Most season awards are popularity contests that are decided by the all-star break, but when it comes to the coach of the year, this will be a tough decision for voters. You have teams that were expected to make the playoffs but are at the top of their conferences, as well as teams that people thought had no shot at the playoffs, but are now making plans to play in April. Here’s a look at the serious candidates.
Gregg Popovich-San Antonio Spurs.
Although the Spurs have lost four straight and the big three are all injured, the Spurs still have the best record in the NBA and are first in the Western Conference. While everyone assumed the Spurs would make the playoffs, few people anticipated the jump from seventh seed to possibly the top seed.
The Spurs have eclipsed their win total by seven games and the young bench has provided solid support all season to the three starters. Popovich even changed his philosophy, running more on offense in exchange for a relaxed defense, which has improved their game a lot more.
Lionel Hollins-Memphis Grizzlies.
When I did my season preview back in September I said that the Grizzlies were a year away from making the playoffs. However Hollins’ group has proven me wrong being having the eighth seed all but locked up. The Grizzlies have improved across the board especially defensively which have led them to 41 wins and their first winning season since the 2005-‘06 season.
Hollins has also turned Zach Randolph to be a leader, Mike Conley into a point guard and Tony Allen into a sixth man of the year candidate, and all without their best player Rudy Gay, who’s missed 20 games this season.
Tom Thibodeau-Chicago Bulls.
The Chicago Bulls were expected to be good, but not this good. They’re currently the top seed in the Eastern Conference and are lead the league in rebounding and defense. Thibodeau is also getting some credit for the improvement in Derrick Rose’s play this season. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf knew the Bulls were ready to compete, which was why he let go of Vinny Del Negro.
Thibodeau was able to hold the Bulls together while Carlos Boozer missed the beginning of the season and Joakim Noah also missed time. However Thibodeau’s expertise has been defense, where the Bulls are giving up just 90.9ppg against and are 32-5 at home including 13-1 in their division.
Doug Collins-Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers weren’t expected to compete for a playoff spot this season and a 3-13 start didn’t help, but like Collins said they would, the Sixers eventually came together. Their defense has improved significantly, they started sharing the ball (six different players averaging double figures) and now they’re sitting in sixth in the Eastern Conference and their 38 wins are the most since the 2008-'09 season.
Collins has found a way to resurge Elton Brand’s (14.8ppg) career, has taken the pressure off Andre Igoudala, who has taken it well and found a sixth man in Jodie Meeks, who’s getting more minutes and opportunities than top ten pick Evan Turner.
George Karl: Has kept the Nuggets in playoff contention despite daily Carmelo Anthony trade rumors, and has the Nuggets playing even better now that Melo is gone with improved defense and a team scoring concept.
Nate McMillian: For a second straight season, McMillian has kept the Blazers afloat despite a ton of injuries and trade rumors.
Doc Rivers: Once again he’s got the Celtics in a winning position, despite the rough patch their currently facing.
Byron Scott: I know the Cavs are terrible, but the fact that he didn’t kill himself halfway through this season is enough to get mentioned here.