Power Ranking All 30 NBA Head Coaches Going into 2016-17 Training Camp

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2016

Power Ranking All 30 NBA Head Coaches Going into 2016-17 Training Camp

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    Power ranking NBA head coaches is hard.

    Something happens when you set out to establish a pecking order for the league's sideline superheroes: The rampant turnover in this profession makes it nigh impossible to fully dislike more than a couple of situations.

    Only five head coaches have held their positions for at least four seasons. Sixteen have been with their organizations for less than two campaigns. When separating these basketball brainiacs into tiers, it's easy to dole out compliments in everyone's favor.

    Small sample sizes create that air of optimism.

    Low placement isn't, as such, always an irrevocable slap in the face. In many cases, it's a nod to inexperience or the freshness of a particular gig. First-time head coaches, for instance, won't dominate this discussion because of all the unknowns involved. 

    Everything is on the table as we journey onward. Coaching style. Ability to fit with current players. Team performance. Player development. Consistency. Leadership. Anecdotal evidence. Past success with incumbent and former NBA teams matter, but recency and future projections will rule the day. 

30. Nate McMillan, Indiana Pacers

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    Nate McMillan's placement is less an insult and more a nod to his imperfect working conditions.

    "We want a style where we can score," Indiana Pacers team president Larry Bird said on The Dan Patrick Show (h/t Ryan Eggers of FanSided). "I’d like to score 105 points a game, or maybe 106, but still defend the way we have.”

    This does not describe a McMillan-coached team.

    His Seattle SuperSonics squads routinely finished in the top 10 of points scored per 100 possessions, and for the most part, he helped improve his Portland Trail Blazers' offensive standing. But pumping in 105-plus points per game demands speed his outfits have never embraced.

    Not one of the 12 teams McMillan guided—10 full seasons, two majority campaigns—ever finished in the top 10 of offensive efficiency and pace. The closest he came was during 2011-12 with the Blazers, who ranked 13th and 12th, respectively, in the 43 games before he was fired.

    Now McMillan is supposed to take a roster unfit for Bird's vision and mold it into something he's never once crafted. What could go wrong?

29. Earl Watson, Phoenix Suns

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    This isn't Earl Watson's fault. He is inexperienced and has assumed control of a Phoenix Suns roster that, when healthy, is too good to tank but too rutted and untried to contend for a playoff berth.

    The 33 games he spent at the helm following Jeff Hornacek's departure in 2015-16 don't do much to bolster his resume. Phoenix went 9-24 and ran out an injury-ravaged offense that ranked dead last in points scored per 100 possessions to close the year.

    Improving upon that finish is a given if Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight remain healthy and Devin Booker continues trending in the "I'm way better than you thought" direction. But all we know about Watson is that the Suns will play fast and furious, as they have for years. He needs his own calling card before we can make any impactful conclusions.

    Leaving a distinct touch on this team, however, will be tough.

    Phoenix isn't brimming with efficient scorers or known commodities outside the backcourt. And cobbling together an average defense while championing speed is difficult for the most talented squads, let alone one that will count Tyson Chandler (who turns 34 before the regular season), rookie Marquese Chriss and Jared Dudley as its best defenders.

    By no means is this an indictment of Watson's long-term potential. He should grow right along with his (partially) infant Suns, and any progress the team makes in 2016-17 will earn him valuable brownie points he can use to climb this ladder in the future.

28. Luke Walton, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Luke Walton technically isn't a newbie. He shepherded the Golden State Warriors for 43 games in head coach Steve Kerr's absence, during which time he collected 39 unofficial victories.

    But the situation with the Los Angeles Lakers is different.

    Walton isn't taking over a reigning champion that racked up 67 wins one year prior. He doesn't have an MVP candidate at his disposal. He has a band of prospects (Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell), random veterans (Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov) and oddball fits (Lou Williams, Nick Young).

    Will he trot out Deng and Ingram together as interchangeable forwards? What becomes of Randle if that's the case? Does Ingram get a chance to be a featured scorer, or is that burden solely Clarkson's and Russell's to bear?

    Does Walton opt for more spacing in the frontcourt with Yi Jianlian at center, or is Mozgov his guy? Is player development the only priority, or will he give extensive minutes to Jose Calderon, Marcelo Huertas, Deng, Williams and Young?  

    We already know Walton can manage the championship expectations of a ready-made title contender full of developed and selfless personalities. Because of that, it seems like he's the man for this job. But he must be treated like every other fresh face until we know for sure.

    The growth of the Lakers' kiddies will make or break Walton's inaugural stock—that, and the team's playing style.

27. Kenny Atkinson, Brooklyn Nets

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    Kenny Atkinson has zero experience as an NBA head coach, but he's well-traveled and expertly versed in an array of different styles.

    After serving as the director of player development for the Houston Rockets in 2007-08, he joined Mike D'Antoni's coaching tree with the New York Knicks. He then became Mike Budenholzer's lead assistant in 2013-14, during which time he helped reinvent the Atlanta Hawks on both sides of the floor.

