Ranking the NBA's 10 Smartest Coaches

Haddon Anderson@HaddonAndersonAnalyst ISeptember 16, 2012

Ranking the NBA's 10 Smartest Coaches

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    It is fun to rank the NBA's smartest players, but it's just as interesting to rank the league's brightest coaches.

    The value of a coaching guru is often underrated. Talent and sheer skill will be enough in some games, but a team that wins a championship usually has a bright coach.

    The NBA, as a whole, is at a high level right now. The league boasts an array of incredibly skilled players, and there have been an increasing number of brilliant coaches who have made a name for themselves.

    As we approach a new season, it's the appropriate time to analyze who ranks at the top of the NBA's wisest coaches.

10. Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat

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    He has ridiculous talent in South Beach, but you still have to give Erik Spoelstra credit for winning it all last year.

    While he has the players to work with, it's essentially championship or bust in Miami.

    Spoelstra handled the pressure incredibly well and was able to make timely adjustments throughout the 2012 season and playoffs.

    This was especially seen late in the playoffs, when he used Chris Bosh at the center position and inserted defensive-minded Shane Battier into the starting lineup.

    Spoelstra has enabled his superstars, namely LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, to buy into his philosophy.

    It will be scary to see what Spoelstra and the Heat can do in 2012-13.

9. Frank Vogel, Indiana Pacers

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    Frank Vogel has made major impressions the past couple seasons, and he even had his squad up 2-1 against the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

    Vogel has revived an Indiana Pacers franchise that had really struggled since the Reggie Miller days. He has brought a grit and defensive intensity that is perfect for the basketball-crazed state of Indiana.

    Vogel deserves respect particularly because his roster doesn't appear elite on paper. Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, David West and Paul George are quality players, but they aren't necessarily stars.

    The Pacers still may be a few years away from making an NBA Finals run, but it still could happen.

    Expect Vogel to be a coach who continues to gain more and more respect over the years.

8. Lionel Hollins, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Lionel Hollins has largely flown under the radar the past couple seasons, but his success with the Memphis Grizzlies cannot be ignored.

    In the 2011 playoffs, Hollins led the Grizzlies to a shocking upset of the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. What's more, Hollins carried that momentum into the 2011-12 season, as the Grizz went 41-25. 

    Hollins has an ability to make unique players mesh with one another; Zach Randolph, for instance, has found a niche in Memphis.

    Further, Hollins has utilized various lineups and been successful with them.

    Defensive stalwart Tony Allen has become a favorite of Hollins for his versatility, which is pivotal in a Western Conference that features scorers like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

7. Mike Brown, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Mike Brown may not have met expectations in his first year with the Los Angeles Lakers, but his team was not nearly as loaded as it will be in 2012-13.

    Throughout Brown's coaching career, he has consistently met success and fielded quality defensive teams.

    With a team that featured LeBron James and a bunch of subpar players, he won over 60 games in two straight seasons. People only remember those seasons ending in disappointment in the playoffs, but it now seems apparent that Brown overachieved with those teams. 

    In the offseason, he inherited Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, giving him, by far, the most skilled team he has ever coached.

    There's every reason to believe the 2012-13 Lakers can bring home the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

6. Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Similar to Erik Spoelstra, Scott Brooks is a young coach with a hefty load of talent. Any coach would love to have Kevin Durant on his roster.

    Still, the Oklahoma City Thunder have not risen to the league's elite solely based on talent. They play with an unprecedented chemistry, which points directly toward their coach.

    Brooks has helped each player find his role.

    For instance, Brooks starts lockdown defender Thabo Sefolosha and brings offensive juggernaut James Harden in off the bench. This small move has worked perfectly for the Thunder and points to Brooks' ability to discern matchups and flow.

    Brooks has a bright future ahead of him in OKC.

5. Doug Collins, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Doug Collins did, at one time, coach Michael Jordan (in M.J.'s younger years), but he has typically not had much talent to work with on the teams he's coached.

    Still, he's found ways to make his teams competitive, and a great example of this happened last season with his Philadelphia 76ers.

    Last season, Philly was able to remain competitive thanks to its defensive intensity, knocking off the Bulls and pushing the Celtics to seven games in the playoffs.

    What's exciting for Collins is the acquisition of Andrew Bynum, as the Sixers suddenly possess firepower on their roster and have a chance to land a high seed in the East this upcoming season.

    With Collins leading the way, it wouldn't be shocking to see them win the Atlantic Division.

4. Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks

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    Rick Carlisle has impressed throughout his coaching career, which has taken him to Detroit, Indiana and Dallas. His career winning percentage is near .600, and he recently netted a championship ring with the Dallas Mavericks.

    What makes Carlisle unique is his ability to adjust.

    This was seen in the 2011 NBA Finals, when the Mavs defeated the Miami Heat. In the series, Carlisle started 6'0'' J.J. Barea against a loaded Heat starting five. At first glance, such a move is rather perplexing.

    Strangely enough, Barea ended up being a mismatch for the Heat, and veteran Jason Kidd was even able to effectively guard LeBron James during stretches.

3. Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics

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    The final three coaches are very difficult to rank because they each have shown remarkable intellect in their coaching tenures.

    Doc Rivers seemingly has it all as a coach. He understands the X's and O's of basketball as well as anyone, and he is very relational with his ballclub.

    This relationship aspect is crucial with his Boston Celtics, as he has the privilege, and challenge, of coaching some unique personalities (i.e. Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo).

    The Celtics have been a dominant defensive team in recent years, and Rivers never settles for anything less than consistent intensity on D. 

2. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls

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    Tom Thibodeau was once under Doc Rivers in Boston.

    Two years ago, he took over a Bulls team that had won 41 games the previous season. He has now led them to the best regular-season record the past two years. 

    His defense-first mentality has enabled him to be so successful, and the Bulls know how to win ugly.

    They may night have highlight-reel plays every night (though having Derrick Rose helps), but the Bulls simply grind teams down.

    Thibodeau knows how to make his teams overachieve, and he will be a top coach for many years

1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

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    Gregg Popovich will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time.

    Pop has coached the Spurs his whole career and has tallied an amazing .680 winning percentage with four NBA titles.

    On offense, he has utilized Tim Duncan perfectly while also teaching his team the wonder of ball movement—something not fully grasped by all teams.

    On defense, Popovich has taught the fundamentals, and his squad remains effective despite its age.

    As long as Pop coaches, it doesn't matter who is playing for him.