The parity in the NBA this year is unlike anything we’ve seen in quite some time. There are a handful of teams capable of winning the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy, but that isn’t because these franchises are equally matched in their skill level. It’s because the majority of them have a coach who understands how to best take advantage of the players at their disposal.
Whether it’s crafting a fluid offensive or building a ferocious defense, it’s the man on the sidelines who’s responsible for making the unit come together as a whole. That’s a pretty tall order, and yet, some coaches have managed to stand out among the rest and have proven worthy of receiving acknowledgement for such. With that, here are the top five candidates for 2015 NBA Coach of the Year.
5. Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers
- Current 2014-2015 record: 48-26
Now in his third season as the Trail Blazers’ head coach, Terry Stotts continues to shape Portland into one of the most formidable teams in the Western Conference. Although recent injuries have made this latest stretch in the season difficult (4-6 in their last 10 games), the Trail Blazers still hold a 6.5-game lead in the Northwest Division, have already clinched a playoff spot, and are capable of sticking with any team in the conference.
Portland’s offensive numbers may be down this season, but the team has thoroughly improved its defense, with a defensive rating of 103.5. The Trail Blazers currently rank ninth in the league in that particular category, as opposed to the 2013-2014 season, when they finished 16th overall. On top of that, Stotts knows how to get the best from stars Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. He’ll need to continue pulling those strings if Portland hopes to compete for an NBA title.
4. Kevin McHale, Houston Rockets
- Current 2014-2015 record: 51-24
Kevin McHale has done a masterful job with the Houston Rockets this season. It doesn’t hurt when you have a player like James Harden on the team, but McHale has had to adjust to multiple injuries throughout the season. Center Dwight Howard has only played in 35 games this year, and the Rockets are still seventh in the league in points per game and seventh in defensive rating (103.2).
At present, Houston is still vying against the Memphis Grizzlies for the top spot in the Southwest Division. But with a playoff position already locked up, this team could present a difficult matchup in the postseason. They are 8-2 in their last 10 games and everyone knows that it pays to be hot at the end of the season. With McHale at the helm, the Houston should continue to play at a high level.
3. David Blatt, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Current 2014-2015 record: 48-27
Some may say that David Blatt has it easy as the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. After all, he does have the good fortune to run a team that consists of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. How difficult could that be? Quite, actually. Not only does Blatt have to deal with the immense pressure that comes with this position, but he also has to manage some big personalities in the process. That can’t be easy for a first-year head coach in the NBA.
But despite reports that James is pretty much running the show, Blatt has handled everything with grace and composure. He knows he is a skilled coach, and the Cavs’ record and statistics reflect that. Cleveland is in first place in the Central Division, boasts an offensive rating of 111.4 (third of 30), and is sitting in the second spot in the Eastern Conference. A lot of coaches may have buckled in Blatt’s position, especially when the season got off to a rocky start, but he has answered the challenge. And the Cavs are better for it.
2. Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks
- Current 2014-2015 record: 56-19
Mike Budenholzer has turned the Atlanta Hawks into the most complete team in the NBA. This squad doesn’t consist of a standout superstar, but rather a collective group that plays together and wins as a whole. This is one of the reasons why the Hawks had their entire starting lineup win the Player of the Month award, and why four members made the All-Star team. Atlanta sits in first place in the Southeast Division, as well as the Eastern Conference.
They are top 10 in the league in both offensive rating and defensive rating, and they move the ball better than almost any team in the NBA. There are a lot of folks who believed that the Cleveland Cavaliers were the team to beat in the East. But that all changed when they saw what the Hawks could do. Now it looks like the road to the NBA Finals runs through Atlanta. That doesn’t happen without Budenholzer.
1. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors
- Current 2014-2015 record: 61-13
The Golden State Warriors were already a good team when Steve Kerr became the head coach prior to the 2014-2015 season. But with him running the show, the Warriors have become a great team. The best team in the NBA, in fact. Kerr hasn’t hindered superstars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, he’s empowered them. Golden State is first in the NBA in points per game, pace, and defensive rating.
Their offensive rating of 111.6 is also the second best in the league this season. The Warriors are smooth, fluid, and offensively explosive. But they are also tenacious on the defensive side of the ball. Kerr has helped this squad reach its full potential, and there is no doubt they can take home the NBA title this year. For these reasons, he has to be the top contender for the NBA Coach of the Year award.