Award races are starting to heat up. But, similar to our piece about Sixth Man of the Year, that doesn’t necessarily mean the discussions themselves need to get heated. We can have a nice, casual discussion about one of the closer award races this season, Coach of the Year.
At this point in the season, there are four legitimate candidates. Mike Brown, Mike Malone, Mike Budenholzer, and the only candidate not named Mike, Joe Mazzulla. Let’s start with the head man in Green before going through our foray of Coach Mikes.
Joe Mazzulla (+225)
Despite the sky-high expectations of the Celtics this year, Mazzulla has been a revelation. He’s had his lumps like any coach, complaints about his rotations and lack of timeout usage have plagued everyone’s Twitter feeds this year, but all things considered, he’s about as good of a rookie coach as you will find.
He’s already won two Coach of the Month awards, was the head coach of an All-Star team, and has the Celtics playing at an elite pace. Could the Celtics be better? Sure, but that doesn’t mean that a 47-21 record for a rookie coach isn’t insanely impressive. I think the take of “anyone could coach a team with this much talent” is a bit heavy-handed and is too hypothetical. Regardless of who COULD have the job, Mazzulla has it and is doing quite well with it. He currently sits 2nd in Vegas odds for Coach of the Year, but a strong close to the season could see him really make a push for the #1 spot.
Mike Brown (-220)
The Kings, yes the Sacramento Kings, are the #2 seed in the Western Conference. Led by an exciting offense and one of the best starting fives in the NBA, they are pushing teams like the Grizzlies and Suns for extra home playoff games. Mike Brown has done a great job of keeping this team prepared and using the tools on the roster to the best of their advantage.
The development of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis especially has been very impressive. But, -220? Over the rookie phenom coach of a team with a better record. It’s interesting to see Brown such a big favorite. For me, this is really where circumstance and context come into play. If Brown was doing this for a different franchise, would he be such a huge favorite? If he was the coach of a team that had made the playoffs in the last 20 years, it might be a different story. BUT...this is the Kings. Context matters. Light the beam!
Mike Malone (+450)
Chasing the current coach of the Kings is the former coach of the Kings, Mike Malone. To be honest, his trophy case is surprisingly barren for his teams being so consistently good. He has only two Coach of the Month awards for his CAREER, the 2nd coming just last January.
This season, the media has seemingly taken a similar sentiment to his others. Good team with an outstanding player, but the context just isn’t strong enough. People seem far more focused on Jokic and his MVP race than they are running to Twitter to get Mike Malone a Coach of the Year — a shame too because this Nuggets team is very good.
We look at Jokic and just assume they will be good, but Malone’s two-way scheme has been effective for years. The scheme allows players to flow easily around Jokic and when the team is healthy, Malone’s rotations are some of the best in the game. We may go Malone’s whole Denver tenure without him being properly recognized for his work with the team, but I’m sure he’d rather just win the NBA Finals anyway.
Mike Budenholzer (+800)
Winning awards at the end of the day is all about narratives and it’s very easy to build a case against Mike Budenholzer. Firstly, Giannis has been just outstanding this year. His 31.2-11.9-5.5 is ridiculous and his on-court impact has felt even heavier this season with Khris Middleton being so slow returning to form. Secondly, the Bucks are 7-6 without Giannis this year. A good record, but nothing to truly call home about. Giannis is about as heliocentric a player in the league is right now. He and Mike Malone are in very similar boats, though I couldn’t really tell you why one is over the other. To me, they should both have the same odds, considering they are in the exact same situation. Head coach of the #1 seeded team in their conference with an MVP candidate at the center who would both rather have an NBA title anyway.
Tom Thibodeau: +1000
JB Bickerstaff: +1600
Doc Rivers: +1800
Taylor Jenkins: +2500