Typically at this time of year, all the controversy in the NBA is around who will win the MVP. This year that’s about as controversial as the spelling of Stephen Curry’s name, which is to say, not at all. The Coach of the Year, however, is about as fascinating as it has been in recent years.
In fact, this year might be the most impressive in recent memory for coaching jobs, and there are a half-dozen viable candidates in the running. And while this award often just defaults to “guy who coached the team who exceeded expectations the most”, this season’s candidates are blowing out expectations because of genuinely brilliant coaching jobs.
Steve Kerr has to be on the list of candidates. After all, he is coaching what might end up being the best team in the history of the league. In less than two seasons, his teams have gone 125-21, and he’s now 52.5 games over .500. While much attention has been paid to the fact that the Warriors could break the 72-win record, the two-year total of 141 wins by Chicago from 95-97 might be even more impressive, and the Warriors are on pace to tie that.
It would be almost inexcusable for a coach to win 140-plus games in his first two seasons and not win Coach of the Year.
Greg Popovich is also coaching one of the best teams in NBA history–the best ever if your criteria is Margin of Victory and not record, per Basketball-Reference.com. And they’re actually a half-game better than the Warriors since Dec. 1.
Greg is gonna Popovich. He’s on the Mt. Rushmore of coaches already, and this might be his finest season yet as he seamlessly transitions from the Tim Duncan-era into the Kawhi Leonard-era.
Pop is the best coach in the NBA. And he has a case for having done the best coaching job this season.
Terry Stotts has done something amazing in Portland. If I told you in the preseason that Portland would make the playoffs, you would have laughed at me and smacked me in the back of the head. If I told you that would happen and Stotts didn’t win the COTY, you would have stopped laughing and smacked me in the mouth.
But both things could very well become true. And not only could the Trail Blazers end up with a playoff spot, but they could also end up being a mere half-dozen games worse than last season. That’s not bad at all for a team that lost four of their starting five in one summer.
Stotts has made it work, and if you watch Portland play, it’s a beautiful system where everyone touches the ball and plays beautiful team basketball. That’s coaching.
Brad Stevens is the reason the Boston Celtics have climbed all over expectations and beaten the living snot out of them. There’s this whole thing about coaching vs. talent in the league and how much does each matter. But in reality, it’s not a “versus” type thing. It’s an and type thing.
Stevens has helped the players to develop that talent and complement one another. Guys like Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas have gotten the chance to thrive more than they had in previous pitstops on their NBA journey. Avery Bradley has become a two-way player. Sure, the players get credit for their improvement too, but when it’s every player improving, that points to coaching.
Steve Clifford had a tough problem at the beginning of the season. The defense he’d sculpted last year took a major hit when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte’s top wing defender, went out the for the season. And the offseason acquisitions including the likes of Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin and Jeremy Lamb, as well as draft pick Frank Kaminsky didn’t exactly promise all-world defense.
Instead, Clifford flipped the entire personality of the team, turning the Hornets into a top-10 offense and still maintained a top-10 defense. Four other teams can make that claim: the Warriors, Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers.
In addition to those, Dwayne Casey and Eric Spoelstra have also done splendid jobs with their teams.
It’s hard to say who should win the Coach of the Year, but there’s been plenty of qualified candidates and the best, most legitimate race in years. Who is your pick?