*Photo via USA Today
The NBA Coach of the Year Award is basically a two man race between first time head coach, Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors and Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks. It’s no surprise these two are the front runners for the nomination, as both their teams have run away with the best record in their respected conference, and have the best two records in the league. However before I tell you which one will win the award and why, I would like to recognize some coaches in the league that won’t get any votes at all, or deserve an honorable mention for their efforts this season.
Now some of these coaches will never get a vote, and have teams under .500 , but I feel they’ve done a good job with the talent given to them, and have their teams headed in the right direction, The two coaches that fall in this category are Brad Stevens from the Boston Celtics and Jason Kidd from the Milwaukee Bucks. I realize plenty of other coaches have better records, but you can’t ignore what Stevens and Kidd have done. Last season the Bucks won a total of 15 games, they have 35 wins with eleven games to go, and are going to be in the playoffs. I know the Bucks roster changed after the trade deadline , but for the majority of the season Kidd was coaching the same core group as the team just a year ago lost 67 games. What is more impressive is that Kidd has coached the team basically the entire year without 2nd overall pick Jabari Parker. The job Brad Stevens has done with the Celtics is impressive as well, although they are nine games under .500 , but the roster they assembled for Stevens to coach, suggests they should be much further under .500. After trading Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green early in the season it was clear Danny Ainge was moving this team into complete rebuilding mode. Well Stevens had other ideas, much to the surprise of management, who figured they would be in the running for a lottery pick, Stevens has coached this group into playoff contention. Granted it is the East where the criteria to get in the playoffs is don’t lose over 45 games, but still the job he’s done with this roster is impressive, and with the draft picks they have in upcoming years, I have a feeling we will hear Stevens name discussed seriously with this award very soon.
There are also coaches that are having impressive years, but just not quite good enough to be seriously considered, because of the excellence of Kerr and Budenholzer’s programs. The first two coaches I’d like to mention are Scott Brooks of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Mchale of the Houston Rockets. Anytime your star players go down for extended periods of time, like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Dwight Howard, and you are able to stay afloat in the rough Western Conference, it is impressive. I believe they won’t get consideration because I feel like much of their game plan is giving the ball to their two MVP candidates, and allowing them to control the game. Other coaches that deserve an honorable mention are David Blatt of the Cleveland Cavaliers and David Joerger from the Memphis Grizzles. Anytime you have the second best record in your conference you deserve some credit, but with the teams these coaches inherited I don’t think they’ve done enough to get the nod for this award. I think Terry Stotts has done a great job in Portland, with all the injuries that have happened to this young Blazer team, to have them in a position for home court is impressive. As always Tom Tibodeau has had to deal with injuries to the Bulls all season, with players like Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Jimmy Butler out. He has had to shuffle his line ups around all season starting players like Aaron Brooks and E’twaun Moore, and still has the Bulls third out east ready to make a playoff push. It would seem wrong to have this discuss about the best coaches this year and not have Gregg Popovich in it. The man has kept the Spurs in contention out west without last year’s Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard and a healthy Tony Parker for most of the year, but in typical Pop fashion he has the Spurs playing their best basketball of the year, and are going into the playoffs hot winning 11 of their last 14.
Most people would agree that the top choices for Coach of the Year are Steve Kerr and Mike Budenholzer, but people may differ on who should win this award. They both have outstanding resumes this season. Steve Kerr is doing things in his first season of coaching that most coaches haven’t done in their career. His Warriors hold the best record in the NBA they are ranked first in points and assists per game, have lost a grand total of just two games at home, and have the best offensive and defensive efficiency in the NBA, which no team has done since the 1995-96 Bulls, which hold the record for the best regular season record in history, and Kerr himself was a member of. These numbers are historic, and the Warriors are the best team in the league, but I have to give the award to Mike Budenholzer.
The reason being Golden State was already a 50 plus win team before Steve Kerr was hired this summer, and they have an MVP candidate in Steph Curry. Don’t get me wrong I take nothing away from Kerr, he has come in and made the Warriors title contenders, but the job Budenholzer has done has been extraordinary. He took the Hawks from a team that was 38-44 in 8th place last season, to a team with 54 wins and the first seed all but locked up. This is practically the same group as last year’s squad with no MVP candidates, and less talent than the Warriors. They play a brand of team basketball where each player plays a role and doesn’t try to do too much. It is a system much like the Spurs, which is no coincidence that Budenholzer is a disciple of Gregg Popovich. This team has fully bought into Budenholzer’s system and he has them playing above their expectations as the surprise of the season. This is why Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer is my Coach of the Year.