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NBA AM: Forecasting 2016-17 Coach of the Year Race

With the regular season just days away, Oliver Maroney forecasts the NBA’s 2016-17 Coach of the Year race.

Oliver Maroney

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Winning the NBA’s Coach of the Year award is no easy task and predicting it can be difficult too. This year, the race for the honor seems relatively wide open.
Historically, this award is given to the individual who either exceeds expectations significantly or leads their team to a dominant record that can’t be ignored. Last season’s Coach of the Year was Steve Kerr, who falls into the latter category after guiding the Golden State Warriors to an NBA-record 73 wins. In 2015, Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks won the award with an impressive 60-22 record, which exceeded expectations. In fact, Westgate Las Vegas predicted that the Hawks would win just 40.5 games that year.

Looking at past recipients of this award, every single winner has unsurprisingly boasted a winning record. So while exceeding expectations can help a coach get some votes, a coach whose team falls outside of the playoff picture isn’t taking home this hardware.

Let’s take a look at some coaches who may be in the mix for this season’s Coach of the Year award, splitting the list up by top candidates and dark horses.

TOP CANDIDATES

1. Gregg Popovich

It seems like every season the Spurs are expected to take a step back, they beat expectations. This could certainly be one of those years. Last year, expectations were very high because of the additions of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West. But now, with the retirement of Tim Duncan, it seems people are again predicting that San Antonio could take a step back the Western Conference race. Most are assuming the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors will be ahead of them, while very few still believe the Spurs can replicate their past success without Duncan.

Last season, the Spurs finished above Golden State in net rating (11.8 points per 100 possessions). They were also one of only two teams to allow under 100 points per 100 possessions, only allowing 96.6 points. Considering the fact that Aldridge had to adjust to Popovich’s systems, these numbers are very impressive.

Give credit to Popovich for a large portion of the teams’ success. His willingness to adjust lineups, paired with his ability to plug new players into their required roles is unmatched. Preaching his system to every player that comes into the organization, Popovich is able to utilize his players in a way that maximizes their talents while covering their shortcomings. With a proven track record of success, incoming players know that if they do what is asked of them, the team will win at a high level. It’s a very simple idea that requires an immense amount of buy-in and trust, which Popovich has earned over his career as the Spurs’ head coach.

With the Spurs adding Pau Gasol this offseason, San Antonio still possesses a deep front-court. But the real question is how will the team adjust after losing its leader and former franchise cornerstone, Tim Duncan. If Popovich can overcome the loss of Duncan and maintain a strong defense despite replacing him with Gasol, it’s likely that Popovich will be in the running for Coach of the Year.

2. Brad Stevens

Despite his young age and short time in the NBA, Stevens is arguably one of the best coaches in the league. He’s taken the Boston Celtics from 25 to 48 wins in just three seasons, almost doubling his first-year win total. Creating proper spacing and consistent execution have been the foundation of Stevens’ early success as an NBA head coach. The free-agent acquisition of Al Horford has certainly heightened expectations for the Celtics this upcoming season. Last year, the Celtics ranked eighth in net rating and top-ten in defensive efficiency. The addition of Horford should only help those numbers go up moving forward.

What becomes increasingly clear is that Stevens is one of the best tacticians in the NBA. He utilizes mismatches, makes in-game adjustments and has his players prepared each night. James Jones of the Cleveland Cavaliers talked about playing against Stevens and the Celtics in a recent article by Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.

“We knew he’d come back with an adjustment he hoped would change the series — and he did,” Jones said. “He hit us with all sorts of wrinkles we’d never seen.”

Westgate Las Vegas set their win total for the Celtics at 51.5, which is only 3.5 wins higher than last season. If Boston wins 55 or more games this season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Stevens become a front-runner for the award.

3. Tyronn Lue

As crazy as it may seem, Lue has only been a head coach for 41 regular season games. After taking over as head coach, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ team chemistry seemed to improve as they approached the postseason. The Cavaliers ultimately came back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to upset the Golden State Warriors, which Lue rightfully deserves a lot of credit for.

This season, the challenge for Lue will be to keep building off of the chemistry the team developed last season, keep LeBron James’ minutes in check to keep him healthy for the postseason and to maximize the talent available to him, which will be extremely important now that Kevin Durant is playing for the Warriors.

