Award Watch: Coach of the Year
A month left to go in the regular season and the Coach of the Year still is not a sure thing. The Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich continues to be chased by Doc Rivers, Tom Thibodeau, and surprisingly, Doug Collins.
A six-game lead over the entire NBA takes some of the pressure off the Spurs need to continue performing at such a high level, but the teams in the East are all in tight playoff battles so they could be fighting it out to the end and improving their coach’s chance at COY in the process.
#1 Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs, 54-13, Pace-to-win 66, last year: 50-32
(Last week #1, 51-12)
The Spurs have only lost two games in a row once this season, but after losing all four quarters in Miami on Monday night, Coach Popovich gets to lead his team into Dallas on Friday where the Mavericks last hope to catch the Spurs for first-place depends on a Dallas victory. It’s never easy at the top.
The disappointing 30-point loss in Miami after beating the HEAT by 30 in San Antonio just 10 days ago should remind everyone not to take the results of any one game too seriously. This hasn’t derailed Coach Popovich’s bid for COY or signaled that Coach Spoelstra finally has the HEAT firing on all cylinders.
Coach Popovich has taken last year’s 50-win team to first place overall in the NBA and a projected 66-win season, COY is his to lose.
#2 Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics 47-18, Pace-to-win 59, last year: 50-32
(Last week #2, 46-15)
Still in first place in the East by the narrowest of margins, Coach Rivers has probably noticed the charging Bulls team taking advantage of his Celtics recent slide. Over the past four games, losses to the Clippers, Sixers, and Nets have eliminated the 2.5 game lead the Celtics enjoyed at the start of last week.
Coach Rivers has brought his team past adversity and unexpectedly kept the Celtics in first place in the East all season. For a chance at COY, Rivers will have to maintain this surprisingly strong regular season performance for another month.
#3 Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls, 47-18, Pace-to-win 59, last year: 41-41, (Vinny Del Negro)
(Last week: #3, 44-18)
The surging Bulls are 9-1 over their past 10 games and Coach Thibodeau is gaining COY attention rarely given to rookie head coaches.
In a virtual tie for first place in the East, the Bulls face a relatively soft schedule over the next two weeks that could, if their strong play continues, permit Thibodeau to be in a position to seriously challenge Popovich for COY by the end of March.
It may be too much to ask that both the veteran Spurs and Celtics not finish the season strong, but even if Thibodeau cannot overcome his rivals in the COY voting, he does have the Bulls in position to be considered serious contenders for a spot in this year’s NBA Finals.
#4 Doug Collins, Philadelphia 76ers, 34-32, Pace-to-win 42, last year: 27-55 (Eddie Jordan)
(Last week: #4, 32-30)
The Sixers were 2-2 last week but that’s all Coach Collins has to get from his Sixers to lockup seventh place in the East and for the moment at least, Philly is just a half game back of the sixth place Knicks.
Coach Doug Collins is putting together the kind of season that gets a head coach unexpected awards.
The Sixers are on pace for a 15-win improvement over last season and that compares favorably to what Coach Popovich is doing in San Antonio. Of course it’s generally considered much easier to go from 27-wins to 42-wins than from 50 to 66.
#5 Lionel Hollins, Memphis Grizzlies, 37-31, Pace-to-win 45, last year: 40-42
(Last week: #5, 36-29)
The Grizzlies just finished as tough a seven game stretch as any team is likely to face this season at 3-4 by splitting a pair of games with the Spurs, losing to the Hornets, beating the Mavericks and Thunder, and finally losing to the Knicks and HEAT.
Currently the Grizzlies sport a 2.5 game lead over the Suns for eighth and sit just one game back of Portland for seventh.
Coach Hollins has led his playoff bound Grizzlies to wins over the NBA’s best teams this season and that is a huge accomplishment with a team that no one expected to do anything.
Monty Williams, New Orleans Hornets, 39-30, Pace-to-win 46, last year: 37-45, (Bryon Scott/ Jeff Bower)
(Last week: Honorable Mention, 37-29)
The Hornets have gone 5-5 over their past 10 games and while the 2-7 collapse the Hornets endured in February before the All-Star break is over, Coach Williams has not been able to rekindle a third 10-1 stretch of games to move the Hornets back up in the standings.
The Hornets have exceeded expectations this season, and Coach Williams has performed well in his rookie season, however the team’s performance since the end of January has taken all the momentum out of his COY bid.
Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks, 47-19, Pace-to-win 58, last year: 55-27
(Last week: Honorable Mention, 46-17)
The Mavericks are 2-3 since their latest eight-game winning streak ended and are looking decidedly more beatable than they have in over a month.
The tough defense preached by Coach Carlisle that got the Mavericks off to such a great start this season was interrupted by the injury to Caron Butler and further disrupted by replacing Butler with the offensive-minded Peja Stojakovic. Since last week, the oft-injured Stojakovic has been hurting again forcing Coach Carlisle into more changes.
After 55 wins last season, it was going to take something very special for Coach Carlisle win COY and the opportunities for that special season seem to have passed.
Some Coaches to Watch
There are some additional coaches who we are worth following to see how they perform over the final month of the season.
George Karl, Denver Nuggets, 40-27, Pace-to-win 49, (last week: 37-27), last year: 53-29
Nate McMillan, Portland Trail Blazers, 37-29, Pace-to-win 47, (last week: 36-27), last year: 50-32
Erik Spoelstra, Miami HEAT, 46-21, Pace-to-win 56, (last week: 43-20), last year: 47-35
Phil Jackson, LA Lakers, 48-20, Pace-to-win 58, (last week: 45-19), last year: 57-25
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 NBA chat and check back on Thursday at noon ET for a response.