Erik Spoelstra for COY? Here’s 7 Reasons for Consideration
Since his tenure as Head Coach of the Miami Heat, which began in 2008, Erik Spoelstra has to be viewed as one of the most underrated coaches in the league. Yes, he did have three of the best players in the league in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh during the team’s four straight NBA finals appearances; however, he shouldn’t be overlooked. The Heat only missed the playoff once since 2008.
This season is a perfect example of why coach Spo is under looked. He should at least be considered for Coach of the Year. Here are seven key reasons why.
1. No Wade? No Bosh? No Problem
On July 14, Wade signed with the Chicago Bulls, leaving the team he called home for 13 seasons. On Sept 24, the Heat released an official statement stating the team would be unable to medically clear Bosh to take the court due to blood clots on his lungs. Just like that two superstars were gone in an instant. During the offseason, the team signed veterans Wayne Ellington, James Johnson and Dion Waiters. All three players were short term, low-risk signings. The team did re-sign Hassan Whiteside to pair with a young core of Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow and veteran Goran Dragic. With a mix of veterans and young players, the team would have to rely on their nine-year coach to lead the team.
2) No Need to Tank
The team’s season did not launch in the right direction. The Heat faced an 11-30 record to begin the year, and the season seemed lost. They were quickly heading to the lottery for a high draft pick. After a victory over James Harden and the Houston Rockets, the team would completely change their season around. The win began a 13-game winning streak, the longest of any team this season. The winning streak also became the longest in NBA history for a team below .500. Since Jan 17, the team is an impressive 26-8. During the same span, the Heat have played better than the top teams in the Conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers are 17-16. The Boston Celtics are 22-11. Instead of looking towards next season, Spoelstra is preparing the team for a postseason run.
3) Winning with Who?
Rodney McGruder, Luke Babbitt, Okaro White, and Willie Reed. These are four players who have played key minutes for Spoelstra and the Heat. Journeyman James Johnson is a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He is averaging a career high in points (12.4 per game), assists (3.5 per game) and rebounds (4.8 per game). Dion Waiters was known as a shooting guard who chucks up unnecessary shots. This season he evolved into a playmaker, averaging a career best in assist (4.3 per game) and is shooting a career best from three (39.4 percent). He also became the team’s clutch scorer averaging 15.8 points per game. Second year player, Tyler Johnson is averaging a career high in points with 13.7 per game. While another journeyman Wayne Ellington is averaging a career high in points with 10.7 per game. Spoelstra took a number of misfit players and devolved them into a dangerous first round playoff opponent.
4) Bitten by the Injury Bug
To say the Heat have been injured this season is an understatement. Besides Bosh, Josh McRoberts has missed most of the season with a stress fracture in his left foot. Winslow is out for the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Richardson has been limited to just 45 games. Waiters is currently out with a sprained left ankle. Despite all the injuries, Spoelstra managed to keep the team in the playoff hunt using various rotations.
5) Stingy Defense
Since the days LeBron called South Beach home, Spoelstra always emphasized the importance of defense. This season the Heat are tied for 5th in defensive efficiency. They are third in team blocks with 5.7 per game. Despite lackluster names on the roster, the team’s defense is one of the toughest in the league.
6) Evolution of Whiteside
Three years ago, Whiteside was bouncing around teams and the D-League. Now he is developing into one of the league’s best centers. He’s averaging 16.8 points per game and leads the league in rebounding with 14 rebounds per game. Miami kept their focus on player development. Spoelstra deserves credit for elevating Whiteside’s game. Due to his poor free throw shooting, the Heat would bench Whiteside during crucial periods in the fourth. This season, Whiteside is on the floor late in the fourth.
7) Building a Culture
Every great franchise builds a winning culture. The San Antonio Spurs have done it for years. The Boston Celtics have it and the Los Angeles Lakers once had it. Spoelstra and team Team President Pat Riley should be credited for building a team culture where hustle and hard work is rewarded. Everything must be earned and nothing is guaranteed. This mentality has developed in South Beach and may be important for future free agents considering Miami. The organization should always come before the player.
Stats and Info Courtesy of Basketball-Reference, ESPN, RotoWorld, CbsSports