Award Watch: Coach Of The Year
There is only three weeks left to go in the regular season and the candidates for Coach of the Year are only entrenching their positions further. San Antonio Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich continues to be chased by Doc Rivers, Tom Thibodeau, and surprisingly, Doug Collins.
The Spurs managed to widen their lead over the entire NBA by half a game last week, and despite Tim Duncan having to rest a sore ankle, it is becoming increasingly unlikely anyone can catch them.
#1 Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs, 57-13, Pace-to-win 67, last year: 50-32
(Last week #1, 54-13)
The Spurs have reeled off another three wins in a row making them the toughest team to beat after a loss in the NBA this season. The only back-to-back losses Coach Popovich has experienced were in back-to-back road games on an east coast swing in January.
However, for the second time this season Coach Popovich will be without one of his star players after Tim Duncan went down with an ankle injury on Monday night in a game against the Warriors.
"X-rays were negative, but he’ll obviously be out a while," said Popovich after the game.
Popovich has been managing Duncan’s minutes all season and a forced rest period probably only makes it easier to sit the Spurs’ All-Star heading into what should be another strong playoff run. This shouldn’t significantly impact how many regular season wins Popovich can accumulate.
Coach Popovich has taken last year’s 50-win team to first place overall in the NBA and a projected 67-win season, COY remains his to lose.
#2 Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics 50-19, Pace-to-win 59, last year: 50-32
(Last week #2, 47-18)
The same as a week ago, the Celtics are still in first place in the East by the narrowest of margins, this despite Rajon Rondo’s obvious struggles with "minor" injuries.
The Celtics have five players listed with injuries although both Rondo and Ray Allen played against the Knicks on Monday, but Rivers has once again found a way to keep his team winning games.
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 to the end.
#3 Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls, 50-19, Pace-to-win 59, last year: 41-41, (Vinny Del Negro)
(Last week: #3, 47-18)
The surging Bulls are still 9-1 over their past 10 games keeping Coach Thibodeau’s shot at COY in the spotlight.
The Bulls had their chance to finally pass the Celtics for first place in the East this week but fell to the Pacers in overtime, snapping an eight-game winning-streak. This has become somewhat of a pattern for the Bulls since Christmas as this is the sixth time a Bulls winning streak has been broken by a sub-.500 team.
Coach Thibodeau has a legitimate shot at catching the Celtics for first in the East before it’s all over and the excitement surrounding the Bulls this season ensures he will get a significant number of COY votes. However, with Coach Popovich leading the Spurs to first-place overall, it is unlikely the Bulls can do enough for Thibodeau to get him over the top.
#4 Doug Collins, Philadelphia 76ers, 36-34, Pace-to-win 42, last year: 27-55 (Eddie Jordan)
(Last week: #4, 34-32)
The Sixers were 2-2 again last week but that’s still all Coach Collins has to get from his Sixers as the Knicks continue to slide. The surprising Sixers are now in sixth place, a full game up on the Knicks.
Just in case you weren’t paying attention, Collins has put together the kind of season that gets a head coach unexpected awards.
#5 Lionel Hollins, Memphis Grizzlies, 39-32, Pace-to-win 45, last year: 40-42
(Last week: #5, 37-31)
All season it has been the Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, or Utah Jazz who were going to be in the playoffs, but with just 11 games left to go, it’s the eighth-place Grizzlies with a two-game lead over the Rockets and just a game behind Portland for seventh.
These Grizzlies have only gotten tougher as the season has progressed and have been an elite team killer with a winning record against the top eight teams since January.
Coach Hollins deserves at least some COY consideration for surprising everyone with what he has accomplished this season.
Monty Williams, New Orleans Hornets, 40-31, Pace-to-win 46, last year: 37-45, (Bryon Scott/ Jeff Bower)
(Last week: Honorable Mention, 39-30)
The Hornets are a 7-6 team since the All-Star break which is keeping them is the playoff picture but effectively ending any chance that Coach Williams had at COY.
The Hornets have exceeded expectations this season, and Coach Williams has performed well in his rookie season, however his bid for COY ended when the team’s 10-game winning-streak was snapped at the end of January and they couldn’t find the magic again.
Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks, 49-21, Pace-to-win 57, last year: 55-27
(Last week: Honorable Mention, 47-19)
The Mavericks are 5-5 over their past 10 games and are surrendering 99.5 points per game over that span, but even that number is misleading because before they held the Warriors to just 73 points on Sunday, that number was over 102. This isn’t what we had come to expect from the now defensive-minded Mavericks coming into the month of March.
Except for the period when Dirk Nowitzki was injured, Coach Carlisle had pushed the Mavericks beyond our expectations and the team was a legitimate challenger for first-place in the West. Now they are in a fight for second with the Lakers and this recent slide has them sitting one game back in third.
Coach Carlisle’s bid for COY ended in March. Hopefully he can turn things around in time for the playoffs.
Some Coaches to Watch
There are some coaches who are still worth watching even if it’s just to see how they perform over the final month of the season.
George Karl, Denver Nuggets, 42-29, Pace-to-win 49, (last week: 40-27), last year: 53-29
Nate McMillan, Portland Trail Blazers, 40-30, Pace-to-win 47, (last week: 37-29), last year: 50-32
Erik Spoelstra, Miami HEAT, 48-22, Pace-to-win 56, (last week: 46-21), last year: 47-35
Phil Jackson, LA Lakers, 50-20, Pace-to-win 59, (last week: 48-20), 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 chat and check back on Thursday at noon ET for a response.
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