No coach outside of the Phoenix Suns organization has dealt with the players at the end of the Suns bench more than Iowa Energy head coach Nick Nurse.
He’s in his fourth year as head coach of the Phoenix Suns D-League affiliate and coached recently acquired Sun Earl Barron and second-year Sun Earl Clark at times last season.
Nurse is currently coaching Suns rookie Gani Lawal, who Phoenix sent down earlier in the month. In five games Lawal is averaging 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds in 23.0 minutes on 47.6 percent shooting.
ValleyoftheSuns caught up with Nurse on Monday to discuss how Lawal is faring in the D-League and what it was like working with Barron and Clark last season.
Mike Schmitz: What was your first impression of Gani?
Nick Nurse: First of all he got off to a great start in our opening game, he was really lively and active. When he’s playing like that he’s a force. I think he had something like 22 points and 13 rebounds in his first night so obviously he made a big impression.
Schmitz: What has he shown you after that first game?
Nurse: He falls into a category that a lot of guys playing in our league fall into. One of the biggest challenges our guys face at this level is consistent play. He’s been really up and down. He’s played great or played not so good and then he comes back and plays really good again. First of all his attitude’s been great. He’s been a great teammate. He’s worked hard. He’s trying to get better. He’s taking this very seriously because he understands he needs to improve on some areas. So we like him, he’s fit in. I think once he settles in these next few games here and tries to make consistency his goal, kind of making sure he’s really concentrating on the glass and really making sure he’ll finish once he gets the offensive rebound, I think his play will become more steady.
Schmitz: What are his biggest strengths and his biggest weaknesses?
Nurse: Obviously his biggest strength is his rebounding. He really can chase the ball on the glass. He’s got some good athleticism, he’s got some good hands and he’s got a pretty good sense of how to rebound so no question about it that’s his best NBA level thing that he can do right now. His weaknesses, he needs some experience, he needs more minutes. Any skill work he could do would be beneficial. He’s not a bad passer, but just any other shooting, taking the ball off the bounce and doing some more four-man type skills. He needs to develop those areas.
Schmitz: Does he have what it takes to be an effective and successful NBA player?
Nurse: First of all he’s got to be able to find himself a position. He’s got some raw athleticism, which is always a huge factor in the NBA. Right now he’s kind of a center in his development and he needs to develop himself out to the four. He’s just not really big enough to play the five in the NBA. The game’s moving away to the fours that shoot the three and play face up. He’s going to have to carve out a niche as one of those rebounding fours, one of those old-school, rugged rebounding fours that’s just such a force on the glass and develop his shooting over the years. He’s going to have to be able to play a little pick and pop, he’s going to have to show a face up jumper and we’re working on those things and I know the Suns are, too.
Schmitz: I know you coached Earl Barron. What are the Suns getting with him and why do you think he hasn’t found a home yet?
Nurse: I don’t know, I really, really like Earl. I’ve had a lot of time with him both as a person and as a player. He’s got some experience, really can shoot the ball for his size. He’s a hard worker, his IQ’s pretty high. I think he’s an intelligent player and he practices hard. I think he’s got a good motor. I’ve seen it from him every day for a long time. I’m kind of hoping he does well with the Suns here. I think he’s their kind of person and I really think he’s a good player. I think he can bring a lot to the team and hopefully he’ll get himself some time over there and play well like he did at the end of last season. I definitely think he’s an NBA player that can help a team.
Schmitz: Switching gears to Earl Clark. What was he like when you coached him?
Nurse: First of all, we loved him, man. He was great when he was with us. He really came in and did a lot of things for us. First and foremost he came in and cared about winning. He passed the ball, which I think is a really great skill he has. I think Earl’s got a really bright future. I don’t know what that means or where that’s going to be or any of that kind of stuff, but he’s just so long and so talented and can do so many different things. He’s got to find the right situation or get a break or whatever it is. He’s got a really bright future and we really enjoyed having him here. He’s just got to decide what his go-to position is or his go-to move or skill or whatever. I think he’s got so much talent there that he’s got to harness it a little bit.
Schmitz: He’s been a guy with a reputation of having a low basketball IQ and maybe not working hard enough. Did you see that at all?
Nurse: Nope, not really. I thought his IQ was pretty good. I think guys that are good passing have to have some level of understanding how to play. He tried to do what we wanted him to do. I thought he was very conscientious. He worked hard to make sure he understood the plays and before we’d go out on the floor he would double-check. We never had any problems with him in that area. From what I can understand he’s really become a good pro in terms of his work ethic. I think he’s got a bright future. I hope things work out for him.
Schmitz: So what is your communication like with the Suns organization? Do you talk a lot about how guys are progressing?
Nurse: Our relationship’s really good. Alvin is great. He’s always great to me, man, always has a lot of time for me. He checks in all the time on these guys to see what they’re doing, which I think is very unique. He’s always checking in with a phone call or a text to see how these guys are.