The Cavs are projected to win 56.5 games, so Cleveland will likely have to win around 60 games or so for Lue to become a favorite for Coach of the Year. Being healthy for the postseason will be his biggest priority but with all the buzz surrounding Golden State and their super team, LeBron James, Lue and company may want to push for a strong regular season record. If that happens, Lue could be in the conversation for Coach of the Year.

4. Steve Kerr

Kerr won the award last year and could be in line to repeat despite the extremely high expectations surrounding his team. Pegged to win 66.5 games, Kerr will likely need to log close to 70 regular season victories to be in the running. However, after last year’s playoff injuries and concerns, it seems unlikely the team will go all out in the regular season. In order for Kerr to win the award, it’ll take another incredible, record-setting year. But if there’s any coach that can do it, Kerr is right at the top of that list.

Kerr is one of the NBA’s best coaches for a number of reasons. He has a calm and cool demeanor but can also be very intense in high-pressure situations. Players feed off his philosophy and it’s shown on numerous occasions. His motion-based offensive system maximizes the talent he has available to him and his use of Draymond Green on defense has been one of the major reasons why this team has been so dominant over the last few seasons. Between connecting with his players and being one of the better tacticians in the NBA, Kerr will likely be a top candidate for Coach of the Year this upcoming season. However, if the Warriors face any sort of rough patches or prolonged losing streaks, he will face a lot of scrutiny considering how much talent this team has.

5. Terry Stotts

The Blazers surprised almost everyone last year. Being picked to finish last or close to last in the Western Conference, they beat expectations, made the playoffs and even advanced to the second round. His understanding of the game and ability to get the most out of players is a big reason for Stotts’ and the Blazers’ recent success. But after doing a tremendous job last season, Coach Stotts has much higher expectations coming into this season.

Stotts is known for his brilliant offensive mind. His ability to recognize his personnel and fix problems quickly are what separates him from other coaches. Additionally, out of timeouts, he is extremely effective and has proven to be one of the best play-callers in the league.

The Blazers went out this offseason and spent big on free agents like Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli. Locking up their salary cap for the foreseeable future, this team is clearly in a win-now scenario. After winning 44 games last year, people now expect them to win roughly 45-50 this season. If Stotts can overachieve that win total, you’d certainly have to put him in the conversation for Coach of the Year. He’s been in the running for the past few years and was a close second to Steve Kerr last season. If he can do another impressive job of coaching this team up, voters will likely cling to Stotts for exceeding expectations in back-to-back years.

DARK HORSES

6. Quin Snyder

Had it not been for injuries the past couple seasons, Snyder would’ve firmly been in the Coach of the Year conversation. This season, many people are projecting the Utah Jazz to be a playoff contender with all their new additions and players returning from injury.

There are some who still question Snyder’s coaching ability, even with the injuries to players like Dante Exum, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors. He’s failed to win over 50 percent of his games in each of his first two seasons with the Jazz. However, is critics need to realize that he has taken a young roster further than many expected since taking over as head coach, that many of his players have developed quite a bit since his arrival and that he is one of the better overall tacticians in the league.

Projected to win 47.5 games, this team has all the makings to achieve that and much more. Very similar to the Boston Celtics, the Jazz plays with discipline and ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency last year. As long as their most important players can stay healthy, they’ll be firmly in the playoff mix and could reach 50 wins. Doing so would put Snyder in the mix for Coach of the Year.

7. Frank Vogel

Another defensive-minded coach, Vogel has a good chance to jump into the Coach of the Year conversation. Previously in Indiana, Vogel was praised for his work on turning the Pacers’ around and consistently beating expectations. His ability to coach defense and get the most out of what he was given was notable. Even when his players went down with injuries, Vogel’s coaching managed to keep the team relevant and his team’s defense never wavered significantly.

Now head coach of the Orlando Magic, Vogel has an extremely talented frontcourt. With new additions like Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo, paired with Nikola Vucevic and the rest of the team’s young talent, the Magic are in position for a breakout season. A projection of 36.5 wins seems a little low for a team with as much talent as the Magic. With Vogel as the coach and a clear direction in place, it seems inevitable that they could be in the playoff discussion. If so, Vogel should be a prime candidate for the award.

