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.
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.
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.
NBA Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers Need Tyronn Lue
The Cleveland Cavaliers have faced injury adversity and a roster shakeup, and now face uncertainty regarding coach Tyronn Lue’s health.
The most enduring image of Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue came moments after his team sealed the 2016 NBA Finals with a third consecutive win after trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1. As the team celebrated its historic comeback and readied to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, one camera focused on Lue, who sat on the bench with his face buried in his hands.
— Buddy Grizzard (@BuddyGrizzard) June 20, 2016
The image tells a thousand words about the pressure Lue was under as Cleveland teetered on the brink of elimination for three games. Rather than sharing the euphoria of his players, it seemed that Lue’s emotions centered around the massive weight that had been lifted from his shoulders. Almost two years later, it appears that burden has caught back up with Lue, whose leave of absence for health reasons complicates things for Cleveland with the playoffs just around the corner.
“It’s like losing one of your best players,” said Cavaliers forward LeBron James after Cleveland’s 124-117 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
Kevin Love returned from a six-week injury absence to post 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Bucks. James likened Lue’s absence to the burden of trying to replace Love’s output while he was unavailable.
“We’ve got to have guys step up, just like guys trying to step up in Kev’s absence,” said James. “We have to do the same as a collective group as long as Ty needs to get himself back healthy.”
There’s optimism that Lue could return before the playoffs, but there’s a great deal of uncertainty given the seriousness of his symptoms, which reportedly included coughing up blood. Lead assistant Larry Drew, a former head coach with the Bucks and Hawks, will handle head coaching responsibilities until Lue is ready to return.
Kyle Korver played under Drew in Atlanta and said he’s confident in his ability to fill in.
“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” said Korver after the Bucks win. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time as well. He coached me for a full year in Atlanta. We know he’s fully capable.”
Korver also doubted Drew would introduce any major stylistic changes.
“I think LD’s been Ty’s top assistant for a reason,” said Korver. “They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We miss Ty, but I think the style of what we do is going to be very similar.”
While style and approach should remain unchanged, what could an extended absence for Lue mean for the Cavaliers? Lue cemented his legacy as a leader by keeping the Cavaliers together as they fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the Warriors, but Drew hasn’t had that kind of success as a head coach.
In 2012, the Hawks had a real opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in Atlanta history. The Hawks faced an aging Boston Celtics squad in the first round. The eighth-seed Philadelphia 76ers awaited in the second round after defeating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
After splitting the first two games in Atlanta, the Hawks faced a pivotal Game 3 in Boston with the opportunity to retake home court advantage. Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham used Synergy Sports to break down every offensive possession for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. His conclusion? For three quarters, Rondo did not score a single basket while guarded by Hawks combo guard Kirk Hinrich.
The Hawks traded a package that included a former and a future first-round pick to obtain Hinrich from the Wizards in 2011. But in Game 3, Hinrich failed to score a point despite his effective defense. Apparently feeling the need for an offensive spark, Drew left Hinrich on the bench in the fourth quarter and turned to career journeyman Jannero Pargo.
With Hinrich out of the game, Rondo’s offense came to life as he slashed to the basket at will. Boston opened the fourth with a 13-7 run before Pargo went to the bench and Atlanta closed on a 15-7 run to force overtime. The NBA did not publish net rating data at the time, but we can now see via historical data that the Hawks were outscored by nearly 52 points per 100 possessions in Pargo’s minutes in Game 3. Rather than entrust Atlanta’s season and his own legacy to a player the Hawks traded two first-round picks to obtain, Drew went with Pargo, a career end-of-bench player.
What does this mean for the Cavaliers? It means the team needs to get Lue back. Drew and Lue are both former NBA players who have received mixed reviews as head coaches. But when his legacy was on the line, Lue pushed the right buttons.
For Drew’s part, in his first postgame press conference since Lue’s absence was announced, he remained publicly deferential.
“Coach Lue is the one who makes that decision,” said Drew when asked about lineup combinations. “That’s not my call. We look at a lot of different combinations — whether guys are starting or whether they are coming off the bench — and we assess everything.”
On the critical question of how lineups will be fine-tuned as the Cavaliers prepare for the playoffs, Drew once again emphasized Lue’s active role even as he steps away from the bench.
“I’ll talk to Ty,” said Drew. “He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s what we’re going to go with. But if he tells me to make a decision, then I’ll have to make the decision.”
With Lue suffering acute symptoms, there’s no way of knowing when he will be ready to step back into the pressure cooker of a leading role for a team with championship aspirations. But the Cavaliers need him and need his steadying influence and instincts. Cleveland is a team that has battled through injuries and a major roster overhaul at the trade deadline. It also faces the pressure of James’ impending free agency decision this summer.
Now, with the playoffs just around the corner, the Cavaliers must endure uncertainty about Lue’s ability to return and lead the team. James has emphasized that Lue’s health overshadows any basketball concerns, but gave his most terse remark when asked about learning that Lue would step away on the same day Cleveland finally got Love back.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” said James. “That was my reaction.”