    Atkinson, then, has assisted with wholesale rebuilds at every stop—making him exactly what the Brooklyn Nets need.

    "New GM Sean Marks has taken a more long-term approach to rebuilding the team and has shifted the team's focus away from getting big-money stars just because it helps ticket sales and should guarantee a postseason berth," CBS Sports' Ananth Pandian wrote. "They're not taking any shortcuts, which makes Atkinson seem like an ideal fit."

    If Atkinson's summer-league approach is any indication, the Nets will borrow offensive elements from the San Antonio Spurs and Hawks while playing with the pace of a team coached by D'Antoni's second cousinfast but not fantastically fast. And with Jeremy Lin piloting the offense, that suits them.

    Coaching defense into a core with one (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson), maybe two, plus point-stoppers is a challenge, and Brooklyn's rotation will be a revolving door. But the Nets, unlike the Lakers or Suns, are clearly committed to a win-later vision. That should allow Atkinson to forge his own sideline identity more quickly and thoroughly than most first-year coaches.   

26. David Fizdale, Memphis Grizzlies

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    David Fizdale gets the highest placement of any first-time head honcho for a couple of reasons.

    First, there's his work with the Miami Heat under Erik Spoelstra. He held a great deal of influence in the team's locker room before, during and after the Big Three era. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com explained in 2013:

    Give Erik Spoelstra the slightest opening and he’ll gush about the impact Fizdale has had as a stabilizing force, teacher and communicator in the circus environment that’s enveloped the Heat over the past three seasons. Fizdale has been instrumental in the evolution of LeBron James’ post game, as well as the feeding and caring of the Heat’s superstar core. When there are new schemes to be implemented or skills to be refined, Fizdale takes it upon himself to make sure the work gets done.

    Let me guess: Fizdale had you at "the evolution of LeBron James' post game." He had a ton of other teams there as well, which accounts for the next part of his appeal: He has been mentioned among the best head coaching prospects for longer than any of this season's beginners. 

    To hear Fizdale tell it, he probably could have snagged a gig before now. But as he explained to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, he didn't want to sync up with a "restart." So he landed with the Memphis Grizzlies, a franchise that's teeming with household names—Tony Allen, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph.

    Balancing out Memphis' grit-and-grind style with a more modern-day, perhaps faster, offensive approach won't be a problem for the man I've decided we should all call "Fizzy." He helped remake the Heat on multiple occasions and has a knack for connecting with his players.

    Just ask Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, both of whom, as Fizdale told Washburn, were "almost in tears" when they found out he was leaving Miami.

25. Alvin Gentry, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Alvin Gentry's resume is complicated.

    Before latching on to the New Orleans Pelicans, he was the associate head coach and architect for two of the league's premier scoring machines—the 2013-14 Los Angeles Clippers and 2014-15 Warriors. Prior to that, between 2004-05 and 2012-13, he was behind some of the most effective point-pilers of the era with the Suns, as both an assistant under D'Antoni and his own boss.

    Building up offenses has, naturally, become Gentry's modus operandi. The Pelicans ranked 16th in points tallied per 100 possessions during his debut season, but that was while deploying D-League lineups for most of the year. That they finished in the middle of the pack is a small miracle.

    Established talent will once again be hard for Gentry to find this season. Neither Tyreke Evans nor Jrue Holiday will be available to start the year, and New Orleans added both a ton of wild cards and youngsters—Langston Galloway, Buddy Hield, Solomon Hill, Terrence Jones, E'Twaun Moore—over the offseason.

    A healthy Anthony Davis will help the Pelicans stay afloat on the more glamorous end, but a bigger question remains: Can Gentry be the engineer of a solid defense?

    During the 10 seasons he has held the position of head coach for at least 40 games, only one of his teams—the 1998-99 Detroit Pistons—finished better than 19th in defensive efficiency. So for all of his experience, Gentry, not unlike D'Antoni, still has much to prove.

24. Dave Joerger, Sacramento Kings

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    Three seasons and three playoff appearances into his head coaching career, Dave Joerger is still an unknown.

    The Grizzlies didn't miss a beat after Joerger succeeded Lion Hollins. For a hot minute, in 2014-15, it looked like their offense even turned a corner. But it's not entirely clear how much of their enduring postseason presence is owed to him.

    Hollins left behind a stingy defensive nucleus that could have functioned at a high level without a head coach. And Memphis' top-13 offensive finish two seasons ago was largely due to contract-year Marc Gasol going H.A.M. 

    Although injuries prohibited the Grizzlies from making any progress in 2015-16, they were struggling in every aspect of the game long before Conley and Gasol got shut down for the season. Joerger helped them tread water; he didn't push the bill—at least not permanently or noticeably.

    Joining the ever-dysfunctional Sacramento Kings will be a true test of his clipboard acumen. They are not a strong defensive collective, and the point guard rotation—which for the moment consists of Darren Collison, Jordan Farmar and Ty Lawson—isn't conducive to offensive success.