8. Rick Carlisle

What more do you need to know about Carlisle? He’s one of the best coaches in the league, consistently doing more with far less than his colleagues. Carlisle is one of the best at making in-game adjustments. His ability to change a lineup and scheme to match up better with his opponent is usually overlooked. He’s done great with two point guard lineups and his other small-ball scenarios have mostly worked to the Mavericks’ advantage. But as we’ve also seen, he’s unwilling to play young players as much as some other coaches do.

Offseason additions like Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut have certainly bolstered their squad but on paper, but the Mavericks are still far inferior to the top-level Western Conference playoff teams in terms of talent. If Carlisle can get this team to outperform their collective talent and make some noise in the Western Conference playoff race, he will reaffirm that he is one of the best overall coaches in the league and will be in the running for Coach of the Year.

9. Tom Thibodeau

Thibodeau is back in the league and ready to prove that he’s a great coach. Thibodeau is taking over one of the most promising teams in the league, which possesses back-to-back Rookies of the Year (Towns and Wiggins) and a number of high-potential players. Known for his defense, Thibs has typically always gotten the most out of his players and has been instrumental in developing young talent (see Jimmy Butler).

In his year off from coaching, Thibodeau was reportedly going around the league and spending time with some of the best coaches around. Part of coaching is learning from others and that’s clearly something he’s done. He’s come into the season with a fresh mindset, which should benefit the Timberwolves.

Minnesota has the longest active playoff drought in the entire league, so taking this young team to the postseason would certainly make Thibodeau a Coach of the Year Candidate. Teams this young historically aren’t able to compete at a high level, but this team is stacked with young prospects. If Thibodeau can harness them into a disciplined defensive unit, this team could really exceed expectations this upcoming season.

10. Mike D’Antoni

While D’Antoni hasn’t done so well in his previous two jobs, this new situation presents a new opportunity to get his coaching career back on track. The Rockets are only one season removed from a Western Conference Finals berth and a runner-up MVP candidate in James Harden.

With a career 51.6 win percentage, D’Antoni’s reputation has dropped off somewhat since his days with the Suns. After having one of the best offenses in the league in Phoenix, D’Antoni has only averaged 31 wins per season in his last five as a head coach.

While Houston lost Dwight Howard in free agency, they also added some excellent offensive firepower in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. The combination of potential “small-ball” lineups and shooting fits right in with what D’Antoni loves to do. In addition, they’ve moved star shooting guard James Harden to de facto point guard in an attempt to make him more of a facilitator and to replicate some of what the Suns did with Steve Nash years ago.

There are some deep concerns with this Houston team, including the knee injury to Patrick Beverley, the lack of defense from Harden and the durability issues with Gordon and Anderson. However, if those and other issues correct themselves and D’Antoni can supercharge the team’s offense while maintaining a league average defense, he could find himself in the Coach of the Year discussion.

Oliver Maroney is an NBA writer for Basketball Insiders. He is based in Portland and covers the league as a whole.

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NBA

NBA AM: Nicolas Batum Is Helping The Hornets Get Organized

Dwight Howard has predictably struggled with scoring efficiency, but Nicolas Batum’s return is already helping.

Buddy Grizzard

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With the Charlotte Hornets below .500 and presently out of the playoff picture almost a quarter of the way into the season, it’s not too early to start looking at what has gone wrong. While Dwight Howard has, predictably, been an inefficient contributor on offense, the loss of Nicolas Batum for much of the early season was a major setback. With Batum averaging 13.5 points and 4.5 assists in his first four appearances since his return, can he be the catalyst to help Charlotte turn its season around?

Batum scored 16 with five rebounds and six assists in his first appearance of the season in a loss to the Cavaliers. Hornets coach Steve Clifford said it’s been a struggle to ease Batum back into the rotation due to his eagerness to be on the court.

“When he feels good, I just leave him out there,” said Clifford after Wednesday’s shootaround. “We just have to be careful because the first night, he gets going in the games and he wants to play more.”

