When a candidate with minimal head coaching experience is hired it’s important to surround them with quality assistants that know what they’re doing. This isn’t specific to the fact that Ryan Saunders is the NBA’s youngest coach at 33 years old, but rather to it being the first time he’s running the show.
The Wolves hiring David Vanterpool as their lead assistant – and putting him in charge of the defense – is an excellent move on paper. Just like hiring Saunders, and everything else that comes along with the hiring of new President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas, the results won’t be known until years down the road. It’s unfair to pass judgement in an overwhelming positive – or negative – way right now. But it does look good.
“I do think it’s important for us to build the best staff around Ryan that we can,” Rosas said when Saunders was introduced last month. “We want him to be extremely successful in his role, but we want this to be a special place and I’ve said this, over time we want to have other head coaches come out of this staff. We want to have other general managers come out of this program and it’s going to take time and effort, but that’s a commitment to the guys that are sitting here today. We want to bring the best of the best to support their development, their growth and their opportunity to win in this program.”
He’s earned the opportunity to be the lead assistant in Minnesota, as well as the consideration that he got for the other head coaching openings across the league. Vanterpool was very highly thought of in Portland despite not being the team’s associate head coach, according to a league source.
Vanterpool has experience as an NBA coach, and has been a hot name around the NBA for potential head coaching openings during this job cycle. He interviewed in Cleveland and Phoenix for the openings, and his name had been mentioned for the still-vacant Memphis Grizzlies job. If all goes well in Minnesota, there’s a chance he might not stick around long. That’s something the organization would have to be okay with, and it’s even something that Rosas mentioned when Saunders was hired.
Vanterpool spent the last seven seasons of his coaching career in Portland on Terry Stotts’ bench. The Trail Blazers went from a 49-loss team in 2012-13 to a Western Conference Finalist this past season. While Vanterpool obviously wasn’t the head guy, he deserves a chunk of credit for the success that the Blazers. He helped to develop Damian Lillard into a perennial All-NBA player and fringe MVP candidate. Vanterpool also helped turn CJ McCollum into a formidable backcourt mate for Lillard.
He also built a meaningful relationship with Lillard throughout the course of his seven years in Portland. The star guard posted on Instagram after the news broke that Vanterpool would be leaving for Minnesota.
While that’s wildly important to a franchise that has plenty of players that need further development as the Wolves do, the important part about Vanterpool might be that he’s coming to town to run the defensive schemes that the Wolves will employ. The Blazers have had a top-10 defense in the NBA three times since the 2014-15 season, thanks in part to Vanterpool.
The approach that the Wolves are taking to fill out the coaching staff is following an interesting path. Rosas mentioned wanting to set up the staff similar to the way that a football team constructs a staff. The plan is to have an offensive coach, a defensive coach, a player development coach, and Saunders leading it all. Vanterpool fits the profile of someone that can absolutely handle the defense, and help with the player development.
The coaching staff in Portland wasn’t set up the same way that Minnesota’s will be. The way Portland operated the staff was more democratic than the set up that the Wolves are hoping to build. With that said, Vanterpool was more defensive-minded.
His strengths seem to fit where the Wolves have weaknesses. Minnesota has struggled to both develop players to the extent that they’ve needed to and to put forth better defensive outputs in order to be successful.
With the next move of hiring Pablo Priginoi as an offensive assistant now in place, the Wolves are seeing things come together nicely. Priginoi spent time in the NBA as a point guard for three different teams in the NBA and was most recently a player development coach with the Brooklyn Nets.
“Ryan’s going to be the leader of the program. And he’s going to have input in every area,” Rosas said in May. “So, for me, we’re going to get the best offensive coordinator. We’re going to get the best defensive coordinator. We’re going to get the best player development coordinator. They’re going to execute our vision together.”
The vision now seems to include coaches that have experience with player development, which needs to be a big emphasis in Minnesota, as it should be.
Priginoi’s hiring is an enticing one for a few reasons, with the player development aspect of it front and center. With the Wolves being connected to D’Angelo Russell earlier this week, it’s easy to connect the dots between those two. It’s worth noting that the Nets did make a move earlier this week to open up two maximum salary slots this offseason. That could make it easier for the Wolves to potentially be players for Russell, even if the road to get there is unlikely, it is in existence.