    In the event DeMarcus Cousins decides defense is fun, the Kings piece together an above-average identity on one end of the floor and Joerger plays nice with the front office, he will have a stronger case in future rankings. Until then, he falls here, next to every other head coach with to-be-determined value.

23. Jeff Hornacek, New York Knicks

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    Feel free to like Jeff Hornacek's fit with the Knicks. Love it if you must. After all, in a vacuum, he brings contemporary perspective to a team that's spent the last few seasons wallowing in yesteryear.

    Each of Hornacek's three Suns teams—he was fired 49 games into last season—ranked in the top eight of pace. The Knicks never finished better than 24th during that same span (2015-16). Phoenix also safely profiled as an above-aboard offensive unit through Hornacek's first two years, while New York has dwelled in the bottom five of efficiency since 2014-15.

    Given Hornacek's nonexistent relationship with team president Phil Jackson's triangle offense, it's safe to assume he'll have the freedom to implement his own system. We think. Maybe. Actually, as NBC Sports' Dan Feldman wrote, we're not really sure:

    Hornacek said he’d use triangle elements. Maybe that’s more than lip service and he plans to appease Jackson (though that’s problematic because Hornacek isn’t experienced in coaching the triangle).

    Or maybe Hornacek was just trying to quell controversy publicly now, then run his own offense with Jackson’s approval (though that would become problematic if Jackson’s ego causes him to demand the triangle after the fact).

    There's no sense slotting Hornacek any higher when we don't know for certain what his offense will look like. And he doesn't have experience coaching superstars such as Carmelo Anthony, could-be superstars such as Joakim Noah, MVPs-turned-contract-year-projects such as Derrick Rose or up-and-coming unicorns such as Kristaps Porzingis.

22. Fred Hoiberg, Chicago Bulls

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    Fred Hoiberg's standing is mostly the product of his environment. (This is the cue for you to disapprovingly wag your finger at the Chicago Bulls.) 

    The Bulls brought him in so that the offense would get faster and spacier and, thus, prettier. But they handed him an assortment of players unfamiliar with that style, an obstacle Hoiberg couldn't overcome. Chicago didn't play with much speed and ranked 25th in offensive efficiency during his inaugural go-round.

    Things aren't looking much better ahead of this season. The Bulls are less equipped to space the floor after trading Mike Dunleavy and adding Robin Lopez, Rajon Rondo and Wade. And there's no guarantee their defense holds up following the departures of Noah and Moore.

    None of this is Hoiberg's fault, and he must be graded on a curve with only one year of experience to his name. But his short tenure is not without its red flags.

    Jimmy Butler called out Hoiberg for not coaching hard enough back in December, and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson was left lamenting the team's shoddy chemistry at season's end. Some of Chicago's emotional deficit can be chalked up to Hoiberg's greenness and player egos, but for a revered college coach like himself, there should have been more positives to take away from his NBA debut.

21. Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Billy Donovan didn't change much about the Oklahoma City Thunder as a rookie head coach. He didn't need to. Nothing was broken. 

    Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook continued to be offensive lifelines, because that's what top-five superstars do. The Thunder didn't move the ball with noteworthy frequency, but their assist rate did climb by three percentage points. They were inconsistent on defense but still ranked 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions.

    You know, the usual.

    And yet, Donovan made some minor modifications—effective tweaks lost amid the absence of sweeping change, a few of which were deftly observed by ESPN.com's Royce Young:

    They generated more corner 3s than they ever have. This season, 8.2 percent of their shots are corner 3s (fifth most in the NBA). The most they ever averaged under Scott Brooks was 6.8 percent (2013-14). No Thunder team has ever been in the top 10 in corner 3s. They scored more in the deep paint than ever before, with 30.2 percent of their shots coming from there (sixth in the league). The previous high was last season (28.6 percent).

    Serge Ibaka's and Durant's departures will give Donovan an opportunity to leave a more pronounced mark on the Thunder, even as he continues pandering to the expectations that come with coaching a superstar such as Westbrook. For now, his credentials rest on the job he did preserving the status of an incumbent contender as an NBA newcomer—which, frankly, is pretty darn impressive.

20. Jason Kidd, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Jason Kidd's coaching stock is still weird. 

    It initially appeared like he would rebound from his bizarre/controversial/self-orchestrated exit in Brooklyn. He cozied up to the Milwaukee Bucks, an organization best known for its unending love of mediocrity, and spearheaded a surprise playoff berth to cap off 2014-15.

    Fast forward to last season, when Milwaukee got back a healthy Jabari Parker and added Greg Monroe to the fold, and everything basically unraveled. The team's defensive identity imploded, Monroe didn't move the offensive needle and the Bucks plummeted out of postseason contention.

    Blame for this setback doesn't entirely fall on Kidd. Milwaukee has yet to gift him enough floor spacing, and he deserves credit for (temporarily) moving Monroe to the second unit and stationing Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard.

