NBA life coach on impact Johnnie Bryant can have on Knicks, including core players RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson

·7 min read
RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson on the court in blue jerseys
RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson on the court in blue jerseys

David Nurse, the skills/life coach for dozens of NBA players and author of "Pivot & Go," stopped by The Putback last week to talk about his new book and a few other NBA topics.

Below are Nurse’s thoughts on Knicks associate head coach Johnnie Bryant, his client Jeremy Lin’s NBA comeback, what he wants readers to take away from "Pivot & Go" and the truth about player development in the NBA:

On Johnnie Bryant: 

Nurse has known Bryant, the Knicks’ new associate head coach, for years. The Knicks hired Bryant from Utah to be Tom Thibodeau’s top assistant. Bryant is known as a strong player development coach, having worked closely with Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard and Gordon Hayward, among others.

Here’s what Nurse, a former Nets shooting coach, thinks Bryant can bring to the Knicks:

“He just does such a good job relating to players and communicating. The main thing about player development -- and what he does such a great job of -- is he cares; he genuinely cares about the players that he’s worked with. He’s poured into them, more than just on court.

“The thing about player development that most people don’t understand is it’s about trust. That player has to trust you 100 percent for you to tell them something and (for them) to change the way they play in something they’re much better (at) than you and (something they get) paid millions of dollars to do. So Johnnie does a great job of developing this trust.

“I have full confidence in him that he’ll be able to develop the young talent in New York. You’re in good hands with him.”

Here’s Nurse on what Bryant brings from a tactical standpoint that can be applied to the Knicks’ younger players like RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox.

“He focuses on the details and the specifics for each player. Player development gets thrown out there as a buzzword, like culture. No one really knows what it means. Most (people think of it as) being just rebounding for players, shooting spot shots. But that’s not player development. Johnnie realizes it’s about the details with helping these players that he works with, focusing on their strengths. Because you can give me an NBA player who is good in every area, but he’s probably not going to have a ton of success in the NBA (if he isn’t elite in one category). But if you can figure out what that players’ strengths are and how to get them … (to an optimum level) that’s the key to player development. 

"Johnnie’s really good on focusing on those details and making sure that these players are empowered in their strengths. He’s not doing these other things that you see player development coaches do on social media – 18 behind the backs with a Harden step back. No, that’s not going to be used. It’s know your role and just dominate your role. And I’ve seen Johnnie do a really good job of that. Especially in Utah – that player development culture is one of the best I’ve seen in the league.”

On "Pivot & Go": 

Nurse wrote "Pivot & Go" to help readers optimize their day in and day out performance. It’s based on his experience as a pro player and skills/development coach. Nurse lays out a 29-day blueprint to "redefine and achieve your success."

“This is a powerful tool for people to become unstuck,” Nurse says. “It’s all about being able to make a pivot, being able to look at something from a slightly different perspective, a small turn, that can change your entire perspective.

Nurse experienced this phenomenon personally. He "poured everything" into his goal of playing in the NBA. He ended up playing overseas which he says "sounds a lot cooler than it actually is, it was more like the Will Ferrell semi pro league over there.”

After Nurse was released by his overseas team, he needed to make a "pivot."

“I had to realize that all that I put into playing was actually for coaching,” Nurse said.

He started coaching and has now worked with some of the best players on the planet.

“It was a small turn that changed the entire trajectory of life,” he said.

On Jeremy Lin: 

Jeremy Lin said earlier this month that he won’t return to the Chinese Basketball Association and that he wants to come back to the NBA.

Nurse has worked with Lin for many seasons and knows the ex-Knick and ex-Net well. He firmly believes Lin belongs in the NBA.

“Here’s why Jeremy Lin should be back in the NBA and he should be back next season: No. 1, the NBA is a pick and roll game,” Nurse says. “It’s based on pick-and-roll reads and making plays out of it and Jeremy is one of the best point guards in the past 10 years playing the pick and roll. That’s why he blew up in New York and that’s why he’s successful wherever he went when he was in the pick-and-roll. Very, very high IQ, can see plays happen before they develop.

“So coming off the bench as a second point guard, even a third point guard, to give you this type of stability would be huge. If you have a dynamic scoring point guard then you have a change-of-pace point guard like Jeremy Lin to switch it up, that’s very very effective.

“And, two, one of the most overlooked things in all of basketball and all of sports is culture. Culture is a word that gets thrown around a lot but it’s actually the chemistry, the fit, the players, pieces put together that help these other players become part of this fit.

“Jeremy is one of the best overall human beings, leaders. It’s like the Steve Nash effect, where Nash just encouraged everybody he met, gave out 239 high fives a game. Jeremy is that guy. He brings up the level of the locker room which brings up the level of play on the overall court. So he’s an unbelievable glue guy who brings a lot of value off the court and making plays out of the pick and roll as a smart point guard. So there’s no doubt in my mind that he is an NBA player and should be in the NBA and can bring a lot of value for a team, for a contender looking to make a run in this upcoming season.”

The mental side of success in the NBA: 

Part of Nurse’s focus with players is developing confidence. He says players’ mental approach separates "great from outstanding" at the NBA level.

“I’ve seen super-talented guys that don’t have what I call the unshakable mindset. ... It’s the biggest tool. At this level, these guys are so talented. It’s not separating good from great but it’s great to outstanding and that’s all based on the mindset. There’s going to be a lot of guys that have a lot of skill sets. I can name you a ton of guys that are overseas right now that are very very skilled but they don’t have the mindset that is necessary to take them to the next level.

That’s why I wrote this book, because these guys at the top level of high performance, they’re competing on a nightly basis and have to perform at such a level that we don’t even know exists. How do they do that? By having this unshakable mindset so it’s a tool we can all use in our own lives.”