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2019-2020 NBA Coach of the Year

NBA Coach

NBA Coach
(Michael Dwyer / The Associated Press file photo)

With the 2019-2020 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 2019-2020 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 3rd 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 5th 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 & 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 it’s 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 3rd in defensive rating.

That being said, there can only be one man for this award, and that’s Raptors coach Nick Nurse. Following up from winning the Championship in your debut season is an impossible task in the best of circumstances. Throw in losing your starting two guard and the job becomes harder again. Oh, they also lost Kawhi Leonard, arguably the best basketballer on Earth.

And that’s before we even talk about the injury crisis that beset the club this season. Looking at their top eight rotation players, based on minutes per game, here are the number of games those players missed of the 64 the Raps played:

  • Kyle Lowry – 12 games missed
  • Fred Vanvleet – 16
  • Pascal Siakam – 11
  • OG Anunoby – 1
  • Norman Powell – 20
  • Serge Ibaka – 14
  • Marc Gasol – 28
  • Patrick McCaw – 27

To cope with the off season defections that Toronto experienced; to endure the injuries that the club had to deal with; and to do it with the proverbial target on their back that comes with being the reigning NBA champ, it’s remarkable that Nurse was able to lead his team to 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, on course for a 59 win campaign – one win more than last seasons total.

NBA Coach

So how did the guitar playing, personalised cap wearing part time rock star bring his team to greater regular season heights than last time around? Much of that planning came last season when the team, hopeful if keeping hold of Kawhi long term, knew that there was a better than fair chance that the Leonard marriage was a single season arrangement. To that end, the team had the talented Pascal Siakam shadow Leonard, learning his traits and tendencies both on and off the court with the idea that he could step in to Leonard’s shoes should he need to. Kawhi’s load management gave Siakam and the Raps the opportunity to ease the Cameroonian into life as a #1 option. It was a show of faith in the former #27 pick and this season he’s repaid his coach in spades. Sure, he’s not Kawhi, but Siakam has proven himself a true #1 option on a contending team. He’s not the only success story, though.

Fifth year swingman Normal Powell almost doubled his previous career high scoring average to emerge as the 4th leading scorer on the team with 16.6 points per game. OG Anunoby stepped into Siakam’s former function as the 3 and D wing stopper. Undrafted 22 year old Terrence Davis; mature age rookie Chris Boucher; reclamation project Rondae Hollis-Jefferson; they all played excellent basketball under Nurse’s tutelage.

Nurse has instilled a ‘next man up’ mentality in his squad. It doesn’t matter if it’s his cadre of veterans, or youngsters with everything to prove; Nurse seems to be able to get the best of all of them.

It’s some start to 52 year old’s head coaching career: an chip in season one and – from my perspective, at least – Coach of the Year in season two.

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