    Still, three years in, we should have a stronger hold of Kidd's specialties. He hasn't coached good defensive squads in consecutive years, his offenses have been statistically lackluster and Michael Carter-Williams' point guard play hasn't noticeably improved under his tutelage. (Don't even get me started on John Henson's role.)

    This is not to say Kidd is the wrong chief for Milwaukee's upstart core. He, like the players he coaches, just has a long way to go before becoming a proven commodity. 

19. Mike D'Antoni, Houston Rockets

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    D'Antoni gets a bad wrap for his lack of success outside Phoenix, which is weird, because he's never been set up to succeed outside Phoenix. 

    Syncing up with the Knicks was a mistake. They were a bad basketball team when he arrived, and as soon as they fudged together a roster he could work with in 2010-11, owner James Dolan pushed through a trade for Anthony, a star unsuited and unwilling to actualize D'Antoni's offensive philosophies, as B/R's Howard Beck wrote for the New York Times.

    Next came a stint with the Lakers. They gave D'Antoni a roster overrun with aging stars (Steve Nash, Pau Gasol) and clashing egos (Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard) in 2012-13, then tasked him with reviving the Showtime era. He failed. It was the same theme, different plot, in 2013-14, his last with Los Angeles.

    Ill-fated stops in the Big Apple and Hollywood do not absolve D'Antoni of his warts. He remains a flawed defensive coach and hasn't shown he can accentuate the strengths of players who aren't a perfect match for his style. But he remains an offensive mastermind.

    Kerr's Warriors have mined aspects of D'Antoni's offense. Small ball has gained popularity in large part because of his work with the Suns. He has coached some of the best offenses ever. Give him a crafty ball-handler, rim-running big and a mix of shooters, and he'll give you a scoreboard-splintering nightmare.

    That's just what the Rockets have done: James Harden is buying what D'Antoni is selling, per NBA.com's Ian Thomsen. And Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and Harden are all compatible complements. The defense won't be good—though Houston has given him a solid defensive coordinator in Jeff Bzdelik—but D'Antoni finally has the talent necessary to touch up his prematurely tainted image.

18. Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Brett Brown is a top-10 coach consigned to a bottom-five situation, so don't, as the kids say, @ me.

    It's true that the Philadelphia 76ers have won just 47 games since Brown arrived in 2013-14—18 fewer than any other team, and at least one less than 10 squads collected last season alone. It's true that he has now coached three of the 25 worst offenses in league history, according to NBAMath.com's era-adjusted stats.

    But it's also true that the Sixers' prolonged irrelevance is beyond Brown's control. He is guilty only of sticking around—equal parts admirable and unfathomable and more than can be said of the departed Sam Hinkie, the primary author of this situation.

    Philly could not have asked for a better leader during these trying times. Dig through Brown's postgame comments or listen to any of his appearances on ESPN.com's The Lowe Post podcast, and you won't find someone sloshing around in his team's misfortune. He is optimistic and candid.

    You read about the distaste agents and rival general managers share for Philly's (previous) way of business, per Jordan Brenner of ESPN The Magazine. You remember Joel Embiid's past conditioning issues, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey, and Jahlil Okafor's driving habits and nightclub spats. You never hear about locker room breakdowns or morale apocalypses.

    Better, more experienced coaches would lose their players under these circumstances. Brown, by all appearances, has not. And while the Sixers will be hard-pressed to make any real leaps this season—courtesy of lingering inexperience and a frontcourt logjam—you can't help but have faith in the man charged with leading them through whatever's left of their "Process."

17. Tyronn Lue, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Tyronn Lue's listing is ready for vicious forays in the comments sections.

    He took over a Cleveland Cavaliers team midseason that (we were led to believe) was in psychological shambles. He directed it to a title, despite falling behind 3-1 in the NBA Finals. (Hey! Did you know the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals?)

    Sure, Lue only has a half-year of head coaching practice under his belt. But on what planet is the job he did not worthy of, at minimum, top-15 placement?

    All of them, actually. Even the ones we don't know about. Cleveland didn't channel untapped potential and morph into an esteemed juggernaut once Lue supplanted David Blatt. Statistically, it was very much the same:

    2015-16 Cavaliers...RecordOff. Rtg.Def. Rtg.Net Rtg.Pace
    Under Blatt30-11105.699.75.895.05
    Under Lue27-14110.6104.85.895.91

    Certain things cannot be quantified, and that's where most of Lue's value lies—with the incalculable. He has the respect and support of LeBron James. He did a better job keeping Kevin Love informed and upbeat. J.R. Smith seemed to play harder on defense and smarter on offense. 

    Intangibles like this matter, and Lue will have every opportunity to grow this season. But the Cavaliers are where they are primarily because of James. Swapping out Blatt for Lue is but a blip that exists in his shadow.

16. Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards

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    Scott Brooks isn't known for being a masterful tactician, and some of his methods are beyond frustrating. Oklahoma City's offense often looked vanilla under his watch—especially in crunch time—and his infatuation with Kendrick Perkins lasted two years too long.

