Award Watch: Coach of the Year
Over the past week the last of those impressive double-digit winning streaks came to a sudden halt. The November coaches of the month, Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers will just have to start new streaks.
In an attempt to become relevant again, Orlando pulled off the type of mid-season changes that the media and fans want but rarely see. The exchange of top-level salaries and talent designed to give the Magic a legitimate chance at post-season glory. Of course it’s the coach who has to pull all those new pieces into one cohesive unit. Last week Stan Van Gundy fell off our watch list, this week everybody is watching his every move as his Magic was the Spurs and Celtics streak-stopper.
During the season, the most impressive statistic a coach can point to is the pace his team is winning at. Pace projects the number of wins a team would have at the end of the season if they continue to win at their current rate and a handful of teams are getting close to a record pace.
Now entering the tenth week of the NBA schedule, we are headed towards the New Year, and for most teams, it does not get any easier from here.
#1 Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks 24-5, Pace 68, last year: 55-27
(Last week #3, 22-5)
It will be challenging for head coach Rick Carlisle to hang onto our top spot for COY, but after beating the HEAT, Magic, and Thunder on the road, the coach who has unexpectedly beaten the best teams in the NBA this season deserves the recognition.
For two months now the Dallas Mavericks have been flat-out impressive, a to- ranked defensive team playing with the passion of the 2006 NBA Finals Mavericks and the 67-win team of 2007.
However as the current head coach of one of the NBA’s best regular season clubs over the past decade, Carlisle has no room for error in the COY race.
#2 Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics 23-5, Pace 67, last year: 50-32
(Last week #2, 22-4)
After 14 wins in a row, the Rajon Rondo-less Celtics finally dropped a game to the revamped Magic in Orlando.
Despite the major and minor injuries impacting on his team’s line-ups, head coach Doc Rivers has the Celtics playing better than anticipated and far ahead of last year’s regular season result. A solid contender for COY, Rivers continues to accomplish everything necessary to stay in the race.
#3 Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs 26-4, Pace 71, last year: 50-32
(Last week #1, 24-3)
Head Coach Gregg Popovich has led his team to the best record in the NBA and is currently one of the favorites for COY, but this veteran team is about to be severely tested and the result will directly impact our perception of the Spurs.
After losing to the revamped Magic two days before Christmas to end a 10-game winning streak, the Spurs will face the Lakers, Mavericks, and Thunder over the next five days before heading off on a three-game road trip to New York, Boston, and Indiana.
If they maintain this pace over that stretch of games, Popovich will be on the verge of a very special season.
#4 Mike D’Antoni, New York Knicks 18-12, Pace 49, last year: 29-53
(Last week #4, 16-12)
When your team is in New York and is finally winning after a decade of futility, everybody who is contributing to that success is going to get a second and a third look.
Head coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t suddenly forget how to win when he left Phoenix for New York, and this season with some continuity and an All-Star in his line-up, he is winning again. After losing to a couple of top teams the previous week, the Knicks bounced back to defeat the Thunder and the Bulls.
The bar for COY in New York is justifiably lower than for many other teams and D’Antoni is on a pace keeping him in solid contention.
#5 Monty Williams, New Orleans Hornets 18-13, Pace 48, last year: 37-45, (Bryon Scott/ Jeff Bower)
(Last week #5, 16-12)
Rookie head coach Monty Williams continues to benefit from that 11-1 to start the season, but no one takes those wins back later, and the surprising Hornets have been 4-3 since the middle of December.
No one should try to deny that the coaching situation in New Orleans has been exceptionally challenging this season as the team was being sold and the mere fact that Williams has managed to get his players to focus enough to win a few games recently is impressive. Now that the team has been bought by the league and their funding is assured, Williams can show us if that early season success was reality or a mirage.
Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls 19-10, Pace 54, last year: 41-41, (Vinny Del Negro)
(Last week: Honorable Mention, 16-9)
Even if the schedule was not exceptionally challenging, head coach Tom Thibodeau showed us that his team could handle some adversity and win games through a busy Christmas week.
The commendable job by this new head coach is heading the Bulls towards an easy first place finish in their division. However that is what most of us expected and the Bucks unexpected collapse has taken any excitement out of the Central Division race for now.
Jerry Sloan, Utah Jazz 21-10, Pace 57, last year: 53-29
(Last week: Honorable Mention, 20-9)
The Jazz are good; unfortunately for Hall-of-Fame Head Coach Jerry Sloan, that is what we have come to expect.
Erik Spoelstra, Miami HEAT 23-9, Pace 59, last year: 47-35
(Last week: Honorable Mention, 21-9)
It appears like the HEAT have got their act together and are performing at the level expected of them before the season started, but that will not move Head Coach Erik Spoelstra into our top five for COY.
Some Coaches to Watch
There are some coaches who continue to get our attention and could move up if things improve.
Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder 21-11, Pace 54 (last week: 19-9), last year: 50-32
Phil Jackson, LA Lakers 21-9, Pace 57 (last week: 21-7), last year: 57-25
Jim O’Brien, Indiana Pacers 13-15, Pace 38, (last week: 13-14), last year: 32-50
Stan Van Gundy, Orlando Magic 19-12, Pace 50 (last week 16-11) last year 59-23
The NBA Coach of the Year (COY) is selected at the end of the regular season by a media panel whose members each cast votes for their first, second and third place choices.
HOOPSWORLD is ranking the COY race based on how the coach’s team is performing against last year’s record, this year’s preseason expectations, and on how they are handling adversity during the season. A strong winning record is almost mandatory, but merely meeting already high expectations will not be enough. There is only a slight chance of a lottery bound coach winning this award.
Did we miss someone? Let us know in the comments section below or contact us during HOOPSWORLD’s daily NBA chats.
You can send me comment or a question about COY, the Toronto Raptors, or anything else in the NBA here and check back on Thursday at noon ET for a response.