Award Watch: Coach of the Year
In the week before the All-Star break, the best coaches see the distraction as a chance to pick up games from teams who may not be as focused heading into the break. They know every win counts come April.
The dog days of February have been impacting teams. No one except the resurgent Mavericks has done better than 8-2 over the most recent stretch of games and those frequent double-digit winning streaks seem like a distant memory. Boston is just 6-4 over their past 10 games and the popular Lakers have stumbled to a 5-5 record. Both the Knicks and the Magic are struggling as well, it must be the time of year.
Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich continues to reside at our number one ranking for Coach of the Year as he still has a 70-win season in sight. It is getting harder to imagine Popovich not winning this award.
#1 Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs 46-9, Pace-to-win 69, last year: 50-32
(Last week #1, 42-8)
It doesn’t seem to matter when we look at how the Spurs are performing this season as nothing changes. The Spurs are 6-2 on their current nine-game rodeo-road trip heading into All-Star weekend, winners of 4 of 5 over the past week.
"We are one of the better teams in the league, but at this point there are several teams better than us even though our record is better because they are playing better defense overall," said Coach Popovich.
Apparently a six-game lead over the rest of the league just doesn’t mean as much as it used to? Don’t believe him, there have been no signs of Popovich letting his players lose focus though any part of their schedule.
#2 Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics 39-14, Pace-to-win 60, last year: 50-32
(Last week #3, 38-12)
After the recent losses to the red-hot Mavericks and stumbling Lakers at home one might legitimately start wondering if Coach Rivers was having some trouble keeping his guys completely focused on the events at hand.
The Celtics have five players out on long-term injury and the spinal cord injury to Marquis Daniels on February 7 could impact any teammate’s game, but this type of adversity is precisely what Rivers has fought through all season and is a big part of the reason why he remains so highly rated in our COY rankings.
Still in first-place in the East after beating the HEAT on Sunday, Rivers continues to build a regular season record that was not expected from a team that is clearly focused on the postseason.
#3 Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls 36-16, Pace-to-win 57, last year: 41-41, (Vinny Del Negro)
(Last week: #4, 34-16)
Rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau is one of just six coaches that has gone 8-2 or better over the past ten games as he continues to lead his Bulls ever closer to first-place in the East.
In a surprisingly light two-game schedule on the road this past week, the Bulls beat the Jazz and Hornets and are now home to face an improving Bobcats team and the Spurs before the break. No one said it was going to be easy.
Most people expected the Bulls to win 50 games this season and take first place in the Central division; Thibodeau is staking his claim for COY by exceeding those expectations.
#4 Monty Williams, New Orleans Hornets 33-23, Pace-to-win 48, last year: 37-45, (Bryon Scott/ Jeff Bower)
(Last week #2, 32-20)
"An ‘A’ no question," said Paul to HOOPSWORLD on the grade Coach Williams has earned this season. "Maybe an A-Plus.
"I have the ultimate confidence in coach and I think truly that we have the best coaching staff in the league."
If Chris Paul re-ups in New Orleans when possible because of Coach Williams, he will be the COY in many people’s minds, regardless of the team’s level of success on the floor.
The Hornets are just 2-5 in February without center Emeka Okafor, who will miss up to three weeks with an oblique strain, but apparently this setback has not adversely affected the upbeat observations of the Hornets’ All-Star point guard.
The rookie head coach continues to impress by getting more out of the Hornets than anyone expected before this season started.
#5 Erik Spoelstra, Miami HEAT 39-15, Pace-to-win 59, last year: 47-35
(Last week: #5, 37-14)
Just in, the HEAT is pretty good. Unfortunately they are still not good enough to beat the Celtics and we all know that means more to Coach Spoelstra than any possible run at COY.
The HEAT had their eight-game winning streak snapped in Boston by a depleted Celtics team making do with just Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, and Glen Davis as bigs. If any of Shaq or Jermaine O’Neal or even Semih Erden return for the playoffs (which they will), Boston will be better.
Spoelstra continues to do a good job with the HEAT this season, but expectations for his team were very high and it is unlikely that he can exceed them.
Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks 38-16, Pace-to-win 58, last year: 55-27
(Last week: Honorable Mention, 35-15)
The best record in the NBA over the past 10 games is breathing some new life into Coach Carlisle’s bid for COY.
Apparently all that was missing from the Mavericks was All-Star Dirk Nowitzki. With Nowitzki in the lineup, the Mavs have been giant killers this season beating the Celtics, Lakers, HEAT, and Spurs. Without Nowitzki, they have trouble beating anyone.
By the middle of January, the steam was out of head coach Rick Carlisle’s bid for COY. Now it’s up to Carlisle’s defense to take advantage of Nowitzki’s offense and challenge for the top spot again.
Mike D’Antoni, New York Knicks 27-26, Pace-to-win 42, last year: 29-53
(Last week: Honorable Mention, 26-24)
Coach D’Antoni has made the Knicks relevant again, but a six-game losing streak in January and a 9-12 record in 2011 has all but taken D’Antoni out of the COY race.
New York’s recent slide could have more to do with just how sore Amar’e Stoudemire’s knee was and the Carmelo Anthony trade talk than anything D’Antoni was doing and there is still a chance the Knicks can earn a record after the All-Star break that recreates some buzz around their head coach.
George Karl, Denver Nuggets 31-24, Pace-to-win 46, last year: 53-29
(Last week: Honorable Mention, 30-21)
Is there anyone not paying attention to everything that is going on in Denver right now?
Coach Karl is not doing anything to gain recognition in this year’s COY race except keep his talented team from completely imploding in the face of numerous rumors and trade speculation.
Some Coaches to Watch
There are some coaches who continue to get our attention and could move up if things improve.
Doug Collins, Philadelphia 76ers, 26-28, Pace-to-win 39 (last week: 23-27), last year: 27-55
Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder 34-19, Pace-to-win 53 (last week: 33-17), last year: 50-32
Phil Jackson, LA Lakers 38-18, Pace-to-win 56 (last week: 35-16), last year: 57-25
Larry Drew, Atlanta Hawks 34-20, Pace-to-win 52 (last week: 33-18) last year: 53-29
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 comments or questions about COY, the Toronto Raptors, or anything else in the NBA to my weekly chat and check back on Thursday at noon ET for a response.