NBA Coach of the Year Watch
While Coach of the Year isn’t the sexiest postseason award given out by the NBA, there’s no denying the fact that a truly exceptional coach can mean the difference between a good team and a bad team and, perhaps more importantly, a good team and a great one. It’s why Jerry Sloan’s teams always made the postseason, why Phil Jackson has more championship rings than fingers and why Gregg Popovich is the longest-tenured head coach currently employed not only in the NBA, but all four major professional American sports leagues.
So as we approach the All-Star break, this is as good a time as any to touch base with where the Coach of the Year race currently stands. There are only four men in real contention, and two that are far and away the favorites right now, but depending on how the rest of the season goes, and how these coaches weather some pretty serious injuries, it could still go a number of different of ways.
Here are the current favorites for Coach of the Year:
#1: Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
It took awhile for the Bulls to find a rhythm this season, especially with what basically amounted to an entirely new bench rotation and a starting lineup that did not feature Derrick Rose. But now in the first week of February, Chicago has the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, only two games back of the first-place Miami HEAT.
Go ahead and let that resonate for a minute.
The Bulls, who lost every single member of their Bench Mob except Taj Gibson and rebuilt it with players like Nazr Mohammed and Vlad Radmanovic, are on pace to win over 50 games and maybe even the Central Division. Thanks to great defense (they’re top-three in opponents’ PPG and opponents’ FG%), surprisingly excellent bench play from Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler and Gibson, and of course Thibodeau’s unceasing insistence that the Bulls play their rear ends off each and every night, Chicago has looked really good this season.
Their biggest “problem” moving forward will be getting D-Rose worked back into the rotation, but if Thibodeau can make this current lineup work, he should have no problem handling things when Rose is on the floor again.
#2: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan’s nagging injuries may derail things a bit for the Spurs (perhaps his Nalgene bottle filled with fountain of youth water has run dry?), but up until this point the supposedly too-old San Antonio starting lineup has looked pretty good. So good, in fact, that they’ve got the best record in the Western Conference, two games up on the conference favorites, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Popovich’s role in all this really isn’t a secret because he’s done this for so many years now that we’re hardly surprised by his ability to weather injuries and blend older veterans with burgeoning youngsters. He is, after all, a two-time and reigning Coach of the Year, and if he finds a way to keep the Spurs this competitive despite a potentially prolonged injury for Duncan, he’ll be a prime candidate to repeat this accolade in 2013.
If Duncan’s injury proves too much for even the immortal Gregg Popovich, however, this award will probably go to Thibodeau. As it stands right now, one of these two men (who just so happen to be the last two guys to win it) likely will be named Coach of the Year.
#3: Mark Jackson, Golden State Warriors
Just because Popovich and Thibodeau are the favorites, however, doesn’t mean they’re the only guys who should be considered. Jackson, who has been responsible for a major turnaround out in Oakland, is also high on the list of Coach of the Year candidates thanks to his team’s surprising jump to a top-five spot in the Western Conference.
Not only are the Warriors excellent offensively (they’re seventh in team PPG, eighth in FG%, and 10th in point differential), but they’re also majorly improved on the defensive end, which was a major part of Jackson’s pitch for the Golden State job when he first interviewed two years ago. It hasn’t taken him long to instill that new philosophy, as his Warriors are now fourth in the league in rebounds and third in opponents’ FG%.
All this playing while most of the season without starting center and defensive cornerstone Andrew Bogut and constant worry about Stephen Curry’s bum ankle. There were zero expectations for success heading into the season, but Jackson has the Warriors looking as credible as they have since that great 2007 playoff series against the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks. That’s why he’ll undoubtedly get some votes for COY.
#4: Mike Woodson, New York Knicks
There was no way the Knicks were going to stay as hot as they were to start this season, but their obvious defensive improvements, as well as very surprising personal steps forward by Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, earn Woodson some serious consideration in the Coach of the Year race.
The Knicks have more wins than anybody else in the Eastern Conference, and anybody who says they saw that coming is lying through their teeth. This is an old team, too, and injuries have been a major problem for most of the Knicks’ more aged members of the rotation, so Woodson is milking top production out of a group of players that simply can’t stay healthy. That, plus his ability to help transform Anthony into an MVP candidate and bona fide leader, make Woodson one of the league’s best coaches this year.
Those are the top four contenders for the 2013 Coach of the Year Award, and it’s quite a group of respected coaches. Thibodeau has to be considered a frontrunner for now because of the way his team is trending (especially with Rose coming back soon), but we can never count out Popovich and the Spurs, and the other two gentlemen bring a lot to the table, as well. It will be interesting to see which coach pulls ahead down the stretch because there’s plenty of time left for momentum to shift in another man’s favor.
Who do you like? Are there any other coaches out there that deserve consideration? If so, hit up the comments and give us your two cents!