San Antonio Spurs News

Is Gregg Popovich the NBA Coach of the Year?

May 10, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives direction to his team against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
May 10, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives direction to his team against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
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The San Antonio Spurs are 43-13 this season, the second-best record in the NBA. It is their 20th consecutive season with a winning record, most in NBA history. Should Gregg Popovich be awarded Coach of the Year?

Gregg Popovich is in a class of his own.

In his pursuit in being the best NBA coach of all time, Popovich has had a few remarkable feats this season with the Spurs. Sitting at 43-13, the Spurs secured their 20th consecutive season with a winning record, the longest streak in NBA history.

Earlier this season, Popovich secured his 1,128th victory with the Spurs, passing Jerry Sloan for most wins by a coach with a single team in NBA history.

Most wins with 1 team in NBA history:1. Gregg Popovich – 1,128 (Spurs)2. Jerry Sloan – 1,127 (Jazz)3. Red Auerbach – 795 (Celtics)

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) February 5, 2017

No coach in NBA history has a had a better tenure with any one team than Popovich has with the Spurs. Scratch that, no coach in NBA, NFL, or the NHL has had a more successful tenure with one team than Popovich has.

Only 18 coaches in the history of the four U.S. sports have more wins with one team than Gregg Popovich has for the Spurs – 18 MLB managers.

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) February 5, 2017

It should be noted that the MLB has a regular season of 162 games, compared to the NBA’s 82. MLB coaches have almost double the amount of games of an NBA coach, which would explain why 18 MLB managers have more wins with one team than Popovich does.

Nevertheless, Popovich’s accolades didn’t stop there.

Not only do the Spurs have 20 consecutive seasons with a winning record overall, they also have 20 consecutive seasons with a winning record on the road. That is remarkable.

Most consecutive seasons with a winning road record in NBA history:1. SPURS- 20 (1997-2017)2. Lakers- 12 (1979-91)3. Celtics- 10(1959-69)

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) February 9, 2017

His dominance as head coach is well documented. Ironically, his consistency as a head coach is consistently overlooked, since the Spurs are always in championship contention.

Team Success

The Spurs are 43-13 this season despite losing first ballot hall-of-famer Tim Duncan to retirement in the offseason, injuries to Pau Gasol, and aging players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli.

A record of 43-13 is the second-best record in the NBA, just 4.0 games back of the loaded Golden State Warriors. Their record of 24-7 on the road is also the second best in the NBA behind the 23-6 Warriors (percentage points).

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Despite losing Duncan and his elite defensive capabilities, the Spurs are still a top tier defensive team. The Spurs are allowing 98.4 points per game, second-best in the NBA behind the Utah Jazz.

Opposing teams are shooting 44.2% overall against the Spurs, the fourth best mark in the NBA. Opposing teams are shooting 34.1% from beyond the arc against the Spurs, the second best percentage behind the Warriors.

Offensively, the Spurs are no slouches either. They are averaging 106.7 points per game, 11th best average in the NBA. The Spurs were in the top-10 for most of the season, which would make them one of the few teams to be top-10 on both sides of the floor.

They are the most efficient three-point shooting team in the league at 40%, and fourth-best in terms of overall field goal percentage at 47.7%.

The reason for their success? Well, besides the greatness of Kawhi Leonard, it would be their ability to move the ball, a trait Popovich is known for. That explains their 52.0% assist to field-goal ratio, which is tied for sixth in the NBA.

By Popovich’s standards, that’s still probably not good enough. However, for most other coaches, that is a phenomenal number. For Popovich to be so successful on both ends of the floor with the current roster he has available, a 43-13 record is stellar.

Roster

Popovich’s system and culture extracts the best results from his players. For this reason, it seems like a Popovich team is always better than they actually are.

There is no denying Leonard’s greatness. However, it’s worth posing the question: If Leonard was on any other professional NBA team, would he be as good? Better said, if Leonard was any other team, would Leonard have blossomed so quickly? Highly, highly doubtful.

Kawhi Leonard has now scored double figures in 85 games straight – the longest streak by any Spur since Tim Duncan's 91 straight in 2002-03.

— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) February 16, 2017

Regardless, Leonard is on the Spurs, and having a break-out year on the offensive end. With Duncan’s departure and Parker’s age, Leonard was asked to take on more of the scoring load this season, in addition to his usual defensive duties.

Leonard is averaging 25.9 points per game on 49.7% shooting, 5.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 39.2% from three-point range, and 89.9% from the charity stripe.

He is on the cusp of averaging 50-40-90 for the entire season, and would be only the eighth person in NBA history to achieve this feat.

The only other players to average 50-40-90 for a season? Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, KD & Steph Curry

— Air Alamo (@AirAlamo) February 12, 2017

Unfortunately, Leonard is only one man. The Spurs also signed LaMarcus Aldridge to help and fill the un-fillable void that Duncan has left behind. Since Duncan’s departure, Aldridge was also asked to take on more of the scoring load, especially in the absence of Gasol.

