As we reach the All-Star break for the 2013-14 NBA season, several coaches have shown why they deserve to be in contention for the Coach of the Year Award.
Keep in mind that the honor is not necessarily awarded to the best coach in the NBA, but rather, to a coach who has surpassed expectations set before the season by establishing a new culture or system.
Such coaches must show poise and command respect from their players. And most importantly, their teams must be winning.
Without further ado, here are the top candidates for the most prestigious award for NBA coaches.
There are only two major reasons why the Dallas Mavericks are currently holding onto a playoff spot in the competitive Western Conference: Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle.
Considered one of the best coaches currently in the league, Carlisle has assembled a playoff team out of players who were not wanted. An aging superstar? Check. A point guard who lost his starting position and can’t play defense? Check. A shot-chucker who also is a defensive sieve? Check.
Yet, out of these three players in Dirk Nowitzki, Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, as well as a supporting cast of unwanted parts, Carlisle has constructed a bona fide engine of a team.
Dallas has the third-highest offensive rating in the league, ahead of teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder.
He has brought out the best of each player on the Mavericks, resulting in an output of amazing offensive efficiency from Dirk Nowitzki and Jose Calderon, who are approaching 50-40-90 shooting seasons, as well as from Monta Ellis.
And when you put “efficiency” and “Monta Ellis” in the same sentence, you know you’re doing something right.
Don’t look now, but the Toronto Raptors are currently third in the Eastern Conference.
Of course, that isn’t quite as impressive of an achievement this year, but considering the lack of a major roster upgrade from its 34-48 record last year, the Toronto Raptors are overachieving with their 26-23 record.
DeMar DeRozan, who was selected to his first All-Star appearance this year, and Kyle Lowry, who has the second-highest PER for Eastern Conference guards, are major reasons for the Raptors’ success and have played spectacularly since Rudy Gay was traded away.
However, Casey has shown that he isn’t afraid to switch up lineups and minutes from game to game if it will help the Raptors win. And the Raptors are certainly winning.
The Indiana Pacers aren’t just first in the Eastern Conference, they also own the highest winning percentage in the whole league.
If that’s not impressive enough, the Pacers also have the best defensive rating in the NBA. And it’s not even close; their rating is 4.1 points lower than the second-lowest rating owned by the Chicago Bulls.
To put that in comparison, the difference in defensive rating between the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks (second-worst rating) is only 3.7.
Similar to the Raptors, the Pacers did not have any major upgrades to their 2012-13 roster, but Vogel has upgraded his team into a formidable championship contender.
The Portland Trail Blazers went from a lottery team to contending for the best record in the league.
Like the previous teams listed before, they did this without a huge shift in their roster.
The result is a team with the second-highest offensive rating in the NBA, trailing the Heat by only 0.5.
But what’s stopping the Trail Blazers from being a true championship contender is their horrible defensive rating of 105.3, which is 20th in the league.
Unfortunately, that flaw is preventing Stotts from being the best candidate for Coach of the Year.
It’s fair to say that nobody expected the Phoenix Suns to hold a playoff spot this far. Perhaps nobody except Coach of the Year frontrunner Jeff Hornacek.
Remember, this was the team that was supposed to “tank” for the worst record in the NBA. This was not supposed to a the team that currently has the same record as the Golden State Warriors.
What’s even more surprising is how the Suns are doing this with the roster that they have. All but one of their players in the starting lineup rode the bench last year, with Eric Bledsoe backing up Chris Paul, Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green buried into benchwarming positions for the Indiana Pacers, and Channing Frye missing the whole year due to a heart condition.
And that’s not even factoring in how their most dynamic and best player, Bledsoe, has been out for the last 18 games with a knee injury.
Hornacek has run the team beautifully with his 2-guard lineup and has switched it up accordingly after Bledsoe’s injury. They have been exciting to watch, blitzing the NBA with their fast pace, athleticism and three-point shooting.
The result is the Suns having the eighth-best offensive rating and being just 0.6 points away from the 10th-best defensive rating in the NBA.
The Suns have been winning and show no signs of stopping. And neither will Hornacek’s campaign for Coach of the Year.
Honorable Mentions: Tom Thibodeau (Chicago Bulls), Doc Rivers (Los Angeles Clippers), Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs)