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Head to Head: Coach of the Year Race

Who deserves to be the NBA’s Coach of the Year race? Jessica Camerato, John Zitzler and Moke Hamilton debate.

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Which head coaches are in the conversation for this season’s Coach of the Year award? We asked Basketball Insiders writers Jessica Camerato, John Zitzler and Moke Hamilton to share their thoughts on the race. Here are the coaches they believe should be in the mix for the award:

Steve Kerr

I’m going straight to the standings for this conversation. Steve Kerr has led the Golden State Warriors to a league-best 51-13 record in his first year. The team has as many wins on March 13 as they did all of last season.

The Warriors’ consistency has made them so dangerous. After jumping out to a hot start, they didn’t falter. Even in the Western Conference, they have not wavered in spite of facing tough competition.

Under Kerr, the Warriors have lost only two games at home and, more impressively, have the most road wins (23) of any team. They are averaging a league-high 109.6 points per game with a +10.3 differential, as opponents are scoring 99.3 points.

While the key to success is playing as a team, some of their individual players have been dominant this season. Stephen Curry (23.6 points, 41.9 percent from three, 7.8 assists, 4.4 rebounds) is an MVP candidate, Klay Thompson ranks fourth in treys (21.8 points, 43.4 percent from three) and Draymond Green has bolstered his production to 11.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in his third year. Andre Iguodala has transitioned out of the starting lineup, giving the Warriors a strong veteran presence off the bench

Kerr’s biggest test will come in the playoffs. He has been there before as a player, and this season he is positioning himself to succeed as a coach.

– Jessica Camerato

Mike Budenholzer

After finishing last season with a record of 38-44, and without making any major additions to their roster in the offseason, the Atlanta Hawks were expected to be about as a good as the previous year’s eigth-seeded squad.

Now, with less than 20 games remaining in the regular season, they have shattered those expectations and are playing some of the best basketball in the NBA. At 51-14, they are the only team in the East that has already clinched a playoff berth and, with a 10-game lead on the second place Cleveland Cavaliers, are a near lock for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Much of the credit for the Hawks’ incredible success this year has to go second-year head coach Mike Budenholzer. After spending 17 years with the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant to Gregg Popovich, Budenholzer has implemented many similar concepts in Atlanta. Under Budenholzer this season, the Hawks have become one of the most adept teams in the league on both ends of the floor. They are one of just four teams in the NBA that rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, ranking sixth in both categories.

Although four Hawks were named All-Stars this year (Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Kyle Korver), it’s been their play as a team that has fueled them. Much like the Spurs, Budenholzer has the Hawks really moving and sharing the ball well. In fact, they are tied with the Golden State Warriors for the league lead in assists, averaging 19.6 per game.

Their willingness to make the right pass has led to open shots and helped the Hawks become one of the top shooting teams in the NBA, owning a true shooting percentage of 56.6 percent. Of course, having Korver doesn’t hurt either. The Hawks’ team dominance hasn’t gone unnoticed; after finishing the month of January 17-0, the NBA named the Hawks’ entire starting five as their “player” of the month.

Budenholzer has managed to work wonders in just his second season in Atlanta. His system has maximized the talent on the Hawks’ roster and has made them a true title contender. While Steve Kerr has certainly done a terrific job with Golden State, he has the luxury of an MVP-caliber player in Stephen Curry, and two burgeoning stars in Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. With that said, it’s hard to argue that any coach has done a better job than Mike Budenholzer with the Hawks this season.

– John Zitzler

Jason Kidd

While it is difficult to argue that anyone aside from Mike Budenholzer or Steve Kerr deserves to be named the Coach of the Year, I do believe that Jason Kidd should at least have his name mentioned in the conversation.

Like all of the other end of season awards, the NBA has never attempted to establish criteria or guidelines to sway those who vote on the awards, and I think that makes for a better process.

Specifically, as it relates to Most Valuable Player, some voters have taken the stance that they would never vote for a player who does not play for a winning team; yet, in conversations I have had with voters over the course of this season, some are making the case for Anthony Davis.

Coach of the Year is no exception. With no criteria, who are we to say that the coach that leads his team to the most wins deserves to win the award? That wasn’t the case back in 2013 when George Karl won the award despite leading the Denver Nuggets to just the fourth-best record in the league.

That year, Karl won the award because the voters collectively believed that he brought the Nuggets to a place they had no business being. The same argument can be made for Kidd and the admirable and capable way he has led the Milwaukee Bucks. That Kidd is a sophomore coach makes the feat impressive. That his Bucks have continued to thrive and that they have done so despite losing Jabari Parker… that is amazing.

The Bucks will enter play on March 14 at 34-31. In the end, they will likely end up winning somewhere in the neighborhood of 44 games. For a team that went just 15-67 last year, that is an impressive turnaround. When you consider that they managed to accomplish that without the player that they drafted after going 15-67, it really makes you stop and wonder: “How?”

Certainly, the progression of Giannis Antetokoumnpo and the overall excellent play of Brandon Knight had something to do with it. And since Knight was traded for Michael Carter-Williams back in February, the Bucks are getting increased production from the likes of Khris Middleton and Ersan Ilyasova. Certainly, the players deserve their fair share of credit, but in the NBA, without a capable head coach managing everything, pushing those players and getting them to buy into what he is selling, overachieving is impossible.

The recently fired Jacque Vaughn and those that oversaw his performance in Orlando would probably tell you just that.

We blame head coaches when things go awry or when teams underachieve, so to me, conversely, we should give a head coach “per se” credit when he defies odds and expectations and takes his team somewhere they had no business being.

If I had a vote for Coach of the Year, though I know I would probably be the only voter to cast a first-place vote for someone other than Kerr or Budenholzer, I would give that honor to Kidd.

I just think what he has done this season and the fact that his young Bucks still have a mathematical opportunity to be a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference is that impressive.

– Moke Hamilton

Who do you think is the Coach of the Year? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.

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