The 2013-2014 NBA season has been all but predictable. Not surprisingly, the Pacers and Spurs lead their respective conferences. On the other hand, quite shockingly, teams such as the Bobcats, Raptors, Suns and Mavericks all find themselves in the heart of this year’s playoff race. The respective coaches of these teams have done a tremendous job in getting the most out of their collective talent level and propelling their teams to possible playoff berths.
Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs)
As usual, Gregg Popovich is in the heart of the Coach of the Year discussion. In a year where injuries have once again decimated the Spurs, San Antonio sits atop the NBA standings. Popovich’s system, focused on ball movement and fundamental basketball, has shined no matter who has been active for the Spurs. Furthermore, role players such as Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills and Boris Diaw have stepped up in compensation for starters who have missed numerous games. As many fans write off the Spurs once again this season because of age, they somehow just keep winning. As usual, the Western Conference will have to go through San Antonio to raise a banner.
Tom Thibodeau (Chicago Bulls)
After a trade that sent Luol Deng to Cleveland, many thought the Bulls would begin spiraling downward immediately. This was not the case, however, as players like Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy and Joakim Noah have stepped up to lead the Bulls to a fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. As usual, coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system has stuffed opponents, ranking second in defensive efficiency. Additionally, the Bulls have been able to stay afloat on offense even though they have few, if any, one on one options. Thibodeau’s crew has spaced the floor and moved the ball well, resulting in open back door cuts set up by Joakim Noah, who is second on the team in assists at the center position.
Frank Vogel (Indiana Pacers)
Many thought the Pacers could defeat the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals after last year’s seven game series, and the 2014 regular season has only enforced that notion. Not surprisingly, the Pacers rank number one in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing less than 96 points per 100 possessions. Frank Vogel, known around the league as one of the best developmental coaches, has helped facilitate the breakouts of many Pacer players, including Lance Stephenson, Paul George and Roy Hibbert. As Paul George continues to cement himself as the cornerstone of the Indiana franchise, a Pacers title may be in the near future.
Terry Stotts (Portland Trailblazers)
After the Blazers finished eleventh in the Western Conference last year, they were one of the most aggressive teams in the offseason. After addressing depth issues at multiple positions, many thought they could sneak into the playoffs as an eighth seed. Instead, Stotts’ team is sitting at fifth in the West, thanks to the likes of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. This duo, combined with Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews among others, has helped facilitate the second best scoring offense in the entire NBA. Robin Lopez mans the middle, averaging 1.7 blocks per game and 8.6 rebounds per game. With the way Portland shoots from deep (boasting the highest percentage in the league), they are a scary team to meet in the playoffs because they can get unthinkably hot at any time.
Steve Clifford (Charlotte Bobcats)
Although rarely pretty, Clifford’s Charlotte Bobcats have held the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed for much of the current NBA season. The Bobcats play within their identity, grinding out games with the sixth most efficient defense in the league. With only two household names on the roster (Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson), Clifford has gotten the absolute most of his team’s talent. Al Jefferson, a double-double threat night in and night out, has averaged over 21 points and 10 rebounds per game this season. Gerald Henderson has also provided Jefferson with help offensively, averaging over 14 points per game for Clifford’s club.
Dwane Casey (Toronto Raptors)
After missing the playoffs last year, the Raptors biggest offseason acquisition was Tyler Hansbrough. Consequently, the Raptors were once again thought to miss the playoffs, as Dwayne Casey entered the current season on the hot seat. A few months later, the Raptors have found their identity and now possess the third best record in the East, behind only Indiana and Miami. Boasting the sixth best defensive efficiency, Casey’s aggressive defense finally looks much like the defense he once coached in Dallas. Since a trade that sent Rudy Gay to Sacramento, Toronto has a compiled an impressive (31-17) record.
Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns)
Although the Suns have been struggling lately, the job first year head coach Jeff Hornacek has done is quite simply unbelievable. At the beginning of the 2014 campaign, many believed that the Suns would be one of the three worst teams in the entire NBA. Skipping ahead a few months, those Suns are nine games above .500 and are just 1.5 games out of the playoffs in the daunting Western Conference. To top it off, Phoenix has played a large number of games without Eric Bledsoe, arguably their best all-around player. Contributions from all-star snub Goran Dragic, along with numerous other role players such as Markieff and Marcus Morris, Gerald Green and Channing Frye have propelled the Suns into a more than respectable team in the NBA’s superior conference.
Rick Carlisle (Dallas Mavericks)
Dallas, the fifth oldest team in the NBA, has somehow held their ground in a Western Conference full of young and up and coming teams. Surprisingly, Rick Carlisle’s team is thirteen games over .500 and ranks third in offensive efficiency. The addition of Monta Ellis has paid dividends for Dallas, although individual contributions have come from many different players this season. Including Ellis, Dallas’ 10 man rotation provides a capable starter and backup at every position, a luxury many teams simply do not have. Couple the combination of Monta Ellis and the always dangerous Dirk Nowitzki with the experience of many other Maverick players, and this team will not be an easy out in this year’s playoffs.
Statistics Provided by ESPN