Clifford added that Charlotte’s condensed schedule, featuring seven games in 11 days, has complicated efforts to bring Batum along slowly.

“He just needed to play some,” said Clifford. “I think once we get through this stretch he’ll be good. He eats up minutes anyway.”

Batum working his way back into the rotation could help the Hornets address one of the early issues, which has been the incorporation of Howard into the offense. Batum gives Charlotte another proficient pick and roll ball handler in addition to Kemba Walker, and he should help put Howard in better positions to score.

“It’s a lot different being out there with Nic,” said Walker. “He just takes so much pressure off a lot of us. It’s really good to have him back. He just makes the game easy for a lot of us.”

Three Hornets have executed over 20 pick and rolls as the roll man this season. Cody Zeller has scored 1.14 points per 100 possessions on 22 such possessions. Frank Kaminsky has scored 1.15 per 100 on 33 possessions as a roll man. This scoring efficiency for both players ranks just above the league average.

For Howard, in 24 possessions as a roll man, he’s scored .75 per 100, which ranks in the eighth percentile. In other words, Howard ranks in the bottom 10 percent of the league in pick and roll scoring efficiency. Just as Howard was unable to establish a consistent pick and roll partnership in Atlanta last season with point guard Dennis Schroder, Howard’s possessions as a roll man in Charlotte account for only nine percent of his total possessions.

By contrast, Howard has used 95 possessions this season in post isolation, which accounts for more than a third of his total possessions (35 percent). He’s scoring a ghastly .66 per 100 possessions, which ranks in the 15th percentile league-wide. Of the 17 players who have used at least 50 post-up possessions this season, Howard ranks dead last in scoring efficiency.

Despite these struggles, Clifford said Batum’s re-integration into the lineup has already resulted in more opportunities for Howard, both from direct and indirect assists.

“Since Nic came back now he’s getting the ball a lot more,” said Clifford. “That’s how Nic plays. It’s not only directly from Nic, but Nic will see how he’s playing and touch the ball to somebody else so they can get it to him.”

Clifford sounds relieved to have Batum back in the rotation, almost as if he’s an assistant coach on the floor.

“Certainly [it helps] our efficiency and organization on both ends of the floor,” said Clifford. “It’s the very nature of how he plays.”

With the Hornets just outside the playoff picture in the East, Batum’s return should help stabilize the team in its quest for the postseason. Batum wasn’t available to help ease Howard’s integration in the early part of the season. But now that he’s back, according to Clifford, he’s already been a huge asset to the team’s cohesion.

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Life After Philadelphia is Just Fine For Turner

Evan Turner goes 1-on-1 with Basketball Insiders to explain how life in Philadelphia shaped the rest of his career.

Dennis Chambers

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Once upon a time, Evan Turner was the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and the next man in line to save the Philadelphia 76ers.

After finishing his junior year at Ohio State University, Turner declared for the draft and eventually was taken directly after John Wall by the Sixers. Turner joined a team that won just 27 games the year before, but had more than a few promising young pieces.

Andre Iguodala, a former Sixers top-10 pick in his own right, was the oldest of the core bunch, at just 27. After him, the likes of Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes were all under the age of 24. All in all, adding a No. 2 pick to that mix looked to set up the Sixers for years to come.

For the most part, the beginning of Turner’s career was successful. After making the playoffs his rookie season and losing in the first round to the Miami HEAT four games to one, the Sixers pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals during the 2011-12 season.

Turner started 12 of those 13 playoff games during his second season, averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 points per game.

Just as Turner seemed to be coming into his own, though, the tides in Philadelphia began to turn, and turn quickly.

His third year in the league, and first year as a full-time starter, came and went for Turner. He posted decent numbers. His 13.6 points per game were second only to Holiday. He was third on the team in assists and sixth in rebounds. In the midst of his fourth season, while averaging a career-high 17.4 points, Turner was traded to the Indiana Pacers.

Newly hired president of basketball operations, Sam Hinkie, had a plan in place that didn’t include Turner. It didn’t include Holiday either, as he was shipped off during the 2013 draft for Nerlens Noel and future first-round pick.