    Brooks has instead made a name for himself as a player-development technician. He oversaw the growth and maturation of Durant, Harden, Westbrook, Ibaka and many others, and the Thunder never crumbled under the weight of egos during his tenure.

    Plus, let's not forget that Oklahoma City was just a few good breaks away from Brooks being viewed in a completely different light. As Michael Pina wrote for Fox Sports:

    A case can be made that Brooks (and many others) was a victim of penny-pinching owners, a group that notoriously OK'd the James Harden trade. He also led several teams that suffered untimely injuries to key players, like Ibaka, Durant and Westbrook. In a parallel universe, with a bit more luck, this man is his generation's Erik Spoelstra. Brooks' players love him. They go extremely hard, rotate on a string and communicate. 

    The Washington Wizards need everything Brooks has to offer. Bradley Beal and John Wall's relationship is a work in progress—they admitted as much to CSN's Chris Miller on Wizards Central: Offseason Grind (via CSNMidAtlantic.com's J. Michael). And there are a few question marks on the roster—Trey Burke, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Oubre Jr., Otto Porter—who could use a steadying hand.

    In the end, Brooks will be judged on whether his sentimental influence improves Washington's basketball product. He won 62 percent of his games over seven different seasons in Oklahoma City, but this is a new challenge—one that will test his mettle without a pair of top-five superstars.

15. Frank Vogel, Orlando Magic

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    Frank Vogel's value is obvious: The dude knows his defense.

    The Pacers ranked in the top three of defensive efficiency three times during the five full seasons he spent meandering the sidelines. Their lowest finish came in 2011-12, Vogel's first complete year, and they still checked in at 10th.

    Skeptics, pessimists and Tom Thibodeau extremists will be quick to credit some of Vogel's players. Paul George. David West. George Hill. Roy Hibbert, pre-free fall. Coaching them certainly made life easier, but Vogel's teams didn't exactly sleepwalk to top finishes.

    Danny Granger led the Pacers in total minutes for 2011-12. Lance Stephenson left (and couldn't function anywhere else). Most recently, prior to last season, West fled, the shell of Hibbert was exiled and Monta Ellis took over at shooting guard.

    Indiana still ended up third in points allowed per 100 possessions.

    Offense has never been Vogel's strong suit, but the Pacers never gave him the personnel to change—and that includes last season. For that matter, the Orlando Magic haven't, either.

    Coaxing points out of a team planning to play Aaron Gordon at small forward figures to be impossible, so the Magic's redeeming quality is their defensive versatility. Where a Gordon-Ibaka-Bismack Biyombo frontcourt poses problems for most, it's optimal for Vogel—a tried-and-true and, in many ways, underrated defensive whiz who owns his identity.

14. Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors

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    This is a safe place—a space for truths, both prevailing and untold. We are not shackled to preconceived notions. We get to embrace a coach once recognized as one of the foremost authorities for existing on the hot seat.

    Aspects of Dwane Casey's status are owed to Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri. He has acquired better players, and talent typically trumps coaching. But Casey isn't merely rolling with the punches; he's throwing some of his own.

    Toronto remains a hotbed for isolation sets, but that's an occupational inevitability when playing DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. The Raptors ranked fifth in offensive efficiency and hovered around 10th in points allowed per 100 possessions last season—no small miracle when DeRozan, Luis Scola and Jonas Valanciunas totaled more than 1,500 minutes apiece.

    Casey has even found a way to minimize DeRozan's offensive warts, using him as the primary ball-handler in more pick-and-rolls. And as he showed during the postseason, Casey isn't above benching his shooting guard down the stretch if he's in a rut.

    Dual point guard lineups featuring Cory Joseph and Lowry are a staple. Floor-spacing 4s are now the standard for the rotation. Norman Powell was given the chance to contribute on a contender as a rookie. Lowry has transformed into one of the game's best floor generals without retreating into inconsistency.

    In no uncertain terms is Casey solely responsible for the state of the Raptors. But he's an important part of their gradual rise—far more valuable and capable than most tend to admit. 

13. Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Ensuring Doc Rivers' performance as an executive doesn't cloud your vision of him as a coach is hella hard. His son, Austin Rivers, will earn roughly twice as much ($11 million) as Wesley Johnson ($5.9 million) this season—which, you know, wow.

    Remove Rivers' presidential duties from the equation (that Jared Dudley trade, though), and he still falls somewhere in the middle. 

    Too much of his extant clout remains bound to his Boston Celtics days. The Los Angeles Clippers should now routinely rank in the top seven of offensive and defensive efficiency, and Rivers has groomed DeAndre Jordan to be a genuine Defensive Player of the Year candidate. But Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, along with Jordan, were in town when he arrived, and he hasn't yet carried the talent bequeathed to him over the top.

    Rivers' rotations in particular are a pet peeve. Though injuries haven't always been kind to the Big Three, his bench-heavy units are inexplicable. 

