Detroit — The question Ryan Saunders gets a lot — other than the obvious, What’s it like to follow in your father’s footsteps? — is about his dad’s infamous playbook.
“The thing I get asked a lot is, how much of your dad’s playbook do you use?” said Saunders, in his first full season as the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
His father, the late Flip Saunders, coached the Timberwolves from 1995 through 2005. His playbook, legendary for its thickness and the secret plays he kept promising to unveil, came with him to the Pistons, where he coached from 2005 through 2008.
Ryan grew up around his father’s nomadic journey through the old CBA (Rapid City, La Crosse and Sioux Falls) and then to Minneapolis. He was playing basketball at the University of Minnesota when Flip was coaching in Detroit, winning 64 games in 2006.
“I came here a lot,” he said. “They were small trips and I would come in and catch him — they were rolling at the time. Those were some of my best memories with my dad, going to The Palace and then going to eat in Birmingham near where he lived.
“I have great memories here in Detroit.”
Flip was in his second stint with the Timberwolves in 2014 when he was diagnosed, at age 59 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He died in 2015. Ryan was on his staff, having spent five years as an assistant with the Washington Wizards.
Ryan became interim head coach last season when Tom Thibodeau was fired. On Jan. 6, the 33-year-old Saunders became the youngest head coach in the NBA since Dave Cowens in 1979.
“It wasn’t planned,” Saunders said of following his father’s path. “But it was a dream. That’s all it was, but then you grow into things and you realize what life can give you. I’ve been fortunate with opportunity and having good people around me.”
His team came into Little Caesars Arena with a 5-4 mark and an offense that, unlike his dad’s, is predicated on quick strikes, mostly from beyond the three-point arc. Forty-one percent of the Timberwolves shots are 3-pointersthree-balls.
Not exactly his father’s system.
“Yeah, so when I’m asked how much of my father’s playbook I use, not very much,” Saunders said. “Not at all, really. It’s a different game now. There are a lot of things that he did that we don’t do any more. He ran a lot of plays for Rip Hamilton to get mid-range jump shots. He was a great mid-range shooter.
“We don’t shoot a lot of mid-range shots. It’s just a different game.”
Truth be told, though, Flip Saunders, if he were to look in on his son’s system, would likely approve.
“Oh yeah, he would like this,” Ryan said. “This is how he always wanted to play. But I mean it when I say this, I am committed to this system. I’m not wavering. Even if we miss 45 three-pointers tonight — and I hope we don’t — I’m not wavering.”
Maybe he can sell Flip Saunders’ playbook to the Naismith Museum — or save it for the day when the league moves the three-point line back another five feet.