Is Gregg Popovich the Greatest NBA Coach Ever?

Kelly ScalettaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 11:  Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs reacts as he coaches against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on February 11, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

Gregg Popovich is having another great season as the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. He is on his way to his 15th consecutive winning season and is starting to enter the conversation for the greatest coach in NBA history. 

Popovich is 14th on the all-time career win list with 820 wins. He should pass Cotton Fitzsimmons, at 832, for 13th this season. His career win percentage of .676 trails only two coaches.  Billy Cunningham, former coach of the Philadelphia 76ers and winner of one NBA championship, is one. Cunningham's career win percentage is .698 

The other is Phil Jackson, who has one 11 championships as a coach and sports a win percentage of .704.

What does get interesting though is if you compare Popovich with Pat Riley. Popovich has a better regular-season winning percentage. Riley's is just .636.  He is nearly even with Riley in postseason winning percentage, as Riley's is .609 to Popovich's .597.

Riley has five championships in 24 seasons as a head coach. Popovich has four in 16. Riley had arguably two of the five greatest players of all time playing for him, though, in Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in four of those championships. 

Riley has won NBA Coach of the Year three times. Popovich has won it once. You can assign what value you want to that. 

There's not much you can do to make a case for Popovich over Riley. However, in general—it's a subjective argument—it seems Popovich has consistently taken less talented players and made them into valuable role players. Right now players like Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner are making valuable contributions for the Spurs. 

That's somewhat the definition of coaching, isn't it? The reason the Spurs have been able to sustain such success is that Popovich has been such a great player developer. While Riley had the luxury of coaching with the Lakers, and having a steady influx of free-agent talent, Popovich hasn't had that benefit. 

The other thing that stands out about Popovich is the way he essentially reinvented the Spurs last season, turning them from a defensive-oriented team to an offensive one that relied on its backcourt more than it's frontcourt. 

He's had a tremendous grasp of the game and player development over the years. He's a great strategist and is one of, if not the best when it comes to in-game changes.  

While Gregg Popovich might not be the greatest coach in NBA history, there's a strong argument for the second greatest. While the argument isn't definitive for second best, it's a strong one.