* * *
Who's your midseason Coach of the Year?
* * *
Steve Aschburner: Too soon to say Ryan Saunders? OK, then I’ll give you my picks according to the three-spot ballot: 1. Mike Malone, Denver. 2. Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee. 3. Nate McMillan, Indiana. Budenholzer has revamped the Xs & Os for the Bucks, as well as the culture. McMillan is making a habit of quietly guiding the Pacers to overachievement. But Malone gets my nod for his year-over-year work with this ensemble cast, a crew that was ripe for a superstar addition last summer. The Nuggets didn’t get one, shrugged and went about their job anyway, with Nikola Jokic as first among equals.
Tas Melas: Nate McMillan. It’s easy to look at the Pacers roster and say: “There’s Victor Oladipo, and then there’s everyone else.” Well, Oladipo has missed a quarter of the season and they’re on pace for 55 wins, very close to the top of the East. McMillan has gotten so much out of that next tier of guys in his locker room (Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis), but their names aren’t sexy in the NBA world, so he hasn’t received the credit he deserves. Mike Budenholzer should get plenty of love, too. But considering Milwaukee has had a fairly healthy roster and a home-heavy first half, I could see the Pacers surpassing them in the standings.
Shaun Powell: I like how Mike Budenholzer in his first year completely transformed the Bucks' offense -- turning them from among the most bashful 3-point shooters to one of the most prolific -- while keeping his meal ticket happy by showcasing Giannis for MVP and also selling the star on the value of defense. Because of this, the conference-leading Bucks might be the team to beat in the East.
John Schuhmann: As usual, there are a lot of good candidates. Billy Donovan, Dave Joerger, Mike Malone, Nate McMillan, Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers all deserve consideration. But when a team makes a huge improvement in the wake of a coaching change with minimal turnover in key personnel, it's hard not to see the impact that the coach has made. The Milwaukee Bucks have been the league's most improved team on defense (allowing 4.8 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season) and its fourth most improved team on offense (scoring 4.7 more). They're the only team that ranks in the top five on both ends of the floor and have the league's biggest pace-adjusted point differential by a wide margin. Mike Budenholzer has got to be the favorite for Coach of the Year at this point.
Sekou Smith: Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee) and Mike Malone (Denver) share the top spot on my ballot at the midseason break. Refusing to choose one over the other seems like a cop-out. But we've got roughly three months for one of these guys to separate himself. In the meantime, we should appreciate what a fresh set of eyes has done for the Bucks. Bundenholzer revamped things for Giannis Antetokounmpo and crew, vaulting the Bucks to the top of the standings in the Eastern Conference. Malone has produced similar results in Denver by convincing his group that the'd have to defend at the highest level if they were really tired of watching the playoffs instead of participating.
* * *