Mid-season picks for Coach of the Year
Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni applauds during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
The NBA'S Coach of the Year is not the league's most prestigious or sensationalized award, but at least for me, that is part of what makes it one of league's most precious. It is one of the league's purest awards, and this year I believe it'll go to someone who isn't among basketball's traditional bench tacticians.
Here are my picks for COTY leaders at this point in the season:
#3 - Scott Brooks (Washington)
Running third in the East's playoff race are the enigmatic Washington Wizards. People were understandably unsure about the Wiz prior to the 2016-2017 season, knowing full well how Washington bombed last season after finishing in the conference's top-five in 2014 and 2015. Now, Brooks has John Wall and Bradley Beal playing with near-top-tier production and impressive efficiency. The former OKC Thunder mentor has a lot to do with the team's turn of fortunes this year, and it's not a shocker at all that he was named the East's Coach of the Month in January, after the Wiz won 12 of their 16 games. With Brooks at the wheel, Washington should clinch homecourt advantage in the at least one round of the 2017 postseason.
#2 - Mike D'Antoni (Houston)
I cannot make this list without adding the coach who, quite famously, played position-less, pace-and-space basketball before it was ever en vogue. D'Antoni's system is such a perfect fit for Houston, and we're all the better for it because we finally get to see James Harden at his best, and guys like Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Clint Capela taking names, night in and night out. D'Antoni has been able to do the unthinkable — turn the much-maligned Harden into a near-unstoppable offensive force of nature. Remember how everyone took potshots at the Beard for his seeming defensive ineptitude? D'Antoni has not tried fixing that at all. Instead, he has given Harden the green light to be even better at the side of the ball he was already very, very good at anyway. Now, Harden isn't JUST a guy who gets buckets. He has become the league's best playmaker, while also remaining among the season's top three scorers.
#1 - Brad Stevens (Boston)
Last week, I wrote about the journey of Brad Stevens from unlikely back-to-back US NCAA Tournament Finals appearances to the head coaching spot for a then-struggling Boston Celtics squad in 2011. Now, Brad's wards are sitting pretty atop the Atlantic Division and are just three games behind the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers. To say he has not paid his dues and has not been able to turn things around for the Big Green is wholesale blasphemy, and first time All-Star Isaiah Thomas will certainly attest to his coach's innate brilliance. To be quite honest, I think Brad's finishing sixth in last season's COTY voting was downright crazy, given how Boston basically blindsided the East, and I am 100 percent sure he will get much better mileage and results this time around. Much like what D'Antoni has done with Houston and what Pop has been doing in San Antonio, Stevens has been able to maximize Thomas's offensive potential while also squeezing the most out of supposed average joes like Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Marcus Smart. I'm a Stevens superfan, and if the COTY had to be handed out right now, he's my no-brainer pick.
Honorable mentions: Quin Snyder (Utah), Steve Kerr (Golden State), Gregg Popovich (San Antonio)