Top 10 Coaches Heading into 2016-17
I built this list with a couple of things in mind. I have tried to mix in their coaching resume, tactics, player development, coaching skill, who I would want to coach my team, among other things. Keep in mind this list is purely subjective as you can’t measure coaching ability with statistical analysis, the way you would when comparing players. So on that note here we go:
1. Gregg Popovich
I don’t think anybody would argue with Pop in the top spot. He has been doing it for 20 years, he is a 3-time Coach of the Year, and a 5-time NBA champion. Bringing LaMarcus Aldridge and, more recently, Pau Gasol to the Spurs had a lot to do with the man in charge.
He has also done a great job of player development., Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, are prime examples of talent acquisition and development for Pop. He developed Kawhi Leonard into the superstar and defensive menace that he currently is and has routinely outwitted his opponents in game.
Pop has done a fantastic job extending the careers of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Parker by being one of the rest day pioneers and maximizing his rotation players. He has taken players such as Danny Green and Boris Diaw, that seem like misfits elsewhere, and turns them into contributors.
There is a reason veterans flock to the Spurs, because Popovich routinely gets the most out of them and gives them the best chance to win.
2. Rick Carlisle
One of only eleven players in NBA history to have won a championship both as a player and a coach, I don’t think I can remember a coach that has been able to do more with less.
Last year, his lineup was Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki, and Zaza Pachulia with Raymond Felton, JJ Barea, and Devin Harris as the primary contributors off the bench and he made the playoffs. I don’t mean to bash any of the Mavericks players last year, but Deron and Dirk are on one leg, Mathews was recovering from his Knee injury, and Parsons was dealing with his knee injury a lot of the year.
Not many coaches can get quality minutes out of an aging roster, let alone make the playoffs. The Mavericks have been a playoff staple since Rick took over, and their 2011 run featured a championship win over the newly formed Miami Heat big three.
3. Tom Thibodeau
This might be a homer call, but as a Bulls fan getting the chance to see Thibs’ Bulls teams was awesome. They represented the coach perfectly; hard-nosed, grinding, and had a never let die attitude.
With Derrick Rose leading the way with teammates like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls were not short on emotional leadership. There are so many stories of how much time Thibodeau would spend all day at the facility, just studying their opponents and creating a game-plan.
Thibodeau mastered the new defensive rule changes during his time in Boston and his defense philosophy, strong side stack, that shifts action toward the baseline, has become a staple of the modern NBA defensive schemes. He gets the nod ahead of the next candidate just because he has a longer NBA resume (and because I just love Thibs).
4. Brad Stevens
Stevens came to the NBA from the NCAA’s Butler, and since then has been the perfect coach for Danny Ainge. He shifts his scheme to his players, and Ainge’s handpicked successor to Doc has helped filter a consistent message throughout the organization.
His success at the NBA level has come with a roster devoid of a go to scorer. Instead he has utilized the talents of the diminutive Isaiah Thomas, ferocious permiterperimeter defenders (Bradley, Smart, and Crowder), and big men with a shooting touch (Jerebko, Olynyk, and Horford).
He has adopted his style to fit the immensely deep Celtics roster, utilizing every member of his bench. He’s made the playoffs, had success in the regular season, and has a lot of room to grow as one of the youngest coaches in the NBA.
5. Terry Stotts
Terry Stotts piloted a team many thought was destined for a lottery picks last year, and instead, brought them to the playoffs. His team lost 4 starters from the year before (Aldridge, Batum, Matthews, and Lopez), with only Damian Lillard remaining.
In one offseason, Stotts changed his entire offensive scheme from a low post attack centered around LaMarcus Aldridge to a scheme that is perfect at exploiting defenders through a Lillard or McCollum pick and roll. He goes unrecognized but should be credited as being one of the best tacticians in the NBA as well as have the ability to create a culture that every player can buy into.
6. Steve Kerr
Steve Kerr could be ranked higher. He is a great coach and I am sure the Golden State Warriors wouldn’t have anyone else drawing up their plays. That being said, from the time he was hired he inherited one of the most talent- rich, versatile, and deep rosters in the NBA.
In his first season, Kerr led the Warriors to the best record in the league and an NBA Championship. Not bad for a first year head coach, but he wasn’t done. The following season Kerr coached the Warriors to best record in NBA history, led his team to the best record in the NBA, just after winning the championship, both insane accomplishments that some coaches never will achieve. I can’t put him higher because I don’t know what he can do. A lot of coaches can take a team with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston, etc., and win a championship. That doesn’t show me how great of a coach he is, just that he has the best players. Now with Durant on the roster it is going to be even more unclear if Kerr’s success can be credited to inheriting a powerful roster at the right time from Mark Jackson, or from the coaching itself. I wonder if Kerr would have as much success as Thibs, Stevens, or even Stotts if they were to trade places.
7. Mike Budenholzer
A product of the Popovich coaching tree, coach Bud has guided the Hawks to a first place regular season finish and to numerous playoff runs. Including 2015 season, when the Hawks won 60 games and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Enough success to earn Budenholzer his first Coach of the Year
Coach Bud created a San Antonio lite in Atlanta, using a system predicated on ball movement, precision and defensive responsibility. It will be interesting to see how he incorporates Dwight Howard into his scheme that has put floor spacing at a premium, something D-12 does not contribute to.
8. Doc Rivers
Doc has attained the highest levels of success in the NBA with the Celtics and the Clippers. He is a hard-nosed, no nonsense coach on the court, but Rivers also prides himself on turning the locker room into the players’ sanctuary.
He is a player’s coach; he puts his guys in the best position to succeed as individuals and as a team. The players can trust that Doc will always put the team first, and this creates a great sense of loyalty from his team. He can rub players the wrong way when they disagree with him, or don’t like how he is using them (Rajon Rondo in his later Boston days), but Doc is a champion and a proven playoff winner that has the respect of everybody in the league.
9. Steve Clifford
Before he took over, the former Charlotte Bobcats, were bottom feeders. They won 28 games in the two years before Clifford, finishing close to the bottom of the league in defense.
Clifford installed a defense-first ideology, and in his first season they graduated to the fifth best defense in the league and an overall a record of 43-39. Part of the success was Kemba Walker’s development as a floor general and the addition of Al Jefferson, but without Clifford you don’t win an additional 15 games than your previous two seasons combined.
Currently the Hornets have become a middle-of-the-pack team in the Eastern Conference, not good enough to contend but not bad enough to fall into the draft lottery. Part of the reason for their lack of upward progression is that Clifford doesn’t have the most imaginative offense, which lowers his ranking for me.
10. Stan Van Gundy
SVG has experienced great success during his time in Orlando with a young Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and co.. He has become famous for his spread-the-floor offensive scheme which surrounds a dominant center with four shooters. In Orlando he utilized Dwight Howard in the middle and in Detroit he now uses Andre Drummond as the focal point. He likes to have his centers gobble up rebounds and kick the ball out to perimeter shooters, or have them roll to the rim in dangerous pick and roll duos.
The thing with SVG is that he hasn’t shown that he is willing to change his scheme to fit the team’s roster, rather, he’ll look to find players that fit his system. Mike D’Antoni is similar in that respect, and both need close to perfect environments and personnel to experience high levels of success.