Former Rockets assistant Brett Gunning on game planning for Steph Curry and the importance of competitiveness

Brett Gunning
Dec 21, 2019; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Houston Rockets assistant coach Brett Gunning against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Franchise Sports had the opportunity to catch up with Brett Gunning, former assistant coach of the Houston Rockets and Villanova Wildcats. During Coach Gunning’s 25-plus years coaching basketball, he had the opportunity to work with Jay Wright, Kyle Lowry, Mike D’Antoni, Kevin McHale, and James Harden.

During the conversation, he gave his thoughts on what makes a great offense, the importance of competitiveness, what makes guarding Steph Curry so difficult, and his nonprofit organization, On The Right Path.

The Importance of competitiveness and confidence

When asked which skill Coach Gunning values most when evaluating prospects, he responded, “One of the biggest ones that stands out to me is competitiveness… there’s a lot of people that can play basketball really well, have good skill, good fundamentals, but who are those guys that just have a competitiveness about them that will to do whatever it takes for their team to win?

“I think that’s the thing that a lot of coaches look for because a lot of the things you can teach, right? You can teach footwork, you can teach decision making, and passing, and all these different skills, but it’s hard to make somebody competitive.”

Gunning cited the late Kobe Bryant when giving his insight on how competitiveness can lead to confidence, “You gain confidence by working on your game. You know that. I go back to Kobe. He has a great line where he’s like, ‘I never feared to take a big shot because I had taken that shot hundreds of thousands of times before. So I wasn’t looking at it like I’m taking some shot I never took before’ So I think those two words – competitive and confidence. I would put those way up there, you know, towards the top [of what I look for in a prospect].”

What makes a good offense

When asked how he and Mike D’Antoni constructed one of the all-time great offenses, Gunning laughed and quoted Steve Kerr, “I’m laughing because we have just seen Golden State win the Championship… Steve Kerr goes into the press conference after, and he says ‘Guys, just to be clear, we have great ownership. We’ve got great coaches. We’re all here for one reason; Steph Curry.’ 

“So I’m laughing because the main reason we had one of the best offenses in that run is James Harden. If Mike D’Antoni was here right now, he’d say the same thing. We had James Harden, we had Chris Paul, and we had Russell Westbrook. We had Eric Gordon. It is always players.”

Coach Gunning also reiterates that the best thing you can do as a coach is give your players the confidence to succeed, “He [Mike D’Antoni] comes to practice every day with an upbeat mood, guys love playing for him, and he gives guys confidence to go and be their best. So I think offense, a huge part of offense, is confidence, right? Do you have the confidence to take a big shot with all the pressure on and things like that?


“Mike knows that it starts with the players. And then the second thing is the environment that Mike created allowing guys to flourish in that offense.”

On the Right Path

On the Right Path is a nonprofit organization aimed at helping youth find structure through the game of basketball.

“It’s always been my dream to coach in the NBA and then give back to younger kids in the offseason. After looking at the hundreds of thousands of journeys that I had been blessed to be a part of in a 26-year career, some things stood out to me about the people that make it versus the people that don’t.

“And I think a big part of that is the people that make it have this unbelievable, deep-rooted foundation of not just basketball fundamentals but also life skills. So I started the nonprofit with that name ‘On the Right Path,’ how many kids can we help guide onto the right path at a young age, using the game of basketball to combine life skills and humility or being humble.”

Guarding Steph Curry

Coach Gunning did an excellent breakdown on what makes Steph Curry so troublesome to guard.

“The movement, he never stops moving. It’d be one thing if he just brought the ball up, came off a pick and roll, then there’s really only two people involved, but when he passes and cuts, now he’s going through. So if you’re on the weak side, it’s like, ‘oh no, here comes Steph. I gotta be ready to help.’ And then he comes off a screen. Then he comes off another; it’s that movement. It not only ties in the person that’s guarding him, but all the other people are worried about him as well. And that constant pressure, it just weighs on you.

“There’s a mental factor… Curry can just come off in one second and get the shot off. Most of the players in the league wouldn’t even take some of the shots that Steph takes, but he’s that good that he can make them. So he by far puts the most pressure on your team.”

The Jr. NBA Coaches – Online program presented by Gatorade® is hosted on OWQLO and features 12 live virtual coaching clinics from February to September for app users 16 years and older in the UK. For more info on the clinic with former NBA assistant coach Brett Gunning and all previous sessions, visit owqlo.comgatorade.co.uk and @NBAUK on Facebook and Twitter and @NBAEurope on Instagram.

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