Melvin Hunt, most recently an interim head coach for the Denver Nuggets, has joined Rick Carlisle’s staff, the Mavs coach confirmed.
Hunt, 45, led the Nuggets to a 10-13 game in 23 contests at the helm during the 2014-15 season. Before that, he’d coached and scouted in the Rockets, Lakers, and Cavaliers organizations. He played four years at Baylor University and began his coaching career at Temple High School in Temple, Texas.
Carlisle announced the move immediately before the NBA Draft Thursday night, and confirmed the move Monday.
“Melvin Hunt will be joining us as our lead assistant on the bench,” Carlisle said Thursday, adding, “He’s in town, and we’re excited to have him on board.”
Hunt, who Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post describes as “wicked smart,” “humble” and a “talented motivator,” will take over the position previously held by longtime Mavs assistant Monte Mathis, who, after 10 years with the organization, will join Orlando’s staff where he’ll work with new Magic head coach Scott Skiles. Mathis had served as the “defensive coordinator” since Dwane Casey accepted Toronto’s head coaching job following the 2011 title run. Now, the job is Hunt’s.
“Rick was one of the first guys, a while ago, to say, ‘Melvin, you’re a head coach, I view you as a head coach,'” Hunt told Denver Stiffs, an SB Nation blog covering the Nuggets.
In that same article, Hunt cited Carlisle’s position as the president of the NBA Coaches Association as one of the reasons he’s most excited to work under him.
“He and I have developed a relationship over the years. We’ve gone down the road a little bit as far as interest in one another, and the dude is a champion, as well,” Hunt told Denver Stiffs. “He’s bigger than just coaching in basketball. He’s part of the administration in basketball for all the coaches. He helps manage us.
“When you’re coaching under him, you’re grinning everyday. I’ve already spoken to my family a little bit about it. I’m just ready to sacrifice, kind of get under his wing, and glean as much as I can, selfishly, as a coach in my position. I’m looking forward to growing under him, and giving my contributions because I do see myself as a head coach.”
Hunt’s immediate job will be to improve a defense that finished 18th in defensive rating during the ’14-’15 season, per NBA.com, and 22nd the season before. No defense has won a championship ranked outside the top-10 in defensive rating since the 2000-01 Lakers. Last season, a rebuilding Nuggets squad finished 26th in defensive rating, but Denver did improve to 21st in DefRtg after Hunt took over as interim head coach.
The Mavericks drafted Justin Anderson in part to improve the team’s defense, and the Dallas front office has made it clear that improving across the board on defense is a priority this summer. Last season, Dallas was at its best when it moved from defense to offense, pushing the ball off a missed shot or turnover. Doing so often force opponents into difficult mismatches against players like Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki, or Chandler Parsons, and the Mavs were quick to capitalize.
Hunt recognizes the advantages that come with that style of play, particularly as it relates to the modern-day NBA, where “position-less basketball” is the topic du jour.
“Position-less basketball — I’ve said it and I’ve said it in Denver — it starts with your defense,” he told Denver Stiffs. “When you have a group of guys that can switch, that can all defend the post, that are pretty good on the perimeter defensively, it’s going to make your offense so much better. Because now, when (Warriors forward) Draymond Green is defending a guy in the post and he finds a way to get a stop and a rebound, now he’s pushing the basketball, and now those great shooters are free without the ball to get open shots.”
This is where Hunt will come in handy on the defensive side of things. His input, along with what the front office already has planned out, could shift the Mavs’ defensive philosophy more toward a switch-heavy, “position-less” brand of basketball that wreaks havoc in both halfcourt situations and, particularly, in the open floor. That plays to Chandler Parsons’ strengths, in particular. The goal is not only that the Mavs will play better defense, but that by doing so, offense will become even easier.