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What Would Dean Smith Do Today?

Just food for thought

NCAA Photos Archive
Dean Smith in action for Kansas

Time softens all wounds and so most Duke fans have followed Coach K and gotten past disdain for Dean Smith. In the end, he wasn’t a brilliant coach anymore but rather a feeble old man who had lost his memory, something that he honed to a razor’s edge and he could wield it like a weapon too. Even for Duke fans it was sad to see.

Bob Harris told us a story once of being on a flight with Smith and having a wonderful conversation with him, then telling him he had enjoyed it immensely but he hoped Duke beat his team senseless next time they played (senseless is a bit of license on our part - Bob is far too much of a gentleman to say that. However, the sentiment was not far off).

He said Smith laughed and said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Obviously he inspired very strong emotions in people and a lot of his players saw him as a father figure.

We’re somewhat curious though as to how Smith would have adapted to the modern game. He seemed a bit frustrated at the end, disliking a lot of what he saw in young players near the turn of the century, and he hadn’t even really had to deal with social media.

And as big a change as that has been, we’re more interested in how he would move from his traditional role assignment. He generally ran two big men in a high-low post, one forward who was more or less in a supportive role, one who was a scorer (meaning one of the other bigs) and a backcourt consisting of a point guard and a shooter. There were variations and accommodations, but that was basically the formula.

He was an excellent teacher of course and his teams were always prepared. And whatever anyone thought of Smith, no one doubted his intelligence.

So we started to wonder how he would adapt to a world where you have the concept of positionless basketball, particularly since his system was so focused on classic 1-5 roles.

If he had gotten someone like Magic Johnson in 1978, how would he have used him? What would he do with the Greek Freak? Given his mathematical gifts, how would he have reacted if he had Stephen Curry and Curry started launching 38 foot shots on the regular?

We already know Coach K’s philosophy about this. He’s always compared positions to a potted plant, saying that not boxing a plant (or player) in is the way to go

We have no doubt Smith would have adapted. It’s just that we wonder how. As we said he had a keen mind and a natural talent for math. We’d guess he would have probably told Curry that stepping in 10 inches would boost his shooting blah-blah percent. But a big guy who could shoot outside? Would he calculate the rebounds were more important?

Whatever he might have done, math would be a keen part of it and he would have certainly adapted. It’s just fascinating to wonder how.