Team Canada has exploded as one of the best teams in the FIBA Basketball World Cup during the First Round of play. Behind its dominance has been one of the best coaches not currently leading a team in the NBA — Kings’ associate head coach Jordi Fernandez.
Under Fernandez’ helm, Team Canada has led the field with 108 points per game and a +111 point differential.
He’s been a hot name in coaching circles for years, and he’s showing why through this first slate of games.
Jordi Fernandez has a great mind for playcalling and adjustments
Fernandez has made a number of adjustments to get Team Canada playing at its best. He’s tinkered with the offensive playcalling to open up the maximum amount of space for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and customized the defensive coverages to utilize the strengths of each of his big men, as pointed out tremendously by Raptors Republic’s Jonathan Chen.
The tournament’s unique access to team huddles has also shown how well Fernandez works in drawing up plays. The precision with which he delivered instructions on Team Canada’s opening set against Latvia, down to how many dribbles to take, resulted in Canada breaking Latvia’s zone with a wide open dunk for Dwight Powell.
Every coach in the league has a solid foundation of X’s and O’s knowledge, and they all run similar sets. But getting a clinical level of precision from players is what has made coaches like Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra so successful in the NBA.
Fernandez’s background in academia may have contributed to that attention to detail. He’s one published work away from earning a Ph.D. in sports psychology, per the Denver Post. As part of those academic pursuits, he once wrote an 11-page academic article on how the effectiveness of an offensive play can be determined by the team’s behavioral patterns before a shot goes up.
Jordi Fernandez is a born leader
Taking the Team Canada job was not an easy assignment. Fernandez stepped in as a late replacement for Nick Nurse, less than two months from the start of the games. With a talented roster and not much time, he needed to get many of his players to buy into supporting roles.
Fernandez has done all of that and more, managing the human elements of the team masterfully. After a 30-point blowout win against France in a game they were favored in by only a point and a half, his team had plenty to be excited about. But Fernandez focused on the bigger goal, telling his team and media that “it’s just one win.”
Fernandez has been able to fire up his team too when they’ve needed it. In their most trying moment of the tournament, down 23-13 after the first quarter against Latvia, Fernandez gathered his players and laid into them.
“We’re taking possessions off on defense and then we feel like it’s going to be so easy here [on offense]. This first quarter, they kicked us in the butt. You guys want to be first? What the f—?” Fernandez told his team. “We’re down 10 now. Now we have to work.”
The message got through — Canada went on to outscore Latvia by 36 points in the remaining 30 minutes of play, winning comfortably and advancing to the next stage of the tournament.
Fernandez has been generous with his praise as well, recognizing the role players’ contributions and sacrifices. He invoked the lyrics from Alanis Morissette in order to illustrate the skill of Nickeil Alexander-Walker, noting that Team Canada had 10,000 spoons but needed a knife like him.
Fernandez earns the respect not only of the locker room, but everyone that he works with. “He’s a people person who knows the game and has a great ability to communicate as well as build relationships with players,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone told ESPN about Fernandez.
Jordi Fernandez has put in the work
Fernandez has proved his chops with decades of experience coaching both overseas and in America. Born and raised in Barcelona, he broke into the NBA in 2009, earning a job on the Cavs’ developmental staff under Mike Brown. From there, he went to the G-League’s Canton Charge as an assistant. He worked as an assistant under Malone in Denver for six seasons and as the associate head coach last year for the upstart Kings.
Fernandez also has experience as a head coach. He eventually took over the Charge for two seasons, compiling a record of 62-38 with two semifinal playoff appearances.
That impressive resume hasn’t escaped the attention of NBA executives. He was on ESPN’s list of hottest names on the coaching market, sourced by more than 30 league insiders, both in 2018 and 2020. And this summer, he’s advanced to the final round of interviews for the Suns’ job that eventually went to Frank Vogel while also interviewing for openings with the Raptors and Bucks.
Fernandez’s coaching performance for Team Canada has shown how capable he is as a head coach.
It’s a matter of when, not if he will be given that role in the NBA.