Seven games is hardly enough time to judge much in the NBA. The schedule is so compact this year, we have already seen one outlier in the Magic’s effort already — that Detroit game. Trends are beginning to emerge, and one of the good ones is from technical fouls.
J.J. Redick is the team leader in technical fouls. His technical foul was even somewhat inadvertent. He slammed the ball in frustration after a foul call. Only problem was he was on the floor and it seemed Redick’s throw was directed at a player. The whistle blew. Redick was able to laugh off the technical foul and avoid any further penalties.
Other than that, the Magic have been uncharacteristically quiet. It does not even seem that anyone else has come close to ticking off the referees enough to garner much attention.
And that is a big change.
Dwight Howard was the league leader in technical fouls the last few years and he was suspended two games last year for accumulating too many. Stan Van Gundy, although he claims he has never been booted from a game, is always fiery and is known for getting on players and referees alike. Both have been watching their reactions to referees, biting their tongues and trying to save the Magic some points.
It is a key part in changing the perception of both Howard and Van Gundy as well as the team at large. Referees are human, and if Orlando maintains a reputation for whining, officials might have a quicker trigger in penalizing Orlando players. Breaking down that perception will take some time for sure.
For Van Gundy, though, this is a result of a much larger reformation project on his part. Van Gundy took a lot of the time during the lockout reviewing his own performance.
“Cognizant that his hyper-critical ways can sometimes have a negative effect on his basketball team, Van Gundy went to work on his in-game demeanor and the way that he deals with players in pressurized situations,” John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com writes. “He said he has learned that at times he needs to back off and also that he should treat mistakes as ‘teaching opportunities.’ Van Gundy knows that he’ll never be able to totally bite his tongue along the sidelines and those around him don’t want him to change his passionate approach, but he is willing to try a new tact for the betterment of the Magic.”
A big part of that is turning over more of the leadership responsibility to veterans Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson and bettering communication wtih the team captains. A good example of this might have been when Howard made a suggestion in the huddle for a play for J.J. Redick based off a designed play for Hedo Turkoglu. Van Gundy liked the idea and implemented it at a critical time against the Raptors on sunday.
Things are always viewed through the Dwight Howard prism this year. While there seems to be a mutual respect between Howard and Van Gundy, there is also the sense that Van Gundy’s grating ways might, at some point, turn off Howard or his teammates. Howard has asked Van Gundy to be more positive in the past and Van Gundy has made efforts to make those changes with mixed results.
At the beginning of the year, Van Gundy took his goals to Howard for a long conversation. And Van Gundy is staying out of Dwight’s way on the off-court issues, trying to focus on his team and the task ahead of him.
Both players have the same goal and that is to win a championship. While Van Gundy promised last year to be more positive while still keeping his passion and demand for excellence, this year has seen a much bigger change from Van Gundy.
His demeanor during the games is a little bit different too.
Van Gundy is less demonstrative and actively trying to quietly teach rather than yell and scream so much. At least not publicly. Who knows what is going on behind closed doors.
The one thing Van Gundy has done — and he has done this several times in the past too — is mention players that need improvement specifically in media availabilities. He has criticized Ryan Anderson‘s defense in a constructive manner. He has noted that he needs more from Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson publicly. The same about Glen Davis following Wednesday’s game.
None of that should be surprising and the criticism has come across in a constructive way. the question is whether that constructive criticism and Van Gundy’s new approach will stick with his team.
Orlando has been through a lot even in seven games. At 5-2, it is hard to argue with the results so far. But the Magic have not hit a difficult stretch of the schedule either. Oklahoma City is the only 2011 Playoff team Orlando has faced. The road gets tougher when the Magic head out West next week too. This is when we will see how much Stan Van Gundy has really grown and changed his coaching approach.
To this point though, Van Gundy’s more communicative and calmer tone has allowed the Magic to play well. The mistakes from the Detroit game were corrected quickly in a dominant performance over Washington.
Will that last? Like preaching consistency with his players, Van Gundy too must strive for consistency and a commitment to this new process. It will be something to watch for the rest of the season.