Raptors' head coach: Why David Adelman is ready for the next step

Amit Mann is joined by Jake Shapiro of to discuss Nuggets assistant David Adelman, who is reportedly in the mix to become head coach of the Toronto Raptors.

Video Transcript

AMIT MANN: Why would the Raptors be interested in David Adelman becoming their head coach? A softball for you to start here.

JAKE SHAPIRO: There's a lot of smoke here for sure. And just to follow up, your guy from Canada, Jamal Murray, who we love in Denver-- and by the way, he was rooting for the Raptors a couple of years ago to win that title. He was very open about it.

AMIT MANN: Oh, yeah.

JAKE SHAPIRO: Jamal loves Canada. Jamal loves that area. He said today-- and obviously, there is the undercurrent of what's going on between David and Toronto-- that David's going to be an amazing head coach, that he has an unbelievable understanding of the process. And that even when things appear good on the surface, if something is like, oh, we're getting away from something, but it doesn't really matter that we're getting away with it, because we're winning-- so it doesn't matter that we're not following this principle.

David doesn't let that happen. So you have to keep in mind that the Nuggets have an interesting staff, to say the least. They have Ryan Bowen, who was a longtime player in the league, who's bounced around as an assistant a little bit. They've got Flip Saunders' son, Ryan Saunders. They've got David Adelman, who's the son of a head coach. Michael Malone is the son of Brendan Malone, who was a longtime assistant.

There's a lot of nepotism going on in the Nuggets staff, but a lot of these guys are just, like, born to be basketball people, and born to be basketball coaches. And that's how David is. And he certainly has the brain to be a head coach. And in talking with everyone around the Nuggets, he is so respected. And it seems like he's the next guy up. Malone has a coaching tree already. Jordi Fernandez seems like he might get this Phoenix job. It's going to be close. He's the top assistant for the Kings, who had an unbelievable season this year.

Chris Finch, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach, he's a Malone guy. And then you've got Wes Unseld Jr. with the Wizards. And if you're saying none of that sounds that good, it's because it hasn't been good yet. The fruits of Malone haven't been good yet, but I think David has a chance to be the best one. And you also have to keep in mind, he's only 42 years old.

AMIT MANN: He's going to be around for a while.


AMIT MANN: And the players love him, they really do love him. I mean, you mentioned Jamal Murray. There's quotes from KCP. There's quotes from Nikola Jokic saying that he's got a brilliant basketball mind, things of that nature, that he's ready to be an NBA head coach. And I mean, everything kind of checks out, especially with the influence he has had on the Denver Nuggets. And to detail that more, that's why I have you.

What has been his influence on the Denver Nuggets-- especially offensively, because that's one of probably the most miraculous aspects of their basketball style right now?

JAKE SHAPIRO: Yeah, I'm not going to pretend to know exactly what happened with Nick Nurse, but I will tell you the way, Nick Nurse is talked about here and around the league is he is one of the most respected head coaches in the league. I would expect David Adelman to come in and be as good of a head coach as Nick Nurse, day one. Does he have the potential to maybe be a greater coach in the long run? Maybe, sure.

You have to also keep in mind that everyone in the league right now is looking for the next Erik Spoelstra. It's the hardest task in the league. Erik Spoelstra's father worked for the Denver Nuggets. He was the GM of the Nuggets for a time. So there are some connections with, like, Erik Spoelstra's path and David Adelman's path, like, how they kind of work out. And he's a younger guy.

And if you think about Spoelstra's first year in Miami, everyone was trying to fire the guy because-- and bring back Riley, just to come down from the front office. And they stuck with Spoelstra. They stuck with Spoelstra through some of LeBron's demands. And he's turned out to be, by far and away maybe, the best coach in the league right now. So will it maybe be challenging for the first year for him, particularly because the Raptors seem to be stuck in this middle ground right now, yeah.

AMIT MANN: Oh, yes.

