On Wednesday, the 76ers named 2018-19 NBA G League championship winning coach Joseph Blair to its coaching staff for the upcoming season.
Before guiding the Vipers to a title, Coach Blair also steered his club to a league-tying best record of 34-16 this past season. While racking up wins is a key part of success, player development is also a huge component of what makes an NBA G League coach so valuable to their organization’s overall program. In Blair, Philadelphia has not only reeled in a winner, but someone who has proven able to nurture and help hone the skills of promising prospects.
Looking at the relationship between the Rockets and Vipers, Coach Blair played an important role and the proof is easy to pinpoint.
After first getting his feet wet and adjusting to life as a professional in 2017-18 (during which Coach Blair was also on staff), Houston assignee Isaiah Hartenstein blossomed into a versatile talent for R.G.V. this past season. The big man saw statistical improvements across the board in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks per game, as well as field goal percentage. When it was all said and done, Hartenstein’s 19.4 points, 14.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists and nearly 2 blocks per game helped him earn All-NBA G League Second Team honors before he ultimately went on to win 2019 NBA G League Finals MVP. As seen by the NBA success of 2017 G League Finals MVP turned NBA champion and Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam, the opportunity to continue climbing is there. One could say that Coach Blair sparked something special in Hartenstein, especially if his success translates more to the next level this upcoming season.
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) June 27, 2019
Speaking of improvements, Hartenstein wasn’t the only player who Blair helped make strides. Returning to the NBA G League after a two-season absence, Michael Frazier inched his way back from a difficult torn quad injury. Blair and the Vipers instilled faith in the swingman to play his game, and Frazier proved valuable as a 3 and D guy, averaging 16.9 points and shooting 38% from deep, while averaging 1.4 steals per game. He provided the lineup with balance, and by the time the minor league playoffs rolled around, it was clear his explosiveness returned too. It was around the same time (April 6) that the Rockets rewarded his efforts and signed him to an NBA contract. Following such an injury, it usually remains to be seen if a player can regain old form. Coach Blair gave Frazier the platform to prove that he was an NBA player despite his previous adversity.
The success stories continue across R.G.V.’s roster. Gary Payton II earned a midseason 10-day call-up to the Wizards and All NBA G League Defensive Team honors at season’s end. Dakarai Tucker emerged as a key late season contributor, averaging 17.8 points per game in the postseason. Such prowess catapulted Tucker into the NBA G League Elite Camp, providing the chance to show off that championship shine and strut his stuff in front of a bevy of NBA scouts.
Keeping development in the forefront isn’t the easiest thing for a coach to do. It may be more natural to rely upon veteran players and roll out those who have been in the rotation the longest. An NBA G League coach has to balance personalities, ensure that all players remain motivated while sharing playing time, all while attempting to win basketball games and keep an eye to find rising diamonds in the rough.
During Coach Blair’s R.G.V tenure, he managed to do that quite well. He has a championship trophy, continued individual player success, and now, an impressive personal promotion to show for it.