Basketball is very much a mental game that is won between the ears, which is where coaches come into play. The head coach motivates and directs his players. He gives them techniques, tendencies and other information they then use on the court.
Without the players, a coach would have no clay with which create his masterpiece. Without a coach, a team would just be a lump of clay. They need each other. When the two sides work well together and are on the same page, that’s when championships are won.
There is no single metric for determining whether a coach is good or not. While coaches get fired all the time, one way to see who the best coaches are is to look at who hasn’t been fired in a while (or at all).
The way you shouldn’t evaluate coaches is simply looking at wins and losses. That isn’t wise, as things like injuries and the circumstances surrounding the hire can impact their record. For example, a good coach can be hired on a young or bad team that continues their mediocrity and it isn’t necessarily indicative of that particular coach’s skills.
With that said, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best coaches in the NBA right now. With some coaches, there is a bigger sample size to judge their work and we can look at some of their past stops in the league to determine their ranking. Getting a buy in from your players is sometimes important as well.
6. Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors)
Starting out the countdown is Kerr. What a season. The rookie coach takes an already talented team all the way in his first year. Kerr really did a good job managing his team and getting players to buy in. David Lee took a backseat, Andre Iguodala, a former All-Star, came off the bench all year, until starting in the NBA Finals and winning Finals MVP. He managed superstars and played an interesting small-ball style that fit his personnel on the court.
He isn’t higher on the list because he hasn’t done this for more than a year and that team was already pretty good before he got there. Still, he deserves credit for getting them over the hump in spectacular fashion. Kerr was runner-up in the 2014-15 Coach of the Year race.
5. Stan Van Gundy (Detroit Pistons)
Van Gundy doesn’t have the same charisma as Kerr, but he has a longer track record. He took that 2008-09 Orlando Magic team to the NBA Finals with basically just a young, raw Dwight Howard and a bunch of shooters. As a head coach, Van Gundy has won 61 percent of his games and has more than 400 wins under his belt.
As the coach (and president of basketball operations) of these young Pistons, Van Gundy is already starting to get them back on the right track. He’s a smart coach who has had a whole lot of success throughout his career.
4. George Karl (Sacramento Kings)
It seems that Karl has had some trouble connecting with his stars during his various stints around the league. That, or he’s had some bad luck with the stars he’s ended up coaching. Either way, his strength is elsewhere.
Karl is part of the prestigious 1,000-win club, which includes only nine coaches in NBA history. His sample size of coaching is much bigger than either Kerr or Van Gundy. Karl has won 59.6 percent of his games and took the 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals. He was the 2013 Coach of the Year.
3. Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta Hawks)
Budenholzer is on this list because of the incredible job he has done with the Hawks, leading a team with no superstars (but weirdly four All-Stars) to 60 wins. He is the reigning Coach of the Year, winning the award in his second year as the head coach in Atlanta after a spending 17 years as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs.
While the Hawks were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, Budenholzer is a very good coach. Atlanta is in good hands and he should keep the team competitive for years to come.
2. Rick Carlisle (Dallas Mavericks)
Carlisle is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the league, as he’s been with Dallas since 2008. He’s survived the ebb and flow of talent in and out of the Mavericks organization and proved he has staying power. He’s won 59 percent of his games for a total of 619 victories throughout his career.
He helped the Mavs win the lone championship in their history in 2011 and has been a brilliant coach for years. He’ll have his work cut out this year, that’s for sure, but he’s up to the task.
1. Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs)
Popovich is number one and it’s not really close. He’s been the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs for 19 years. Getting to coach the same team for nearly two decades is unheard of in the NBA. He’s a huge reason for the Spurs’ success and will be able to coach the team until he decides he’s done.
Popovich is in the 1,000-win club – the only coach to reach 1,000 victories and win a championship with the one team – with 1,022 wins and a ridiculous 68.5 percent win rate in the regular season. Not to mention, he has NBA championships (and he’d likely have six if not for a Ray Allen three-pointer) during that span. He’s won three Coach of the Year awards already and may win more before he retires. He’s a legend.
Doc Rivers (Los Angeles Clippers) – Rivers is certainly respected by his players and has a solid track record. He coached Boston to a championship in 2008 with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and he’s hoping to add to his ring total in Los Angeles, where he also serves as the franchise’s president of basketball operations.
Jason Kidd (Milwaukee Bucks) – Kidd’s coaching career got off to a slow start; remember when he spilled some water to get an extra timeout, made a power play within the organization, then forced his way to Milwaukee? However, he is really helping this young Bucks team improve by leaps and bounds. Kidd placed third in the 2014-15 Coach of the Year race. Kidd will continue to improve as he gains coaching experience and his players develop.
Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics) – Stevens was fourth in last year’s Coach of the Year race, as he took a Celtics team that didn’t belong anywhere near the playoffs to the seventh seed. Also, his out of timeout plays are quite legendary.
Kevin McHale (Houston Rockets) – McHale was sixth in last season’s Coach of the Year race. He is one of the outliers as a former NBA big man who is now coaching. He’s done well managing Houston’s superstars James Harden and Dwight Howard as well as the roster instability that happens when the wheeling and dealing Daryl Morey is your general manager.
Who did we leave out? Let us know your thoughts on these rankings in the comments below!
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