While some of the NBA’s 2018 awards look like foregone conclusions – including James Harden for MVP and Victor Oladipo for Most Improved Player – there’s no shortage of viable candidates for the league’s Coach of the Year award. A handful of this season’s playoff teams have exceeded expectations or overcome major injury issues to lead their teams to the postseason.
Here are several of this year’s Coach of the Year candidates, along with a brief case for each of them:
- Mike D’Antoni, Rockets (64-16): While D’Antoni hasn’t changed his approach significantly this season, his system continues to fire on all cylinders. The Rockets will finish with the NBA’s best record by far, and any coach who guides his team to a 65-win season deserves strong consideration for this award.
- Dwane Casey, Raptors (59-22): After getting swept out of the 2017 playoffs and losing veterans like P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson, Cory Joseph, and DeMarre Carroll in the offseason, the Raptors were expected to perhaps take a step back. Instead, Casey had led a revamped offense and a dominant bench unit to the best season in franchise history.
- Brad Stevens, Celtics (54-26): Besides overcoming Gordon Hayward‘s season-ending injury, Stevens and the Celtics have also worked injuries to several other key players, including Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart. Boston will ultimately end up with approximately the same record many experts anticipated, but the path to get there has been far more challenging than expected.
- Brett Brown, Sixers (50-30): This was the year the Sixers had hoped to move out of the rebuilding phase, but simply getting to .500 would’ve been viewed as a success. Not only did the Sixers blow past .500, but they’re now in position to claim the No. 3 seed in the East and potentially improve by 24 games over last season’s 28-54 mark.
- Nate McMillan, Pacers (48-33): Viewed as a borderline playoff team after trading Paul George to Oklahoma City, the Pacers got off to a decent start before slipping to 19-19 early in 2018. Skeptics may have predicted a finish out of the postseason at that point, but McMillan has guided Indiana to a 29-14 record since January 3, putting the team in position for a top-five seed.
- Terry Stotts, Trail Blazers (48-33): A recent slump has brought the Blazers back down to the pack in the West, but as recently as a couple weeks ago, they looked like the third-best team in the West. That’s an impressive showing for a team that finished with a .500 record a year ago and didn’t make any major offseason roster changes.
- Quin Snyder, Jazz (47-33): The Jazz have looked like this year’s version of the 2016/17 Heat, following up a poor first half with an incredible second-half run. The Heat’s 30-11 finish last season left them just short of the playoffs, but the Jazz have locked up a postseason berth with a staggering 28-5 run since since January 22.
- Alvin Gentry, Pelicans (47-34): A season-ending injury to DeMarcus Cousins could have easily derailed the Pelicans’ playoff aspirations, but Gentry – with the help of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday – didn’t let that happen. New Orleans clinched a playoff spot on Monday night.
- Gregg Popovich, Spurs (47-34): A perennial candidate for this award, Popovich will likely be passed over this year for the Spurs’ underwhelming record by their standards — this will be the club’s worst regular season record since 1997. Still, Popovich got San Antonio back to the postseason without Kawhi Leonard for all but nine games. That shouldn’t be overlooked.
ESPN’s panel of experts gives Casey the slight edge for the award, ahead of Stevens, Snyder, D’Antoni, and McMillan, in that order. But this figures to be a close vote, with upwards of one-third of the league’s coaches worthy of votes.
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