With the NBA regular season seemingly over with, due to the Covid-19 pandemic (you may have heard of it), it seems remiss of me to wait any longer before casting my votes on my imaginary NBA ballot. GIVE ME MY BALLOT, NBA! COWARDS!
As well as nominating my winner, and acknowledging those in the conversation, we’ll also go back through my preseason and mid-season predictions, so we can see just how off the mark I was (which might go someway to explaining why I don’t have a ballot. Sorry for venting, NBA).
Today, let’s have a look at the sideline leaders and crown our NBA Coach of the Year.
Coach of the Year
Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors)
Pre-season prediction: Michael Malone (Denver Nuggets)
Mid-season prediction: Frank Vogel (Los Angeles Lakers)
In the mix: Vogel, Rick Carlisle (Dallas Mavericks), Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder), Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks), Taylor Jenkins (Memphis Grizzlies), Nate McMillan (Indiana Pacers)
A loaded field, this season! We’re no longer in the days where NBA teams continually hired coaches that were clearly over matched at this level, like Randy Witman, Sidney Lowe or Kurt Rambis. Even the coaches that have flamed out this year, like John Beilein, have an extensive resume behind them.
This means that otherwise excellent coaches like Erik Spoelstra, Gregg Popovich and Quin Snyder don’t make the shortlist for this award, despite coaching their teams well. My preseason pick of Malone is another that falls into that group.
His Nuggets sit third in the West, yet Malone hasn’t really been through of as even an outsider for this award. Whilst his team are winning - especially since Nikola Jokic rounder into form – his teams have consistently failed to take it up to the very best in the league.
Without a few signature wins under their belt, the Nuggets are not quite taken seriously as a contender.
My mid-season call on fifth choice Frank is certainly closer to the mark. Vogel was the sacrificial lamb brought in in case things went awry in Lakerland. As it turns out, Vogel has managed to coax an Indian Summer out of Dwight Howard and kept the likes of Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley playable.
He’s turned Alex Caruso into a legitimate rotation piece/cult hero. He’s also found a way to unclog a potentially overloaded front court by moving LeBron to the point on a full time basis on offense. That successful transition has allowed the team to play Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green and Bradley (all of them a zero trying to create off the dribble) as pure 3 and D wings, opening up space for James and Anthony Davis to do their thing.
The versatility that Point LeBron provided really came to the fore on defense: the Lakers were huge! They would run out lineups with the long limbed 6’5” KCP as its smallest player.
Combined with a defensive stalwart in Green, a linebacker in James, a Defensive Player of the Year contender in AD and a former three time winner of the award in Howard, and it’s no surprise that the Lakers currently look like finishing the season ranked third in defensive rating.