Gregg Popovich voted Coach of the Year for third time
The NBA announced Tuesday that Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been voted 2013-2014 coach of the year. It’s the second time in three seasons Pop has earned the award and third time overall. That ties him for the most all-time with Don Nelson and Pat Riley.
Historically speaking, this is surprise. Again, Pop’s only the third guy to win three Coach of the Year trophies. Just six coaches have won multiple awards. It’s not that other coaches haven’t deserved the award more than once, but sometimes absent of an overwhelming performance, writers vote for the coach with the best narrative in addition to the performance (back to that in a second).
Jeff Hornacek had an amazing first year as coach of the Phoenix Suns and finished second in CoY voting. Most people thought the Suns would be one of the two or three worst teams in the Western Conference and they damn near made the playoffs. The Chicago Bulls finished with the third best record in the Eastern Conference despite losing their best player to another season ending knee injury and trading a franchise cornerstone for salary cap relief. So Tom Thibodeau, who finished third, rightly had a great case for coach of the year.
Both Hornacek and Thibs did great work this season, but this year may have been Pop’s best season yet. Consider this: According to ESPN, the only Spurs starter to play more than 70 games this season was Tim Duncan. Nine players started 10 or more games. No Spur averaged more than 30 minutes per game. Pop didn’t just manage guys’ minutes, he juggled a wave of injuries that required a new lineup what felt like every night for six weeks in January and February. Other coaches dealt with bigger, more severe injuries, but no coach dealt with a larger quantity of injuries and had nearly the same amount of success.
Pop received 59 first place votes, while Hornacek received 37 and Thibs garnered 12. The award was voted on by a panel of 124 sportswriters and broadcasters.
As far as narratives go, here’s one you’ve heard some before and one you’ll hear a lot more moving forward: The Spurs suffered as devastating a Finals loss as a team can face and not once did they show any signs of a hangover or malaise. They started the season 31-8 before the injury bug bit. Then, once everyone got healthy he coached the team to a 19-game winning streak to regain the top record in the league.
The Spurs may not win the title, but this is the most impressive coaching performance of Pop’s career. He managed to guide this team to a top four performance in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency, which is an incredible achievement considering the injury trouble. His continued work managing minutes has Duncan sustaining his late-career surge. Pop helped develop Kawhi Leonard into a potential star for the future. He’s brought out the best in Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills.
Title or no, we should all remember this year as a clinic on how to coach a basketball team.