    During the time Griffin spent on the shelf last season, between Dec. 26 and Mar. 31, the Clippers, on average, played 12.3 minutes per game without J.J. Redick, Jordan or Paul, according to NBAWowy.com. Compare that to the Warriors, who employed a deeper second unit, going just 7.3 minutes a night without any of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson over that same span, and you start to cringe.

    Single-game absences skew bits of the data, but not by much. Golden State's trio combined to miss four games in this time frame; Los Angeles' troika totaled five. Thus, the point stands: Rivers, who has yet to lead the Clippers past the second round, is not beyond reproach simply because he's a recognizable face with a championship ring.  

12. Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets

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    Mike Malone failed to last even a season-and-a-half as custodian of the Kings. He was, upon his departure in 2014-15, portrayed as a traditionalist because he wouldn't inject more speed into the offense—a taboo classification these days.

    In all actuality, Malone was a realist. Those Kings weren't built to run, so they didn't. Malone's Denver Nuggets are assembled to play a more contemporary style, so they did last season. They ranked middle of the road in pace, but a majority of their most used lineups featured one stretchy big.

    Nikola Jokic's emergence prompted Malone to experiment further, with two floor-spacers in the frontcourt. During the 713 minutes the rookie played with Danilo Gallinari, the pair operated as a power forward-center combo more than 15 percent of the time, albeit to unflattering statistical results, per NBAWowy.com.

    So while Malone's claim to fame is as a defensive designer, he's more adaptable than advertised. And as CBS Sports' Matt Moore wrote, he gets results:

    The players believe in him, and the culture change from the chaos of the Brian Shaw era to what Malone established along with veterans like Jameer Nelson and Mike Miller was night and day from the "put your cell phones in this box" era. Of note, in a season where nearly every significant player (Wilson Chandler, Nurkic, Gallinari, and Mudiay to name a few) missed major time with injury, Denver improved slightly on both offense and defense statistically.

    The Nuggets are an unfinished product, and Malone must prove he can coach up an above-average squad on both sides of the ball at the same time. But Denver's future is brighter than almost any other rebuilding team's, in no small part because of him. 

11. Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Keeping Thibodeau outside the top 10 isn't mind-numbingly stupid or criminal. Team fit matters here, and he is grabbing the controls of a budding Minnesota Timberwolves roster.

    Player development has never been Thibodeau's strong suit, so there's no guaranteeing that Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins improve by leaps and bounds just because he's in town. And you can still hear the bones and joints of Deng, Butler and Noah creaking from their time spent as Thibodeau's leading workhorses.

    Is he suddenly going to excel at managing minutes and exuding patience because his new gig demands it? Does his defensive track record negate all the possible drawbacks?

    Indeed, Thibodeau's legend precedes him. Only one of his five Bulls teams ranked outside the top five of points allowed per 100 possessions (2014-15), and he was an assistant for some of the league's best defenses while in Boston, New York and San Antonio.

    This doesn't mean Thibodeau will turn Minnesota's bottom-five sieve into a top-five fortress. Nor does it validate him as the perfect fit for this situation. He could be, but he has to shed some long-lived stereotypes before we go that far.

10. Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz

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    Quin Snyder began surging through the coaching ranks immediately after the Utah Jazz dealt Enes Kanter at the 2015 trade deadline. That move allowed him to unleash Rudy Gobert, and the Jazz wrapped up the stretch run as the league's best defensive team, with a top-four net rating to boot.

    Finishing outside the playoff picture last year hasn't burst Utah's bubble. Injuries to Alec Burks, Dante Exum, Derrick Favors and Gobert impeded progress but didn't erase it. The Jazz posted a better net rating (plus-7.2) than the Thunder (plus-6.9) with their most used lineup on the floor, and Snyder unearthed new silver linings amid playing-time roulette.

    Rodney Hood is the ideal three-and-D wing after being given extensive spin as a sophomore. Snyder granted Trey Lyles an opportunity to carve out an expansive role, and the rookie delivered, adding much-needed spacing and playmaking to the frontcourt.

    The Jazz once again closed the season on a tear, finishing third in defensive efficiency over the final 48 games. They boosted their offensive rating a tick as well, topping last year's mark (102.5) by 0.6 points per 100 possessions.

    Snyder does need to figure out how to tease more scoring out of his troops. The Jazz are slow, overwhelmingly so, and move the ball aimlessly. They ranked first in passes per game last season but 28th in assist percentage. Then again, each of Utah's five most used lineups scored like a top-eight attack. Now it has a deeper supporting cast with the additions of Boris Diaw, George Hill and Joe Johnson.

    All of this hype comes with greater expectations, and Snyder's quick work over the last two years suggests he's just the coach to meet them.

9. Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Last year's Portland Trail Blazers were fun, bouncing their way toward a surprise playoff berth, and that's part of Stotts' standing.

    But they were also overrated: Portland played below-.500 basketball for more than half the season. If injuries don't permeate the Houston, Memphis and Utah rosters, this Blazers team may not have made the playoffs. If the Clippers don't feel that same pain, this Cinderella story doesn't survive the first round.

