Charlotte Bobcats point guard Ramon Sessions has had seven coaches in as many NBA seasons, so he thought he’d seen and heard everything.
But one September meeting with new Bobcats coach Steve Clifford shocked him.
Clifford was describing a game the Bobcats played against the Indiana Pacers in incredible detail – the score, how the game turned, minute details of the way the Bobcats and Pacers matched up that night.
“It was like he was on that staff,” Sessions recalled.
Sessions isn’t alone in the impression Clifford spent a massive amount of time studying his new players’ strengths and weaknesses. Any new coach would do that to some degree, but players at training camp are impressed just how locked Clifford is on highlighting each player’s best attributes.
Clifford told shooting guard Gerald Henderson, just after Henderson re-signed, that he was confident Henderson could hit another level offensively. Clifford said the key was emphasizing what Henderson does best and not sweating what he didn’t do so well.
“In order for them to play as well as they can play, it’s about a confidence level,’’ Clifford said at training camp Friday evening. “They’re going to feel most confident doing what they do best.
“So our communication has to be that: If I see things I think they’d do well with, I’ll throw it out. But the one thing I don’t want to do is put them in things they aren’t comfortable with.”
Henderson and Sessions find Clifford a particularly good listener; he doesn’t think he has all the answers and he solicits input constantly to fine-tune what they’re doing.
“Each player has a play just for their’’ optimum performance, Sessions said. “Not just a play that gets them the ball, but puts them in the spots they most want to be to score.”
Is this really all that different?
“Way more,” Sessions said. “This is my seventh coach in seven years and he’s way at the top in communication. I’ve been in his office more than any coach I’ve played for and that’s after one month. He’s a guy who won’t dog you out, a coach who listens. So you feel free to express.”
Henderson has played for two of the game’s smartest coaches in Mike Krzyzewski and Larry Brown. He sees an “efficiency” in Clifford’s approach that is crucial in a league in which a team can play four games in five nights.
“It’s smart. That’s what the NBA is – all about efficiency,’’ Henderson said. “We’re going to run plays for guys that make the most sense. Set it up for Al (Jefferson) in the particular block he wants. Let Kemba (Walker) have a heavy load of pick-and-roll. Me mid-post and Ben (Gordon) running through all kinds of screens.
“You’ve got to have a plan for your players to get the most out of them. If you’re just out there running plays that don’t make sense for your personnel, you’re not going to be a very good offensive team.’’