Just as the Sixers were becoming “his” team, Turner was sent packing to a new zip code. In his mind, he never got a fair shake at trying to the be the guy he was drafted to be in Philadelphia.

“I don’t think I really ever had a chance to shoulder it, to tell you the truth,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t start my first two years, but numbers wise I thought I did well. Nobody averaged more than 13 or 14. We were a great unit. My third year, my first year starting, I thought I did pretty well for a first-year starter. We missed the playoffs, which is always tough. Within the next year, it got blown up.”

Turner reiterated that in his mind, he wasn’t allowed the leash to become a franchise guy. But it wasn’t all for naught in Philadelphia.

“Honest opinion, I don’t think I ever fully got the chance,” Turner said. “But I got the chance to do a lot of great things. Learn how to win, learn how to defend, learn how to prepare.”

Since leaving Philly, Turner’s role in the NBA has shifted from a potential franchise player to a serviceable role man on a playoff caliber team.

Last summer, Turner inked a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers after his stint with Indiana, and then two years with the Boston Celtics. Beyond the years in Philly, Turner’s life in the Association has been kind to him.

“It’s been fine,” Turner said. “On the up and up, I was fortunate to make the playoffs every year since leaving Philly. I made the playoffs two out of three, or three out of the four years that I was here. It’s cool, it’s a blessing. Healthy, stable, and living the dream.”

On Wednesday night, Turner returned to Philadelphia and the Wells Fargo Center to square off against his old team. Nowadays, this version of the Sixers is much different than the one he left behind. A process that nearly began with jettisoning Turner to the Pacers feels near completion, and the energy Turner once felt on the court in a Sixers uniform is returning in full force.

When walking around the building, this time as a visitor, Turner takes appreciation in seeing some old faces. The guys “behind the scenes” as he put it, always are welcoming. Brett Brown, Turner’s former coach, never fails to show him love, and the arena in South Philly, Turner says, is always a great reminder of where he came from.

Turner thinks the process that was kicked off with getting rid of him and his core teammates is promising, though.

“It’s turning around,” Turner said.  “Just off the first eye glance, I know Coach Brown can coach his butt off. Even the fact that they’re getting up a real practice facility says a lot. Obviously on the court, the energy. You see on tv before, it’s more sold out. When you see the Sixers sometimes it would be a joke, in regards to how many games they lost, or whatever. But now it’s kind of like you’re going to see some great highlights, you’re watching a lot of energy from the crowd and things. I’m happy for them. It seems like it’s trending in the right direction.”

It wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine for Turner in Philadelphia; he would be reminded of that as he was greeted with boo’s from the crowd when he checked into the game for the first time Wednesday night. The city of brotherly love has a reputation that doesn’t necessarily precede its name.

“Much is given, much is expected,” he said. “One thing is, when you get kind of labeled as whatever, you kind of get tagged for the most critical stuff. I saw how sometimes Iguodala would get blamed for everything, and then I kind of moved into that. I went from the cute little kid, to moving into that responsibility. Then MCW (Michael Carter-Williams) went from that position. It’s just kind of, you know, part of the game.”

The harshness of the city, and Turner’s situation particularly, helped guide him through his career after Philadelphia. In Turner’s words, “The only way to go from here, in a certain sense, is up.”

Portland’s sixth man has lived a long, lucrative life in the NBA, even if it didn’t go exactly how it was initially planned to. Turner was quick to point out that any time he heard someone complain during his travels around the league, at least they weren’t facing the wrath of Philadelphia.

“Going into new situations, people are like, ‘Hey they do this or they do that,’ and I’m like are y’all serious,” Turner said with a smile. “Go to Philly and see what they’ll do to y’all.”

Maybe his time spent in Philadelphia didn’t turn out the way fans had hoped, but Turner found out quickly there was a spot for him in the league as a former second overall pick, and that his career has gone just the way it was supposed to.

“I’m a firm believer in everything is supposed to happen how it’s supposed to happen,” Turner said. “Regardless of which, it’s a blessing.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA AM: The First 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

Steve Kyler

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The Thanksgiving 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

So with that in mind here is my first Mock Draft of the 2018 Season, look for more of these are we march on (and hopefully you like the new Mock Draft table design.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this summer.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out our Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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