Ty Corbin – 2.5 Years In

Photo: Melissa MajchrzakPhoto: Melissa Majchrzak

Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin is probably the most talked about coach in the state of Utah, which is saying something. The Beehive State has a rabid college fan base and coaches for all the major football and basketball programs get their fair share of burn in the media. Corbin beats them out, though, because of the unique situation he’s in.

Corbin took over more than halfway through the 2010-11 season when Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan abruptly retired. Corbin then had a lockout season to deal with in 2011-12, but still managed to get Utah into the playoffs – only to get swept by the San Antonio Spurs. The following season, 2012-13, Corbin had to deal with balancing the expiring contracts of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, as well as playing lottery picks Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and Alec Burks. While that team lost their playoff spot after being defeated by the Memphis Grizzlies in the very last game of the season, Corbin still managed to take that club to a winning record as well.

This season has started out pretty rough.  Jefferson and Millsap walked away in free agency, Utah drafted Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert, and decided to enter rebuilding mode. With the prospect of a rebuilding year came the obvious plan to play the younger guys and new draft picks as much as possible in order to develop their talents. Now 16 games into the 2013-14 season, the Jazz are at a league-worst 2-14. Even with Burke missing a chunk of those games due to injury, Utah has had a healthy enough roster this year to probably win a few more games than they have.

A few mistakes are all that’s stood in the way of the Jazz picking up a few extra tallies in the win column. Last week against Dallas, after being down by more than 20 at one point, Utah brought it to within five. A series of fouls, turnovers, and other mistakes led to a loss. The same situation was seen against the Boston Celtics at the beginning of the year, as well as the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With so many close losses, and some questionable finishes to games, a share of the blame is being placed on Corbin for not coaching this team properly. Here’s the problem, though – how much blame can you really assign to a coach when his players are incredibly young and inexperienced?

This is a question that fans should really ask themselves before they start to create an opinion on whether or not Corbin is doing a good job as an NBA coach.  Corbin has had very little to work with the past few seasons, and he’s had to juggle quite a few different groups of players. Between veterans playing for one last big contract, to rookies trying to prove themselves, Corbin’s seen the whole gamut.

Corbin’s had a tough start to his coaching career and I believe that he’s actually doing a great job as a coach. It’s incredibly easy for us as fans to sit on our couches at home and wonder why Hayward takes a fadeaway 20-footer when the game’s on the line, as he did Monday night against the Bulls. It’s even easier to place the blame of that shot on poor coaching – but is that where the blame deserves to go?

Basketball is a team sport, obviously. But that means when a team wins, the whole team gets credit. Yeah, when the Heat win and LeBron goes for 40 or more, his performance gets attention. But the fact remains that without his teammates, not even LeBron can win a game on his own. The point I’m making is, when a team loses, the blame should be placed equally on players and coaches, just as when a team wins.

Now, the trickier part of evaluating Corbin’s performance doesn’t have anything to do with wins. The biggest thing most people are worried about right now is player development. This is where Corbin draws the most ire, as most any coach would in his same situation, due to the ease with which public opinion is shared these days.

Burke, Favors, and Kanter are the three players who are probably going to end up making the biggest impact on the Jazz in the long-term. If Hayward decides to re-sign with the Jazz come next July, then he will definitely be on that list. So with the future riding so much on these young kids, is Corbin doing a good enough job of developing them?

I think he is. Last season, a lot of fans cried for more time for Favors, Kanter, Burks, and Hayward. The funny thing is, now that those four players are all seeing career highs in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, and pretty much every other statistical category, fans are complaining about the losing. Of course losing isn’t fun, and watching the team you root for struggle isn’t exactly the ideal season. It’s from these losses, the struggles, the late-game collapses and mistakes, that this group of players will learn and grow – with Corbin teaching them along the way.

From what we’ve seen so far this season, it’s safe to say that lessons are still being learned, both on the players’ side, but also on Corbin’s part. It’s important to remember that Corbin is only two and a half years into his job as a coach, and this is only the second full season he’s had to learn for himself. Coaches aren’t infallible by any means, and they’re definitely accountable for a team’s performance – but Corbin is almost just as new at this coaching thing as Kanter is to the NBA. Yes, Corbin spent about seven years as an assistant to Sloan here in Utah, but making the jump from assistant coach to head coach is a huge change. Imagine going from being an adviser to a CEO in one fell swoop – that’s basically what Corbin did. With such a rough situation, he’s definitely needed to take some time to adjust.

This season is a proving ground for Corbin, though, as it is for a few others on the Jazz. While wins aren’t expected, Corbin is expected to develop the talent currently on Utah’s roster. Corbin needs to prove that he can establish a system  and run a tight ship. With all the new faces, and young players, getting the Jazz to that point is going to take some serious work. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will the Jazz be. Fans are probably tired of this word already, but patience is king right now. If the All-Star break rolls around and Utah still seems to be a ship without much of a rudder, then some concern is valid. Until that point, Corbin deserves a chance to implement his style of basketball with a (finally!) healthy roster, and see where it can take the Jazz.

When the season ends, the wins and losses aren’t going to matter. What’s going to matter is how well Burke, Kanter, Favors, and Burks have performed. I think Corbin can do a great job with this team, and I feel as if he’s finally settling into his role as a head coach. It’ll be very interesting to see where the Jazz end up in terms of development come April.

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