In the NBA playoffs, experience matters. FiveThirtyEight found that championship-winning rosters almost always have an above-average tally of career playoff minutes played. It’s such a good predictor of success that it’s a part of our NBA projections.
This year’s Dallas Mavericks don’t have much of that postseason experience on their roster. They ranked 14th among this year’s playoff teams in previous career postseason minutes weighted by minutes played, ahead of only the Timberwolves and Grizzlies. But they do have that experience somewhere else: on their staff.
As their best-of-seven second-round series against the Phoenix Suns moves to Dallas for Games 3 and 4, the Mavericks — down 2-0 — are counting on the championship pedigree of their coaching staff to help swing the momentum in their favor. Starting from the top with head coach Jason Kidd, the coaches boast an impressive number of titles won — as coaches and as players.
Kidd won an NBA title as a player with the Mavericks in 2011 and as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020. His staff includes five assistants with rings in either the NBA or WNBA: Igor Kokoskov, an assistant on the 2004 Detroit Pistons; Kristi Toliver, who won two WNBA titles as a player, with the 2016 Los Angeles Sparks and 2019 Washington Mystics; Jared Dudley, who won as a player with the 2020 Los Angeles Lakers; Greg St. Jean, who was a player development coach and advance scout with the Lakers in 2020; and Darrell Armstrong, who has been with the Mavericks since the 2008-09 campaign, winning the ring alongside Kidd in 2011.
That wealth of experience stacks up well against the seven other playoff teams. Aside from the Bucks, all of whose current assistants coached the team during last year’s title run, the Mavericks have the most assistants1 with championships on their resumes.
And if we look only at assistants whose titles came with a team other than the one they’re currently on, the Mavs easily lead the pack: Their four assistants who won NBA or WNBA titles before they came to Dallas are twice as many as the next remaining playoff team.
“Coach Kidd being a top 75 player of all time, a champion, that holds a lot of merit with people especially our players,” said Peter Patton, the Mavs’ shooting coach. “Duds, Greg, KT — they have championships. … Winning is very, very hard to do at any level, so when you have winners on your team that believe in winning, I think it’s contagious and everyone starts to follow that line.
“That’s what that championship pedigree does,” he said. “People want to get there and these [coaches] have been there, so you jump in line and say, ‘let’s go.’”
With the Mavs in the second round for the first time since their 2011 title run, the coaches are focused on finding ways to slow down the Suns. That staff also includes assistant Sean Sweeney, who had coached alongside Kidd in Milwaukee and Brooklyn; God Shammgod, a player development coach; and Patton, who has also worked for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“This is all hands on deck — the coaching staff and the players have all made this journey successful,” Kidd said. “It’s not one person who does this. Everyone has a responsibility and everyone has continued to do their part, that’s what makes this team special.”
Head coaches have to oversee so much that the support of assistant coaches is a necessity, Armstrong said. “Working out the players, watching videos with the guys, listening to Luka [Dončić] yell and throw a ball at you,” he said, laughing. “Those are things that are so important, coaches having a relationship with the players.
“Our role is very important. I never take it for granted. Our chemistry has been great. That’s one thing J has been talking about; he’s always told me it’s not a bad question; we all continue to learn,” Armstrong said. “We try to teach the players, but as coaches we also are still trying to learn as well. I have learned a lot not only from J Kidd but from Sean, Greg, Igor — these guys have all been coaches for a long time.
“It’s fun to continue to learn this game, learn the schemes, new drills because of our defensive scheme — it’s been great to see and be a part of it. I enjoy it.”
From the start of training camp last fall, Kidd gave every coach open responsibilities on the team, Toliver said. “It’s how can we all work together and put the pieces together. So that’s kind of been the way it is then and now in the postseason, learning one another a bit better and understanding where our strengths and weaknesses are and everyone filling in the gaps.
As the only female assistant on the staff, Toliver holds a special place. “She is not shy or scared to say anything. She’s played the game,” Armstrong said. “She’s won championships; she understands and knows how to play and she knows how to win.”
Toliver said during this time of the year — with a playoff run in full swing — the coaches who have been there share with the players how things change, from the noise and volume in the arena that they’ve been playing in all year to their own personal feelings as the stakes rise.
“I like to ask them a lot of questions,” she said. “Emotionally, how are you handling the experience? What are you feeling like? What’s going through your mind? Is there too much hype?”
The playoffs take things “to a whole other level,” Dudley said. “We’re in here day and night, understanding concepts, offensively, showing a player this is where you are struggling, how you can become better.
“I pride myself on being the guy who makes adjustments. I have the A, B and C of adjustments; Hey, I played against this guy, if he has it going do this; if he doesn’t, do this,” Dudley said. “… I was teammates with [Chris] Paul and [Devin] Booker, so a lot of these guys, I know their tendencies.”
Will all that experience on the sideline help a team still new to the pressures of a second-round series? Time will tell, starting with Game 3 tonight. But being able to draw from their knowledge can’t hurt.
“They made us better,” Dončić said of the staff. “I am really happy to have them.”
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