    Not that this is any reason to doubt Stotts. The same goes for the Portland's expensive, yet potentially lateral, offseason. They are disclaimers for the bigger picture. Stotts is the real deal.

    He found a way to make Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, two players with overlapping skill sets and defensive flaws, into a net plus. He had the wherewithal to start Maurice Harkless at the end of the season. Allen Crabbe doesn't get a $75 million(ish) offer sheet without scores of open threes Stotts' offense created for him. And the Evan Turner signing isn't nearly as easy to talk yourself into without Stotts leading the charge.

    "People make such a big deal out of his three-point shooting," he said of Turner, per Lowe. "He'll shoot it better for us." 

    Stotts cruises past the potential spacing issues so matter-of-factly; the jumper-poor Al-Farouq Aminu shot at a career-high clip from downtown during his first go-round in Portland. Few other coaches can guarantee offensive success from season to season like him—and even fewer have transitioned from guiding a pseudo-championship contender to superintending a plucky upstart as smoothly. 

8. Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat

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    Spoelstra is a coaching chameleon.

    Need him to take over for Pat Riley after a 15-win season and instantly chaperon the Heat back above .500? You got it.

    Want him to coach a superstar-stuffed contender without severely aggravating the egos of James or Wade? No problem.

    Is it possible for him to escort Miami into the post-superteam era without a rebuilding grace period? You bet.

    Can he change the Heat's identity midseason without Bosh, turning them into an frenetically paced small-ball monster? Puh-lease.

    Does he have the chops to simultaneously move past Wade's exit; coach up Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow; build an efficient offense around Goran Dragic-Hassan Whiteside pick-and-rolls; and integrate Bosh into Miami's new reality?

    All without torpedoing the team's playoff hopes?

    We're about to find out—though Spoelstra's resume suggests we already know the answer.

7. Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons

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    A lot has happened for the Pistons in the two years since Stan Van Gundy began manning the wheel. Yup, that means it's time for bullet points:

    • The Pistons raised their win total by 15 between 2013-14 and 2015-16.
    • They ended a six-year playoff drought.
    • Andre Drummond became an All-Star.
    • Reggie Jackson was acquired, developed an above-board three-point stroke and ranked eighth among all point guards in points added on the offensive end during the 2015-16 crusade, according to NBAMath.com.
    • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope entered max-extension territory as a future All-Defensive Team fixture.
    • Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris, two starters, were picked up for pennies on the dollar.
    • Jon Leuer, Boban Marjanovic and Ish Smith all joined Detroit's cause on reasonable contracts.
    • "Form a f--king wall!" (NSFW language) became the best hypothetical tattoo idea of all time.

    The lines between coach and team president are blurred here—deliberately—and the 2015-16 Pistons were still unsettlingly middling on both sides of the floor while collecting 44 wins. But Van Gundy has given them depth and direction, exceeding expectations and expediting assumed timelines. 

    Great coaches always do.

6. Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets

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    Steve Clifford is the Charlotte Hornets' Spoelstra: Give him a roster, and he'll accommodate its makeup. For his first two years on the job, that entailed trudging through clunky offensive sets and emphasizing the defensive end, which pigeonholed him to a dimension.

    Except then the Hornets wanted to space the floor and shoot more threes. They brought in Nicolas Batum, Spencer Hawes and Lin—then, later, Courtney Lee—and Clifford took care of the rest, favoring lineups with at least one sweet-shooting big.

    Additional space and ball-handling helped Kemba Walker and Marvin Williams have career years. Aided by that, Charlotte finished in the top 10 of three-point attempts (fourth), three-point percentage (seventh) and offensive efficiency (ninth).

    Of course, this isn't a sustainable identity. The Hornets lost a few key pieces in Al Jefferson, Lee and Lin and must incorporate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's shaky jumper back into the equation. They aren't built to replicate last season's offensive approach—and Clifford knows it.

    "We probably don’t have as many points in our lineup," he said, per the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell. "We lost a lot of offense, but I think we’ll figure that out. We have potential to be better defensively. We get Mike [Kidd-Gilchrist] back, and he’s an elite perimeter defender."

    Adjusting on a whim while always forging some kind of identity is part and parcel of being an NBA coach. Three years is all it's taken for Clifford to show he can work through this professional wrinkle better than most.

5. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

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    Steve Kerr matters to Golden State. His impact might be overstated, since the Warriors had most of their championship pieces in place before his arrival, but they are better off because of him.

    Mark Jackson, Kerr's predecessor, never implemented a free-flowing, passing-friendly offensive system. And while a David Lee injury paved the way for Green's emergence, Kerr didn't try to stamp out his team's against-the-grain small-ball identity. He embraced it.

    Granted, Kerr has a tendency to stray from that identity. He likes to preserve his five-out "Death Squad," almost like it's too fragile or raw to use for long stretches. That's all fine and dandy when you're winning, yet the Warriors found themselves imploding during the NBA Finals.

