There is a wide belief among sports fans that basketball would be the easiest sport to coach as a player. The assumption that a player could play major minutes on a professional basketball team while playing productively and controlling the ego of million dollar players does not seem like an easy thing for a person to do. This becomes incredibly important when you remember the amount of video that coaches watch to reinvigorate stagnant offenses and to keep defenses strengthened.
That line of thinking is an insult to all of the great coaches that are in the NBA, coaches that make a difference in the win columns and can swing a playoff series. We’ve seen coaches fail to make adjustments at critical junctures during games, but we’ve also seen coaches call the perfect play in a prime spot to win a playoff game (think Erik Spoelstra in the first game against the Pacers). These are the kinds of plays that make you a great coach and land you on a list alongside the best coaches in the game.
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15. BRAD STEVENS
The man hasn’t even coached a game in the NBA, yet he made the list. I’m not claiming that coaching Butler to two different NCAA championship appearances has anything to do with his coaching ability in the NBA, but I do feel that he has a lot of the qualities that would ease his transition into coaching at the pro level. Stevens has a great connection with his players and understands how to tailor his philosophy to his roster’s talent. He may struggle in his first season, but that may have more to do with the talent of the Boston Celtics than his actual ability to coach in the NBA.
14. BRIAN SHAW
After waiting in the wings of Phil Jackson, it seemed highly likely that Shaw would get a chance to take over for his predecessor, but to his chagrin that would not be the case. Mike Brown would be hired and fired within a little over a year and Shaw would go on to be promoted to the assistant coach of the Indiana Pacers. He received rave reviews from head coach Frank Vogel for helping with the development of Lance Stephenson and Paul George this past season. Shaw will be able to show off that ability as he takes over for a Denver Nuggets team that finished third in the Western Conference last season.
13. DAVE JOERGER
Many were shocked and surprised that Lionel Hollins wasn’t brought back for the 2013-14 season, but it looked as if management and coach may have had conflicting strategies on running a team. Hollins approached the game with an old-school mentality and Joerger seems to be a bit more of the new-school mentality. Joerger has already stated that he is going to make offensive adjustments, such as bringing the ball past half court with at least 20 seconds on the shot clock. The idea is to run multiple offensive sets in order to maximize the chance of getting the best shot off, something the Spurs — the team that eliminated the Grizzlies in the WCF’s last season — emphasize. He has also suggested the use of stressing the three-point shot and using Zach Randolph in more sets at the high post. The ideas are great in theory, but it’ll be important for him to execute these plays in order to maximize their effectiveness.
12. MIKE D’ANTONI
He may receive a lot of heat for the lack of success he had in New York and, currently, the Los Angeles Lakers, but he still has proven his worth as an NBA coach when he has the right players around him. Not every coach can change styles to fit their personnel and that clearly is not a strength of D’Antoni. He needs specific players to fit an open offense that pushes the ball and underlines pick-and-roll play. Was spotting Pau Gasol in the corner to shoot 3-pointers a good idea? Probably not, but you can’t deny the success he had during his Phoenix Suns days. He made the Western Conference Finals twice and could have gone further if not for a technicality that suspended both Boris Diaw and Amar’e Stoudemire in a critical game five. D’Antoni will have the chance to make some changes this season, which will most likely determine the length of his stay in Los Angeles.
11. SCOTT BROOKS
Most would expect Brooks to be higher on this list after making an NBA Finals appearance in 2012, but the coaching decisions he makes are, at times, hair-pulling. Brooks had an infatuation with giving Derek Fisher major minutes, even though his defense and offensive efficiency were dreadful. He mishandled the minute distribution for Serge Ibaka before the 2012-13 season, playing him similar minutes to Kendrick Perkins. Not all is bad with Brooks. He made great adjustments in the series against San Antonio, but followed that with an inconsistent NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. Brooks will have to prove his worth in order to show he can win an NBA title with two of the five best players in the NBA on his roster.