising 7-footers on NBA rosters in need of a special teacher to harness their skills and learn go-to moves.
Who among today’s active NBA big men would make good coaches down the road?
Rasheed Wallace immediately comes to mind. Say what you want about his mindset and work ethic (especially later in his career) — and I’ve said a lot — but everyone who’s played with or coached ‘Sheed will vouch for his basketball IQ and grasp of the fundamentals. If he has a desire to pass along his knowledge following retirement, I could see an NBA team or two interested in having ‘Sheed tutor their next project.
Tim Duncan would be amazing, but I feel like as soon as he’s done playing he’d going to disappear to some tropical island and never touch a basketball again.
Kurt Thomas is still employed at 37 years old because he’s a master of the “little things” every big man should know: setting screens, boxing out, defending the post, defensive rotations, etc. He’d command immediate respect from young players not just for his long NBA career, but for that crazy glint in his eyes. Thomas could be a 1-on-1 NBA tutor or a good high school coach if he wanted.
Pau Gasol, Emeka Okafor, Theo Ratliff, Brad Miller, Udonis Haslem, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Kevin Love, Elton Brand and Marcus Camby are others I could see with a future in coaching and/or 1-on-1 instruction.
Who could you see being a big-man coach someday?