JAKE SHAPIRO: But you look at what he's done in Denver, what the Nuggets have done for quite a long time-- people don't remember this now, but Nikola Jokic was a second round pick for a reason. Jamal Murray fell to seven in the draft for a reason. Michael Porter fell to 15 in the draft for a reason. Aaron Gordon, a fourth overall pick, was traded to the Nuggets for almost scraps for a reason.

The Nuggets coaching staff has developed these players just as well as the Nuggets front office has found the correct people. So a lot of credit goes to David Adelman. And you talked specifically for the offense, David went, I think, 3 and 1 this year as a head coach, coaching in the absence of Malone, who had COVID at one point in December. And it was when the Nuggets were playing pretty good basketball.

And they started running some new actions with David that they are still using today, that they hadn't used under Malone, particularly a play everyone knows in basketball. It's the Spain pick and roll, where you're screening screener, and you're doing some stuff more creative. Well, if you're looking at a team that's more set up to run the Spain pick and roll, how about the best passing big man of all time, a scoring guard, and a 6'10'' shooter in Michael Porter Jr., who sets gnarly screens as well.

So you have the team that's perfectly positioned to run it. For whatever reason, the Nuggets weren't running it before. After that four game stretch, they started running it. They also did some interesting things when David Adelman took over on defense. Granted, they're the best on defense right now because it's the playoffs, and they're locked in. But in terms of the regular season, the whole 48-- the best defensive game that they played was against the Chicago Bulls this year.

And it was a game, I believe Adelman was responsible, or partially responsible for the defense, because Saunders was out with COVID. And they ran this trapping scheme, which is the same trapping scheme they used to stop Devin Booker and Kevin Durant against the Suns. So Adelman's-- I don't know who's responsible for these ideas at the end of the day, but it seems pretty telling that the couple of times Adelman has been tasked with stepping up that there have been some new ideas added to the forefront that have worked out very well for the Denver Nuggets.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, I found the quote from Nikola Jokic-- it was in my notes, I couldn't find it for a second. But he knows the answers. He reads, reacts. There's a longer quote, but that's essentially what he's saying. That's so important in today's NBA. I mean, we're watching these playoffs now. And there's playoff head coaches, and then there's regular season head coaches. And the playoff head coaches are the ones that can make those adjustments on the fly, who are a step ahead, who see trouble coming.

And they're snuffing in out, and they're getting their team ahead of it. That means so much. That could be the reason-- I mean, we're in this day and age now where it feels like coaching is being minimized a little bit, but those are the ways in which a coach can help you win a series, win a game, win a quarter when it really matters most. So that's what-- I mean, that's a great step for David Adelman.

There's another drill that I saw that he was responsible for, I believe this was from Mike Singer's article, where it's a five on zero exercise. The Nuggets put 18 seconds on the clock and disallow pick and rolls, and don't allow anyone to shoot until the last five seconds. So that's an example where he's saying, I mean, pick and roll, it's funny I'm talking pick and roll, because the Raptors just started using it, like, more so this season once they got Jakob Poeltl.

But they do that with movement, with player movement, and cutting. That is an action in its own way. You're trying to get the players in tune with, where should they be at every moment? And where are the avenues? And we're seeing how successful Aaron Gordon has been with Nikola Jokic and the cutting, the chemistry they have. I'm sure David Adelman had an influence there too.

JAKE SHAPIRO: Yeah, and you're talking about that drill. You look at the Nuggets. And for people that are really interested in the Raptors, and we assume if you're listening to this podcast, you are, watch the end of the Nuggets-Lakers game, game 4. Obviously, you know the two man action with Murray and Jokic is just unstoppable. Gordon calls them the best duo in the league. There's a reason for it.

But on top of that, there are a lot of times in the Nuggets system in which there's a jailbreak, and they need someone to hoist a shot with 5 seconds left. Jamal Murray is an elite shot creator and maker. Nikola Jokic, the most famous shot of these playoffs so far is him hitting the most absurd shot anyone seeing, one foot double step back with Anthony Davis draped over him. Those are not plays. Those are just simply putting your players in positions to succeed and them coming through.