* * *
Your top three candidates for NBA Coach of the Year?
* * *
Steve Aschburner: Two Mikes and a Nate, at this point. With all due respect to Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova and most recently Nikola Mirotic, Mike Budenholzer was Milwaukee’s top acquisition for this season. Changed the culture, gave talented players a plan, a confidence and a freedom that had been lacking there under Jason Kidd. Denver’s Mike Malone is at the other end of the spectrum, a guy who has labored for four seasons to help the Nuggets become one of this season’s “overnight sensations.” And for those who didn’t appreciate the job Indiana’s Nate McMillan did last season -- be honest, did you expect the Pacers to jump to 48 victories after reluctantly trading Paul George? -- this is a chance to make amends based on keeping them afloat after what could have been a devastating blow of losing Victor Oladipo.
Tas Melas: Mike Budenholzer, Doc Rivers and Nate McMillan, in that order.
Shaun Powell: Mike Malone takes the pole position because he reshaped a team that didn't even make the playoffs last season to one that could finish with the best record in the toughest conference. Second is Mike Budenholzer, whose emphasis on three-point shooting and defense has the Bucks holding the best record in the NBA. And third is Kenny Atkinson of the Nets, who were hardly expected to contend for a playoff spot but here they are. These are tough choices because Doc Rivers and Nate McMillan are very deserving as well. There is no wrong answer.
John Schuhmann: Kenny Atkinson, Michael Malone and Nate McMillan all deserve consideration for pushing their teams beyond expectations, despite injuries to key players. Doc Rivers, meanwhile, has done a terrific job of getting a roster in transition -- no current Clipper (save the injured Luc Mbah a Moute) was on the roster two seasons ago and a bunch of rotation guys are free agents (or potential free agents) this summer -- to play for each other. Two of the four coaches above will be on my ballot and it will be difficult the other two off. But, given how much the Bucks have improved -- they're the league's third-most improved team on offense (4.7 points per 100 possessions) and its most improved on defense (4.5 per 100) from last season -- the top spot on my ballot will almost certainly go to Mike Budenholzer.
Sekou Smith: I need four as I have't been able to trim my list just yet. In no particular order, my top four today is Mike Malone, Mike Budenholzer, Nate McMillan and Doc Rivers. I understand the strong cases that could be made for each guy. Bud has his team atop the standings in the Eastern Conference and overall. That's usually enough on its own to merit Coach of the Year honors. But what Malone has done with a team that missed the playoffs on the final night of last season to now is flat out remarkable. McMillan has kept the Pacers afloat in the aftermath of Victor Oladipo's season-ending injury. Rivers has the Clippers locked in for a playoff spot after the they've done nothing but shed talent the past two and a half seasons. In a season filled with compelling award races this season, this one could be the tightest.