Projected Coach Rankings: 2013/14

Gregg PopovichGreg Popovich.  Projected Ranking: First.  Current Ranking: First

There is simply no better coach in the NBA than Greg Popovich.  With the exception of his first season, Popovich has recorded 50+ win seasons (or the equivalent winning percentage) in each season.  No other coach has as many or more 50+ win seasons with only a single season below 50 wins with the lone exception of Phil Jackson.   Popovich has helped to mentor players, turning late draft picks like Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker into All-Stars and Hall-of-Fame players.  He has taken bench players who couldn’t break the rotation for other teams and turned them into role players (Stephen Jackson and Bruce Bowne for example), and he has managed to convince very talented players to buy into the team system and sacrifice ego in favour of winning.  Not to mention he has the best defensive sets in the league and an amazing offence in which almost any player can succeed.  He doesn’t win Coach of the Year every season, but that’s because the voters get tired of voting for the same guy, not because he isn’t the best.

Tom+ThibodeauTom Thibodeau.  Projected Ranking: Second.  Current Ranking: Second. 

If there is a coach whose defensive sets rival Popovich, it is Thibodeau’s.  Last season Thibodeau took a team who was missing an MVP, and rather than floundering their way into the lottery, the Bulls not only made the playoffs, but they made it to the second round, despite being ravaged by injuries.  After losing their primary playmaker and scorer (Derrick Rose), the Bulls headed to the post season, where they promptly lost their top scorer (Luol Deng) and playmaker (Kirk Hinrich) in Rose’s absence.  Despite this, the Bulls still won in the first round.  Much of this was the results of monstrous efforts from guys like Joakim Noah, Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer, but in the first round the Nets were simply outcoached.  Like Popovich, Thibodeau knows how to get guys to buy into a system and play into a team, and has amazing defensive sets. 

erik-spoelstra-lebron-jamesErik Spolostra.  Projected Ranking: Third.  Current Ranking: Fourth.

I’m not a huge fan of Spolostra, but there is something to be said for winning.  Yes, Spolstra has the best player in the league on his roster, and yes, he has a deep roster that features four likely future Hall-of-Fame players (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Chris Bosh), as well as other great role-players, but the team has also been sorely lacking a center and a true point guard, and Spolostra deserves some credit putting together rotations that can compensate the lack of a true center and point guard.  The team has also made three consecutive finals appearances, and very few coaches have ever pulled that off (Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Chuck Daly and Red Auerbach are the only other guys to pull that off: that puts Spolstra  in pretty rare company).  Coupled with that, no other coach has ever won back-to-back finals and not won a Coach-of-the-Year award, but for some reason Spolostra doesn’t get much credit for what he does accomplish. 

docriversDoc Rivers.  Projected Ranking: Fourth.  Current Ranking: Tenth.

Last season Rivers didn’t have much to work with.  Rajon Rondo was out with injury, Ray Allen left for the Heat, and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were aging All-Stars who had to have their minutes managed.  Still, the Celtics managed to pull off 41 wins, earned a playoff spot and gave the Knicks a scare in the first round.  This year Rivers’ will have a roster that can contend and he will also have an opportunity to mentor some great defensive minds (namely Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan) and have an opportunity to help improve the defensive play of others.  The Clippers will give Rivers a platform to show just how good a coach he is.  When it comes to motivating players, there is perhaps no better coach in the league, and there are likely only two coaches whose defensive sets are better than Rivers (Popovich and Thibodeau).  The Clippers may very well come away with their first 60-win season.

adelmanrubioRick Adelman.  Projected Ranking: Fifth.  Current Ranking: Unranked.

I didn’t rank Rick Adelman in my top ten for this past season, though he likely deserved a spot.  The Timberwolves got 31 wins, which may not seem like much, but when you consider that they were missing their lone All-Star for almost the entire season, and their starting point guard for much of the season, and that they also lost their starting shooting guard, getting 31 wins seems pretty impressive.  This year his roster is healthy and the Timberwolves have added All-Star shooting guard Kevin Martin.  The Timberwolves finally have a roster suited to Adelman’s ability and I expect no less than 50 wins from this team.  Adelman has been one of the best coaches in the league over the last 25 years and I expect his experience and talent to shine through this season. 

vogel-georgeFrank Vogel. Projected Ranking: Sixth.  Current Ranking: Sixth.