    Kerr didn't abandon the Death Squad against Cleveland, but that was part of the problem—especially in Game 7. Harrison Barnes was lost, and rather than swap him out for Shaun Livingston or even Leandro Barbosa, Kerr rode, and crashed, with Festus Ezeli and Anderson Varejao.

    Improved mid-game decision-making is a necessity now that Durant is on the docket and the bench is thinner. Kerr needn't try to stretch his rotation 10 deep as frequently, and he most definitely shouldn't be treating the upgraded "Super-Mega-Ultra Death Squad" with kid gloves.

    At the same time, the Warriors have Durant because of their chemistry and culture, which Kerr's approach helped facilitate. And remember, he's still new to this head coaching thing.

    Only, unlike most beginners, he has a championship ring and Coach of the Year Award.

4. Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks

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    Budenholzer's stock might seem like it's due to dip after the Hawks dropped from sixth to 18th in offensive efficiency and bowed out in the second round without much resistance. But it's not.

    Atlanta is in better shape than when Budenholzer first arrived. The offense lagged last season for a number of reasons, including three-point shooting regression, but only the Warriors posted a higher assist rate. And most of its drop-off on that end was made up on defense, where the Hawks finished second in points allowed per 100 possessions.

    As team president, Budenholzer has since doubled down on this defense-first model. Signing Howard effectively drove Al Horford into the Celtics' arms, and Dennis Schroder isn't succeeding Jeff Teague only for his out-of-control offense.

    Such a shift is a gamble that could come back to haunt Budenholzer. He has now propped up the defense, without any assurances of improvement, at the expense of the offense.

    Outside shooting can no longer carry the Hawks. Kyle Korver, 35, is getting older. Paul Millsap, at 31, is too. Howard's free-throw woes are an unavoidable liability. These are all legitimate concerns.

    But the 2014-15 Coach of the Year knows what he's doing. He's been doing it for three years now: guaranteeing Atlanta a spot in the middle, with a chance of attaining something more.

3. Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

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    There are too many good things to say about Brad Stevens. So many, it feels like he's been around the NBA forever, not three years. 

    Boston's rebuild doesn't troll the rest of the league's reclamation projects without him. He has gleaned reliable contributions out of career uncertainties—most notably Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko and Turner.

    Everything Stevens does just seems to work: His plays outside of timeouts. Quirky lineups that feature zero rim protectors but also few shooters. Funky defensive setups and assignments. Ball movement that anticipates off-ball movement. 

    The Celtics play a hybrid style that's difficult to duplicate as a result—fast, but efficient. In fact, the only other teams to finish last season inside the top 13 of offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and pace were the Thunder and Warriors. And to think, the NBA let Boston and its coach get a hold of Horford.

    "It sounds crazy,'' Isaiah Thomas told ESPN.com's Jackie MacMullan, "but Brad has the potential to be one of the greatest coaches who ever lived.''

    Actually, that doesn't sound crazy at all.

2. Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks

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    If there were an official "Does the Most with the Least" award for NBA coaches, Rick Carlisle would have an army of trophies collecting dust on his mantle.

    Just one of Carlisle's eight Dallas Mavericks teams have fallen outside the top 12 of offensive efficiency: The 2011-12 iteration that was reeling from a championship hangover, lockout schedule and offseason roster purge. 

    Overall, the Mavericks have the league's seventh-best offensive rating since Carlisle's tenure began. This is pretty incredible when you think about it. Yes, they have Dirk Nowitzki. But Dallas has wasted many summers and churned through a ton of players trying to land another star. Point guards have come and gone. Starting centers are like Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers at Hogwarts—there's a new one every year.

    Oh, and Nowitzki's 38.

    And still Carlisle has the Mavericks chasing playoff berths and scoring points. He could have them tread water with anvils tied to their ankles. That's why free-agent pipe dreams live on. The consequences of striking out aren't as stark when your head coach routinely overachieves with a mess of placeholders and Nowitzki.

    Mediocrity seldom looks good on an NBA team, but Carlisle has Dallas pulling it off.

1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

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    Five championships. Three Coach of the Year nods. Nearly 1,100 wins. Infinite snark.

    There will never be another Gregg Popovich.

    San Antonio has reinvented, rebuilt and retooled its identity on the fly over the years, changing offensive form and defensive structure to meet the strengths of its roster while adequately challenging the most current championship threat. These transitions, including this season's, don't err on the side of seamless without Popovich's genius and leadership.

    The 67-year-old is part of the Spurs' DNA. He is just as important to their dynastic past as Tim Duncan and just as pivotal to their future as Kawhi Leonard. 

    Players know this. They understand this. Popovich is a magnet for success and both the incumbent and incoming free agents it attracts. Manu Ginobili once made sure that Popovich would still be coaching at the end of a previous contract, per ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne. Tony Parker followed suit. Then came LaMarcus Aldridge and Leonard. 

    Who knows, next summer, it could be Chris Paul doing the same. Popovich's tenancy of the NBA's coaching throne is that secure.


    Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.


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