Coaches are micromanagers almost by nature. They want control, they want to set things up.
So in crunch time, when their team needs a bucket, they almost inevitably call a timeout to set up a play. Of course, that also lets the defense make substitutions and set themselves up as well, but coaches want that control.
However, teams perform better when no timeout is called. As we have seen Phil Jackson do, as Erik Spoelstra does at times, among others.
• In games within 5 points in the final five minutes, teams have an eFG% of 44.9 with no timeout, 38.1 after a timeout.
• In games within 5 points in the final three minutes, it is 43.4% eFG% without a timeout, 38% with one.
• In games within 3 points in the final minute, teams shoot 39.1 percent without a timeout, 36.4% with one.
• In games within 3 points and 9 or fewer seconds remaining, teams shoot 31.1% eFG% without a timeout, 25% with one.
And in all this data, to make it an apples-to-apples half court comparison, Mason removed fast break points so we are just talking half court sets. Those fast break buckets are another key reason to not call a timeout, to get the play off before the defense is set.
Miami’s Shane Battier told Mason this:
“I was born and raised in the Coach K school of ‘in closing situations, not taking a timeout,’” Battier says. “Defenses aren’t as prepared after a late bucket to tie or take the lead because emotionally teams aren’t as prepared to get that stop. If you call timeout you allow a team to set their defense, focus in. Everyone knows exactly what everyone runs anyway….
“Coaches want to show that they’re worth the millions that they’re getting paid, which is fair. And the public would say, “He drew up a great play, he’s earning his money.”
John Wooden used to be pretty passive on the bench, saying he did his coaching in practice and let the players have the game. Which was one of a handful of things he had in common with Phil Jackson. They liked to let guys play it out.
Part of it is personnel — if I can get the ball in the hands of LeBron James/Kevin Durant/Chris Paul/Stephen Curry then not calling a timeout and letting them play it out makes a lot of sense. If Brandon Jennings has the ball, maybe some structure is a good idea.
But maybe in the end coaches should trust their players a little bit more.
Everyone would like that… except the league’s television partners.