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Terry Stotts Should Be Frontrunner for NBA Coach of the Year

PORTLAND, OR - DECEMBER 2:  Terry Stotts of the Portland Trail Blazers coaches against the Indiana Pacers on December 2, 2013 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Jay WierengaCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2013

There has been a genuine debate among sports fans that has been raging for years. Just which sport is the coach or manager most important?

A strong argument can be made for all as each sport has its own challenges, but for my money, basketball coaches are the most influential. They have the fewest players to work with, and basketball is a sport where momentum can shift on one possession. 

Given this belief, it is always a point of interest to inspect the job that each individual coach is doing in the NBA and who should be awarded as the top general. 

This year, the Portland Trail Blazers' Terry Stotts should be considered the runaway NBA Coach of the Year. 


Quick Turnaround

The Blazers of a year ago were a genuine mess. They had a strong starting lineup, but they didn't have a center. Their bench was atrocious, and their defense was even worse. 

Last year, the Blazers finished the season ranked 21st in opponents points per game, 29th in opponents field goal percentage and they were in the bottom half of opponents points per shot. 

The Blazers solved two of their biggest problems in the offseason by bringing in a genuine center in Robin Lopez and boosted their bench with the likes of Mo Williams, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson. 

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 09:  Thomas Robinson #41 of the Portland Trail Blazers reaches for a rebound against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena on December 09, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

But none of the above players had the reputation of being shutdown defenders. 

So the job of turning this team around defensively fell to the coach. 

Right off the bat, Stotts made defense his teams first priority. 

He drilled it into his players that the only way for this team to succeed was on defense. Luckily for Stotts, his players bought into it immediately. True, Lopez has been a big part of this team's success. By having a legitimate center on the floor, the interior defense has toughened up. 

But what has truly been phenomenal has been how strong the perimeter defense has become. 

The Blazers have become fantastic at chasing opponents off of the three-point line, currently sixth in the league at opponents three-point percentage (.338).

Second-year player Damian Lillard, who was known as a poor defender last season, has drastically improved. He isn't the quickest or most athletic, but he has learned to use his strength and intelligence to improve his play. 

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 09: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers drives against Trey Burke #3 of the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena on December 09, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tha
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Wesley Matthews has always been a strong defender, but his play has improved as well. 

And Nicolas Batum is beginning to channel Tayshaun Prince, playing passing lanes and using his length to disrupt opponents. 

This has in turn taken pressure off of the bigs down low. 


Don't forget about the offense

The Blazers are much better defensively, but that isn't to say that their offense is lagging. 

In fact, Stotts has been able to recognize the strengths in each of his players and in turn is getting career years out of nearly each of his starters. 

Stotts has wisely built his offense around the two man pick-and-roll game of Lillard and star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge

By parking Aldridge in the high post, Stotts has been able to completely diversify his offense. This gives the team the option of the pick-and-pop, the pick-and-roll as well as the pick-and-pass. 

Aldridge is having a career year, scoring 23.2 points per game.

Lillard, the other half of this equation, has seen his scoring jump to 20.7 points per game. 

But most importantly, this has given rise to a much easier situation for the other starters. By forcing the defense to key on Aldridge and Lillard, Matthews is getting wide open looks, resulting in an amazing 48 percent mark from downtown. 

Batum has similarly seen his shooting percentages go up, with a 41.7 mark from downtown as well as a 47.5 shooting percentage overall. 

Even Lopez has gotten into the action, getting wide open looks down low and cleaning up messes. He is averaging 9.2 points per game which is also a career high. 

Offensively, the Blazers are near the top of the league in many categories. They are second in the league in points per game, ninth in field-goal percentage and second in three-point percentage. 

Their efficiency is up as well, getting their PPS up to ninth in the league. 

What's astounding is that their improvements have come while keeping four of last years starters. That goes to show how much of a difference Stotts has made. 


Rebounding as a team

One of the biggest concerns many fans had coming into this season was the fact that they were losing last year's top rebounder in J.J. Hickson, and Lopez wasn't considered a great glass man. 

Last year, Portland was 24th in the league in rebounds and was going to be losing 10 per game from Hickson

But through a commitment to team rebounding, each and every player has improved in this area.

PORTLAND, OR - DECEMBER 2: Nicolas Batum #88 and Robin Lopez #42 walk of the Portland Trail Blazers against the Indiana Pacers on December 2, 2013 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

Aldridge, who never averaged more than 9.1 is currently at 10 per game. 

Lillard went from averaging 3.1 to 3.8 this year, Matthews has jumped from a previous high of 3.4 to 4.3 this year, Batum never had more than 5.6 but is at 6.4 this season and Lopez has had an amazing jump from 5.6 last year to 8.6 this season. 

By changing the way this team approaches rebounding, they have jumped to seventh in the league. This has led to more fast-break opportunities and a higher number of second chance points. 

Overall, there are a lot of coaches doing a great job this season. But without question, Stotts has done the best. 

He took a team that went 33-49 last season to one that currently has the NBA's second best record of 18-4. 

This team, through Stotts' determination and attention to detail, is poised to not only make the playoffs, but make a sustained run as a high seed. 

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 09:  Terry Stotts, Head Coach of the Portland Trail Blazers looks on during play against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena on December 09, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images


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