Since taking over the Pacers in 2010, the Pacers have seen improvements each season.  They have either increased their win total, or their winning percentage, and each season have progressed in the post season.  Vogel was criticised for pulling Roy Hibbert out of a game early in a playoff game against the Heat, which some say cost the Pacers the game and perhaps even the series, but such mistakes are few and far between (and even Greg Popovich makes similar mistakes, which was demonstrated when he took his best rebounder out of the game at the end of regulation in game six, allowing the Heat to get two offensive rebounds that were converted to 5 points and forced and over-time period, losing the series for the Spurs).  Vogel though has done a great job of mentoring and developing young players (Paul George and Lance Stephenson are great examples) and has been able to put together solid rotations.  With the emergence of George last year, and the return of Granger this year, Vogel will be working with the most talented roster he has had yet, so expectation will be high. 

Player turned coach Mark Jackson was among the top candidates for Coach of the Yer last season.

Player turned coach Mark Jackson was among the top candidates for Coach of the Yer last season.

Mark Jackson: Projected Ranking: Seventh.  Current Ranking: Seventh.

Jackson did an excellent job with the Warriors last year (he and Popovich were at the top of my Coach of the Year list), after struggling his first season with injuries and adjusting his system as a rookie coach.  This year he had struggles as well as the team, which started off near the top of the league, went through some tough stretches throughout the season.  Jackson though didn’t throw in the towel and by the end of the season the Warriors were playing as well as any team in the league and proved as much in the post season where the challenged the Spurs despite losing their lone All-Star to injury.  This season Jackson should have a healthy roster and has added some talented players to the bench.  Expectation will be high for the Warriors, so a 50-win season is a must.  I expect the team to get over 55-wins and make a legit push for the finals this season. 

mikewoodsonMike Woodson.  Projected Ranking: Eighth.  Current Ranking: Third.

I expect Woodson to perform at as high a level as he did last season, but other coaches will likely have better seasons than they did last year, so his projected ranking is not as high.  Woodson was a huge reason as to why the Knicks were able to finally get out of the first round, but their roster was a huge reason as to why they were unable to get any further.  That roster was not, in my opinion, improved during the offseason.  The departure of Jason Kidd, and the loss of Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and Steve Novak will hurt the team’s depth (and I do realize that Thomas and Camby did not get many minutes).  Other teams in the Eastern Conference are improving and though the Knicks may be as good as they were last season, I don’t think it’s fair to say that they are better.  Woodson will still be able to get 50 wins out of them, which I think will be more than most coaches would get out of them, but Woodson will be limited by his roster and the Knicks will struggle against the teams who have improved. 

Scott Brooks is another player turned coach who has excelled working from the bench.

Scott Brooks is another player turned coach who has excelled working from the bench.

Scott Brooks.  Projected Ranking: Ninth.  Current Ranking: Eighth. 

Scott Brooks is a fine coach and is doing a great job with the Thunder.  Losing a player like James Harden is rough, but Brooks weathered it and still managed to get Thunder’s first 60-win season and the highest winning percentage of his career.  The Thunder, though, were heavily dependent on their All-Stars and when Westbrook went down with injury, it was not easy for the team to compete.  This season Brooks will weather another loss in Kevin Martin, only unlike the loss of Harden, this loss will not be offset by the addition of another player.  I don’t think the Thunder’s current roster will be able to pull out 60 wins this season, unless rookie Steven Adams greatly exceeds expectations and Jeremy Lamb starts posting shooting percentages befitting and NBA shooting guard.  The Thunder will also need an insurance policy at point guard.  I expect Brooks will be able to get as many wins out of this roster as can be fairly expected, but I don’t expect this roster to be elite unless Lamb and Adams develop into legit NBA starters by the end of training camp.

montywilliams+anthonyDavisMonty Williams.  Projected Ranking: Tenth. Current Ranking: Unranked.

Monty Williams has had a rough time since taking over the New Orleans Pelicans (nee Hornets).  He’s had some growing pains, but he also demonstrated that he is capable of winning when he has some talent on his roster.  Injuries have slowed the team’s progress, but the addition of Jrue Holliday and Tyreke Evans, coupled with the development of Anthony Davis and a healthy Eric Gordon, should help the team move toward the playoffs, perhaps as early as this season.  So long as there are no health issues, I expect this roster to win 50+ games.  Williams’ has experience with the Spurs, so he knows the value of good defensive sets and sharing the ball, the question is: Can he get all of his players to buy into that?  Anthony Davis shouldn’t be a problem, but I expect some players may not be as eager to buy into this approach as some others.

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