Aldridge is averaging 17.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season. If the season ended today, that would be Aldridge’s lowest scoring average and rebounding average since his rookie season back in 2006-2007.

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It’s safe to say that Aldridge has been inconsistent this season. In wins, Aldridge is averaging 18.1 points on 50.3% shooting. In losses, Aldridge is averaging 15.7 points on 40.8% shooting.

The only other players averaging double figures are Gasol (11.7) and Parker (10.6). Gasol has been sidelined with a broken finger the past 15 games, and plans to make his return after the all-star break.

Without Gasol, the Spurs are 11-4.

Without Gasol, this Spurs lineup has no business being 43-13 on the season, just 4.0 games behind the Warriors. The job that Popovich has done this season is going highly unnoticed, and should be rewarded with a Coach of the Year award.

Competition

While there are plenty of coaches who are doing an exceptional job, some of them don’t have the winning records behind them to be placed in this conversation.

Coach of the Year will come down to these six candidates:

  1. Steve Kerr – Warriors (47-9)
  2. Gregg Popovich – Spurs (43-13)
  3. Tyronn Lue – Cavaliers (39-16)
  4. Mike D’Antoni – Rockets (40-18)
  5. Brad Stevens – Celtics (37-20)
  6. Scott Brooks – Wizards (34-21)

Kerr has the Warriors rolling this season, to no one’s surprise. They are having one of the best offensive seasons in the history in the NBA, topping some of last year’s totals.

The @warriors are outscoring teams by 12.8 points per game this season, on pace to be the largest scoring differential in #NBA history

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 17, 2017

Despite losing Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, the addition of Kevin Durant has not hurt their dominance on the defensive end, as they are in the top-tier in essentially every defensive category imaginable.

However, as I made my case with Durant as MVP, the Warriors are too loaded for anyone on that team, Kerr included, to win an award this year.

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Coach Lue is at a disadvantage.

He happens to coach LeBron James, arguably the best player on the planet. James has made it to the finals with four different coaches in his career. If Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love didn’t get injured in the first finals matchup against the Warriors, Lue may still be an assistant.

Lue is a capable coach, but I couldn’t find enough reasons to find him worthy of this award.

Stevens, on the other hand, is doing something special in Boston. The Celtics are 3.0 games behind the Cavaliers for eastern supremacy, led by 5’9″ point guard Isaiah Thomas.

The Celtics signed Al Horford in the offseason to give them a presence down-low. Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder are great individual defenders and Thomas leads the league in fourth quarter scoring. While they have a talented roster, I still believe this team is overachieving.

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  • If the Celtics can pass by the Love-less Cavaliers and secure the top-seed in the East, Stevens can walk away with this award.

    Brooks is also doing something incredible in Washington. John Wall is proving to be a top-tier point guard, and has carried this team to the third seed in the East at 34-21. Their 24 wins at home are tied for most wins by a home team this season.

    He is also getting solid production from Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat. If the Wizards continue their consistent play, they will make a strong case for Brooks.

    Essentially, if Stevens or Brooks want to put themselves in play for coach of the year, they will need at least a two seed, but ideally a one seed.

    Lastly, we have D’antoni. If the season ended today and D’antoni won the award, no one should be upset. When he moved James Harden to point-guard this offseason, critics and analysts thought he was crazy. With a 40-18 record and a three seed in the Western Conference, moving Harden to point guard was brilliant. If the season ended today, Harden may very well be the league’s most valuable player.

    His system is conducive to the modern NBA, which is why the Rockets lead the league in three-point attempts by more than six attempts (39.8). That roster has no business being a three seed in the West, and if his success continues, D’antoni will be Popovich’s biggest competition.

    Final Thoughts

    Let’s be honest.

    Popovich is the coach of the year, every year. To sustain 20 years, two decades, of winning seasons in the NBA is unprecedented, and speaks volumes to his ability as a head coach.

    It’s similar to James. Realistically, James is the MVP every year. Depending on your definition of MVP, James’ impact on a team is higher than anyone else’s. Switch James with any MVP candidate and that team will have improved, while the Cavaliers would worsen.

    Nevertheless, the NBA has to keep everyone happy.

    Some years, Popovich and James are not gifted the awards they deserve.

    Much like the MVP race, the Coach of the Year race still has many “IFs.”

    1. If Stevens secures a one seed, he will be coach of the year.
    2. If Brooks secures a one seed, he will be coach of the year.
    3. If D’antoni secures a two seed, he will be coach of the year.

    However, if the season ended today, Popovich should be coach of the year. A number two seed, in the Western Conference (the harder conference), with one all-star. If voters combine team success, roster quality, and strength of schedule, Popovich is the clear-cut winner.

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