Coaching staff plays big role in Denver Nuggets' success
George Karl puts trust in his assistants from top to bottom
Behind every great coach is a great team of assistants.
As the reigning NBA Coach of the Year and a two-time cancer survivor, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl would be the first to agree that his situation is no different.
Working long hours that would humble a first-year law associate, Karl’s coaching staff played a vital role in helping the Nuggets win an NBA team-record 57 games.
“Before cancer, I was much more dominant,” Karl said. “Now, I'm much more, for lack of a better phrase, democratic.”
Stability – in life and in coaching – is also big for Karl. His top three assistants, Melvin Hunt, John Welch and Chad Iske have been together for the past three years. Each brings unique qualities to the table.
Hunt, who has worked with players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Hakeem Olajuwon, is the ambassador.
“He has an ability to connect, communicate and address the problem with any player,” Karl said. “Melvin’s one of those guys that has a high basketball IQ and can communicate my desires very quickly to a player that might be in a bad place.”
Welch, a former point guard, is the gym rat. He will work out any player at any time.
“John is a lot better basketball X-and-O guy than he wants people to think he is,” Karl said. “His confidence and his comfort zone is on the court making players better. He communicates concepts, theories and skills and helps develop of all of those.”
Iske, whose NBA career began an intern in the Nuggets scouting department, is the young lieutenant.
“Chad is a guy that has learned the system from the very bottom,” Karl said. “When given responsibility and opportunity, he has done a great job. He’s fulfilled everything I’ve wanted for him. He has just been one of these guys who is hungry and thirsty for how he can do it better and be a big part of a successful situation.”
In addition to Hunt, Welch and Iske, Karl leans heavily on assistants Ryan Bowen and Patrick Mutombo, as well as special assistant Vance Walberg. Their primary duties include player development and advance scouting, but Karl often solicits their advice when putting together the game plan.
Video coordinator Nashion Harper and assistant video coordinator Jason Nygren also play important roles in day-to-day preparations, sometimes taking part in scout-team duties during practices and shootaround.
“George gives us a lot of opportunity to grow and we try and take advantage of it,” Iske said. “We know we have a good situation, and George is very good at spreading the credit amongst everybody when we have success.”
With 10 consecutive playoff appearances – nine under Karl – there has been plenty of success.
And as Karl would be quick to point out, it has been a collective effort.