In this week’s coaching conversation, Scott Morrison, an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics, joins The Basketball Podcast to discuss ideas to be a better assistant coach, and lessons from being a head coach in the NBA summer league.
On June 21, 2017 Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics head coach named him as an assistant coach. Morrison joined the Celtics after spending the three previous seasons as part of the organization as the head coach of the team’s NBA G-League affiliate, Maine Red Claws. During his remarkable rookie campaign at the helm (2014-15). Morrison led Maine to a franchise record 35-15 record, and the top spot in the NBA D-League Playoffs. His hard work resulted in accolades – Morrison won the Dennis Johnson Coach of the Year Award, given to the top coach in the NBA D-League. Prior to the 2014-15 season, Morrison was with the Red Claws as a player development coach for the 2013-14 campaign.
Morrison has an extensive coaching background in the collegiate ranks and on the international level. Before joining the Red Claws, Morrison was the head coach at Lakehead University (Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada) for 11 years. Internationally, Morrison has served as an Assistant Coach on the Men’s U-18 and U-19 Canadian National Junior Teams, securing a bronze medal at the 2012 U-18 FIBA Americas tournament in Brazil, a sixth place finish at the 2013 FIBA World Championships in the Czech Republic and a silver medal at the 2014 U-18 FIBA Americas Championship in Colorado Springs.
“The biggest thing about being an assistant that I’ve learned is when you get assigned your role or get put in your lane, just try to explode through that lane as much as you can without . . [getting] into someone else’s job or role . . as long as I have my role clearly defined then I can just run with it.”
[On managing the highs and lows of coaching] “The only thing I found . . that worked for me is when you did have something good happen or you did have a big win or even a great practice . . just try to take an hour or two hours . . and enjoy it before worrying about the next thing.”
“While the players are certainly the focus for development, I think the summer league can be a focus for coaches to develop as well.”
[On defining roles of assistant coaches] “We broke the game down into half-court offense, half-court defense, transition both ways, and out-of-bounds stuff . . I had a different guy look after each of those areas. We would meet . . and talk about what we wanted to do . . then post-practice, post game, those guys took film from their specific category and sent it to me and the video coordinator.”
“I found in the past, you come into these situations with only two or three weeks to prepare . . and you talk about something the first day and then you forget about it because there’s so much stuff to get in . . this way [with defined assistant roles], those guys that are responsible for their own areas also carried that over into practice.”
“That kind . . of short [preparation] window . . forces you to do some things that I think are important and maybe don’t get the same priority in a long season.”
“Offensively, you’ve got to keep things simple . . I believe in getting quick attacks . . focusing on teaching spacing and the right reads, and finishing as opposed to elaborate play calls and offensive series.”
“In summer league, we really cut it [scouting] back . . we did a little bit in terms of personnel . . their best two or three guys and how they might score but most of the time was spent on how to improve our own stuff and improve our own players.”
“We had four or five guys that were probably going to be on our roster in the fall so it was very important for them to . . have a sense of what is expected of them from a culture standpoint, a defensive standpoint . . the effort and the terminology that we expect and use.”
“I went into the summer league with the same list of priorities we had . . with the G-League . . those were: provide an environment and a culture that is conducive to improvement and . . the second, and most important goal, was player development . . especially introducing concepts and reads, spacing and offensive terminology . . and thirdly, getting those guys some experience . . so they can apply those skills.”
[On building team culture in the summer league] “First of all . . it helps when Coach Stevens comes down the first day and says these three things are what we care about, this is what you’re expected to be if you’re a Celtic.”
“When we had individual meetings with the players . . the thing we harped on was that the scouts and GMs and coaches in the stands . . they aren’t necessarily looking for the next Kobe Bryant, they’re looking for someone to help them win and, in the case of the NBA, it’s probably going to be a bench role.”
“[Scouts, coaches, GMs are looking for] . . guys that can move the ball, who can play defense, who can do the little things on the floor and play a role . . but also are a positive guy on the bench or off the floor with body language and things like that . . [they] are looking for someone who can play five minutes a game, knock down an open three and move the ball.”
“The two biggest adjustments for them [rookies in the NBA] would be . . the length of the season and the daily grind . . taking care of your body, things like that and then the other big adjustment would be the fact that you have a little bit more money and a lot of people wanting to get a piece of it.”
“To be a great assistant coach, you have to not only stay in that lane, but you have to have an incredible attention to detail and look for the small details in your work but also in players’ games.”
“I think the summer league helped build that relationship . . that you really need to get guys to trust you on the court and help them improve . . it’s nice to have a head start on that but also . . on the terminology and the culture and things like that.”
“If I was going back to high school or college, I would definitely build everything around player development . . On the offensive side, as opposed to spending a whole block of time teaching sets . . I’d keep it simple and focus on gaining an advantage, making the right reads when you have an advantage, and finishing the play.”
[On utilizing video] “If I want a guy to improve a certain skill, I’ll probably go search for other players doing that skill, as opposed to just trying to teach it verbally or by me demonstrating it.”
“The thing I like about the individual film sessions is sometimes it’s obvious that was a great read . . but other times it’s like ‘What were you thinking here? . . What were you trying to do here?’ . . and oftentimes, the answer will teach me something.”
Selected Links from the Podcast
Click below to listen on:
1:00 – New Perspective of Being an Assistant Coach
3:00 – Approaching the Head Coach with New Insights
4:00 – Approaching Easier as a Head Coach at G-League
6:00 – Balancing the Highs and Lows
7:00 – Knowing he will be the Summer League Head Coach
9:00 – Mindset for his Coaching Staff
11:30 – Challenges in Managing his Coaching Staff
13:00 – Roles for his Coaching Staff
15:00 – Differences between Defensive and Offensive Inbound
19:00 – Freedom as a Head Coach in the Summer League
21:00 – Actionable Ideas
22:00 – Focus and Priorities of his Team
24:00 – How He Develop Culture to the Team
27:00 – Hardest Part of a Rookie Adjusting to the NBA
28:30 – His Hardest Adjustment From College to Pros
30:00 – How He Evaluate Himself as a Coach
32:30 – Relationship Building of his team in Summer League
34:00 – Preparation time in the Summer League
36:00 – Player Development
39:00 – Best Practices For Using Video
41:00 – Team Perspective in Team Film
44:00 – Is Team Film Still Part of the Culture Nowadays?
48:00 – What we don’t know about the Boston Celtics
50:00 – Conclusion
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