Three games in with a full Las Vegas slate ahead, Summer League head coach Malik Allen took some time to chat about his coaching experience and some of the players on the roster.
Couper Moorhead: What do you get out of coaching Summer League? Naturally you’re working to further your coaching skills, but presumably there’s also the benefit of keeping connected to guys that you’re going to be working with player development-wise throughout the year.
Allen: There’s so many great, really, really good coaches in our league, sometimes they don’t even get this opportunity. I was just really thankful between last year and this year, just being able to do it for two years. I just kind of tapped into it, this is what I love to do. It’s having an opportunity to coach and it means a lot from the standpoint of I’ve been in a lot of these guys position [playing Summer League]. I think it’s a little bit more sentimental. I was in their shoes in terms of just trying to make it. So there’s just that added layer to it for me. It’s great to be a part of and hopefully help.
Last year, my first year, you’re just trying to stay focused on a couple of things. You try not to get too much out of the box and try to conquer the world. This year it’s a different group. It feels like the weight’s taken off. It’s a lot more teaching in a lot of ways. Which is great for me because it helps me keep building that part. From the standpoint of my coaching career, just getting better. Being able to experience last year and watch Spo get to work, having the opportunity to learn. You try to apply it to this year and help these guys try to grow in the NBA game. It’s helping to further my own coaching chops.
One of the one of the new guys is Nikola [Jović], one of the very few international players the franchise has selected and kept on draft night. So at least for a HEAT player, the transition he’s currently going through is a little different. He mentioned there that you’re the first English speaking coach, running practice in English he’s ever had. It’s a new, different style of play. How tough is this transition he’s making and everything he’s been going through from getting drafted to this point?
My gosh, it’s a massive transition for him. The first full day of practice, and especially the second day, you can just tell his world was spinning. He’s played in Europe, a certain way in a totally different environment at that. You’re also talking about a young kid who’s now making a transition not only just basketball wise, but just from a fundamental living standpoint of being in a totally different place. To be honest with you, I really think he’s handled it beautifully. He’s really done a great job of being open to the learning and coaching. We’re throwing a lot at him, but it’s sort of on purpose because he’s got a really good IQ. He’s got a good head on his shoulders. He does have an understanding of maybe a different style of play, but he also has a good understanding of exactly what we’re trying to do. On both ends of the floor, it’s just a matter of getting his brain up to speed doing it naturally. Which will take time.
I keep trying to reiterate that part to him. He’s young and he’s competitive and he wants to be really good, right now. But he sees it and he has an understanding of it, which is a big, big plus that a lot of guys don’t have. Now it’s just a matter of the more experience he gets, the more familiarity he gains he’s just going to get more and more confident. I think he’s done a really good job. It’s basically been a week of trying to learn NBA basketball.
One guy who kind of flies under the radar is Haywood Highsmith. He doesn’t have a game that’s really going to pop if you’re watching on television. In some ways you could compare him to PJ Tucker, where if you put PJ into Summer League games, he might not pop either. But with the way the main roster is constructed right now, Haywood has a big opportunity ahead of him. Like a lot of guys that have been in the HEAT summer program before, he could go from Summer League to being in the rotation. That opportunity might be there. How do you think he’s handling that? When a player has that opportunity, what do you as a coach want to do for them? How do you guide them through what might be the biggest moment of their career?
I think the biggest thing for H is he’s a little older. He’s played in G-League. He’s got NBA experience. He’s smart and picks things up really quickly. That’s always a big bonus.
Right now it’s a little bit of a different role. You’re not playing with Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler and those guys. Which is not taking anything away from [the Summer roster], you were playing with All-Stars. There are two sides of it. The first part is working on leadership. A lot of times you step into a different role, a little bit bigger role in terms of your leadership, and all of a sudden, you gain more confidence. The other thing is to be aggressive. At the same time, I’m not going to ask him to run pick-and-rolls. That’s not what he’s going to be doing. That would be making him an unbelievable disservice. That’s not a knock, it’s just more time. More time in the system. How he’s playing, it’s not about scoring 20 a game. If it happens, it happens. We hope he has some really good offensive success, but that’s not what’s going to be designed for him. He’s got a pretty good handle what his role within the offense is going to be no matter who he’s playing with.
As long as he’s just feels comfortable and confident things are going to take care of themselves. I’m not going to walk out of a Summer League game and look at the box score and judge his performance based on that. It’s going to be, how do you do defensively, on the ball and off the ball. Is he helping other guys on the floor with his leadership? Is he continuing to make the offense work? You mentioned PJ and one of the great things PJ did was he kept our offense moving at times. H studied that all year. There are going to be games where that ball is coming to him and he’s going to be in position to score. Then there are going to be games where he is the second option and he is going to be in an action where he’s going to wind up helping the next guy. There’s a lot of parallels between the way he’s playing here and what he has to do regularly.
You’re getting a couple of other guys back for Vegas. One of them is your guy in Omer [Yurtseven]. When he got thrust into minutes during the season, Spo kind of brought him along slowly. You guys were playing a lot of zone at first and just to get him comfortable defensively and then you eventually start playing a little bit more man. Now that he has that experience at NBA speed what do you think he can work on defensively? Within what his game is and his size? Where can he improve defensively to earn or at least make himself available for more minutes?
One of the things I like seeing is him seeing plays develop. That happens with experience and playing a lot at our level. You look at the guys who can see the situation on the defensive end develop ahead of time and are ahead of it. Next thing you know, they’re barking out calls to help our guards handle it and defend a pick-and-roll. That’s experience and just imparting on him what situations you’re going to be in. He had some really great possessions where he just made some plays outside his area and then he comes back and has a great block or is altering shots at the rim. The big thing for him is how do we keep closing the gap and make more and more of those plays? We don’t want people getting to the rim, but it’s the NBA. It happens. Can you be something of a rim protector back there that can really not be just a shot blocker, but you can alter shots. He’s big and he’s quick on his feet, so he’s got some athleticism and tools. He can do that. He’s going to rebound the ball. He can do that. It’s just a matter of how can we make an impact before the shot actually goes up?
You’re not even halfway through Summer League, but is there anybody on the roster that we haven’t talked about who has really popped or your caught your eye or you think is doing a really good job behind the scenes that people haven’t seen in the games?
I think in terms of opportunity, Marcus [Garrett]. Unfortunately his season was cut shot, he had a wrist injury and surgery. He didn’t play in San Francisco. He’s still working his way back from that. But he played today [in a scrimmage] and he was he playing in all the practices. He’s got a really unique skill as an on-ball defender that a lot of people won’t have. A lot of people aren’t going to be willing to exert that energy. He had some good moments for us. He wasn’t necessarily scoring the ball but he’s got a good feel off the ball in terms of his cutting. He can get you into offense. I’m not going to sit here and say he’s a true point guard, but he can get you into offense and he’s really coachable. From that standpoint, it gives him a chance. And defensively he’s really dynamic. He can put people in the box and he’s got this sort of elusiveness. Sometimes you don’t feel like he’s there and next thing you know he’s poking the ball from you. He’s a tough, competitive kid when he gets between the lines. We’re just happy to have him back and looking forward to him playing some games for us.
I think it’s a great opportunity for Javonte [Smart] to keep growing and [Mychal Mulder] in terms of sort of a veteran presence. We’ve had a couple of kids who have made an impact. Kyle Allman has been good for us. He got some experience [overseas]. He’s a tough kid and can get into the paint. I don’t want to cut anybody short but those guys in particular have had some good moments for us. But outside of that, with Marcus I’m excited to see what he can bring.