A Breakout Season for Joe Harris
Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Harris talks to Basketball Insiders about his second chance with the Nets.
The NBA is all about second chances. Sometimes players need a change of scenery, or a coach who believes in them, or just something different to reach their full potential. They may be cast aside by several teams, but eventually, they often find that right situation that allows them to flourish.
Such was the case for Joe Harris. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft, Harris rarely saw the court during his time in Cleveland. He averaged about 6.4 minutes per game over the course of about one and a half seasons with the Cavaliers.
During the 2015-16 season, his second in Cleveland, he underwent season-ending foot surgery. Almost immediately after, the Cavaliers traded him to the Orlando Magic in an attempt to cut payroll due to luxury tax penalties. He would never suit up for the Magic as they cut him as soon as they traded for him.
After using the rest of that season to recover from surgery, he would sign with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2016. He had a very strong first season in Brooklyn, but this season he’s truly broken out.
“I think a lot of it has to do with just the right situation in terms of circumstances. It’s a young team where you don’t really have anybody on the team that’s going out and getting 20 a night,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a collective effort most nights and it can be any given person depending on the situation. It’s one of those things where we’re real unselfish with the ball. A lot of guys get a lot of good looks, so your production is bound to go up just because of the system now that we’re playing.”
Known primarily as a sharpshooter in college at the University of Virginia as well as his first stop in Cleveland, Harris has started developing more of an all-around game. He’s improved his ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays as well as crashing the glass and playing strong defense.
In a relatively forgettable season record-wise for the Nets, Harris has been one of their bright spots. He’s putting up 10.1 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field while playing 25.4 minutes per game. He’s up to 40.3 percent from the three-point line and he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds. All of those numbers are career-highs.
“My role, I think, is very similar to the way I would be anywhere that I was playing. I’m a shooter, I help space the floor for guys to facilitate,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “I’m opportunistic offensively with drives and such. I’m out there to try and space the floor, knock down shots, and then play tough defensively and make sure I’m doing my part in getting defensive rebounds and that sort of stuff.”
Although Harris didn’t play much in Cleveland, he did show glimpses and flashes of the player he has blossomed into in Brooklyn. He saw action in 51 games his rookie year while knocking down 36.9 percent of his three-point attempts.
He also saw action in six playoff games during the Cavaliers’ run to the 2015 Finals. But more importantly, it was the off the court things that Harris kept with him after leaving Cleveland. The valuable guidance passed down to him from the Cavaliers veteran guys. It’s all helped mold him into the indispensable contributor he’s become for the Nets.
“Even though I wasn’t necessarily playing as much, the experience was invaluable just in terms of learning how to be a professional,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “The approach, the preparation, that sort of stuff. That’s why I learned a lot while I was there. All those good players that have had great, great, and long careers and just being able to kind of individually pick their brains and learn from them.”
When Harris came to Brooklyn two years ago, he initially signed a two-year deal with a team option after the first year. When he turned in a promising 2016-17 season, it was a no-brainer for the Nets to pick up his option. Set to make about $1.5 million this season, Harris’ contract is a steal.
However, he’s headed for unrestricted free agency this upcoming summer. Although he dealt with being a free agent before when he first signed with the Nets, it’s a different situation now. He’s likely going to be one of the most coveted wings on the market. While there’s still a bit more of the regular season left, and free agency still several months away, it’s something Harris has already thought about. If all goes well, Brooklyn is a place he can see himself staying long-term.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that I’ll worry about that sort of decision when the time comes. But I have really enjoyed my time in Brooklyn,” Harris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great organization with a lot of good people, and they try and do stuff the right way. I enjoy being a part of that and trying to kind of rebuild and set a good foundation for where the future of the Brooklyn Nets is.”
NBA Daily: 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 3/20/18
With most of the major NBA draft prospects eliminated from March Madness, things in the mock draft world are starting to get interesting.
A Lot of Mock Movement
With the race to the bottom in full swing in the NBA and the field of 64 in college basketball whittled down to a very sweet sixteen, there has been considerable talk in NBA circles about the impending 2018 NBA Draft class. There seems to be a more consistent view of the top 15 to 20 prospects, but there still seems to be a lack of a firm pecking order. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton seems like to the prohibitive favorite to go number one overall, but its far from a lock.
It’s important to note that these weekly Mock Draft will start to take on more of a “team driven” shape as we get closer to the mid-May NBA Combine in Chicago and more importantly once the draft order gets set. Until then, we’ll continue to drop our views of the draft class each Tuesday, until we reach May when we’ll drop the weekly Consensus Mock drafts, giving you four different views of the draft all the way to the final decisions in late June.
Here is this week’s Mock Draft:
Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:
The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.
The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections and based on the standings today would convey to Philadelphia.
The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade. The pick is top four protected and based on the current standings would convey.
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 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 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 Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick is top-five protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter 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.
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