Ranking the Best Head Coaches of the 2012-13 NBA Season

Kevin DingNBA Senior WriterApril 25, 2013

April 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich smiles from the bench against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors defeated the San Antonio Spurs 116-106. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Babbitt got a third-place vote for NBA Sixth Man of the Year, which is idiotic. One voter really thought Ryan Anderson, after being the NBA’s Most Improved a year ago, deserved first place in the same category for going from 16.1 points per game to 16.2.

Jordan Crawford got a first-place vote for Sixth Man also, which is worse than voting for referee Joey Crawford because at least in the latter scenario the vote would be invalidated instead of Jamal Crawford getting cheated. (This was the first year the NBA used a new balloting system through Ernst & Young that had alphabetical drop-down tabs to select the players, so in that sense I could see how someone could’ve carelessly selected Jordan instead of Jamal.)

My point—aside from some official voters not doing a good job—is that scanning down toward the bottom of the final tally list whenever the NBA announces the full voting tally for every award is an interesting endeavor.

Just imagine if instead of three places, there were five…or 10.

And because NBA Coach of the Year has a limited number of candidates, how awesome would it be if the ballot went 30-deep? Everyone has a place, and the place for some has to be at the bottom.

Here are the 15 coaches who did their jobs really well or well enough this season and deserve some credit. (For the 15 coaches who did their jobs pretty poorly or really, really poorly this season, click here.


1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio: Isn’t this the one guy we know was NOT prioritizing the regular season—sending players home, resting guys who weren’t hurt—and he’s still so good at what he does that he took a team right toward the end for the best record in the Western Conference?

2. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago: Even a good coach would’ve melted under the immense distraction of having the 2011 NBA MVP healthy enough to play but not—especially without any star to make up for Derrick Rose.

3. Erik Spoelstra, Miami: Much the way San Antonio did, it’s impossible to ignore how the Heat rolled on even when Spoelstra wasn’t leaning heavily on his big guns—and that’s because Spoelstra found the perfect offense for this team while staying strong on defense.

4. Frank Vogel, Indiana: George Hill and Paul George got better, David West did everything he could do, Lance Stephenson blossomed and Roy Hibbert got it together the second half of the season.

5. George Karl, Denver: Karl might not know how to teach different styles, but he undeniably had a whole lot of guys on this roster ready to play roles in his style this season.

6. Kevin McHale, Houston: One of the quietest great coaching jobs in the league, developing numerous young players, including two (James Harden and Jeremy Lin) who need to have the ball.

7. Doc Rivers, Boston: A pretty nightmarish season for a coach, never able to establish consistent rotations. Nevertheless, he did it again: a winning record in the end.

8. Mike Woodson, New York: If you’re going to give a ton of credit to the team’s clear MVP candidate—and I had the more mature Carmelo Anthony third on my NBA ballot—then you can’t go nuts celebrating the coach also when it comes to award time.

9. Rick Carlisle, Dallas: It’s rare that a coach from a lottery team deserves any acclaim, but the Mavericks had no Dirk Nowitzki and no real belief from Mark Cuban on down that they were going to do anything this season—yet they were in the playoff chase for all except a few days. Carlisle knows what he’s doing.

10. Lionel Hollins, Memphis: Player management is always more important than game management. Hollins was excellent at the former, mediocre at the latter.

11. Mark Jackson, Golden State: He gave the Warriors what they needed most—leadership. One wonders, however, whether he’ll ever be able to give them what they need next—defense.

12. P.J. Carlesimo, Brooklyn: When the seven highest-paid players on the team are all enjoying multi-year contracts and the best one is gimpy, it can be difficult for the coach’s messages to sink in. Sorry, Avery Johnson. Often the firing gets guys’ attention, and Carlesimo took the talent and went 35-19.

13. Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City: Winning the West the year after James Harden was traded is fine, but the Thunder did not bring the kind of cohesive force or consistent execution I expected to come out of the disappointment of losing the NBA Finals.

14. Jim Boylan, Milwaukee: Any coach who didn’t coach a full season has to be somewhat penalized (just as a player who didn’t play much should be in regards to postseason awards), but Boylan had an awkward roster playing hard to make the playoffs. If he had harnessed John Henson’s potential, Boylan would’ve made the top 10.

15. Monty Williams, New Orleans: Same as last season—not a lot to work with for a very good coach in Williams, who missed Eric Gordon. But unless Anthony Davis is secretly some Andrew Bynum handle-with-care, injury-prone problem, Williams failed to challenge Davis sufficiently this season.


Kevin Ding has been a sportswriter covering the NBA and Los Angeles Lakers for OCRegister.com since 1999. His column on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James was judged the No. 1 column of 2011 by the Pro Basketball Writers Association; his column on Jeremy Lin won second place in 2012. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.


Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinDing.