Denver Nuggets coach George Karl was named Coach of the Year on Wednesday. It makes sense: the Nuggets finished with the No. 3 seed in the treacherous Western Conference without a star player; Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari were on the only players on team to average more than 13 points per game. The Nuggets rarely lost at home, finishing the year 38-3 at the Pepsi Center. It's also a feel good story: in 2010 Karl was diagnosed with neck and throat cancer, causing him to miss the second half of the season.
All of that is well and good. But why did Tom Thibodeau finish eighth?
Here's the Coach of the Year voting results:
|2012-13 Coach of the Year results|
To be fair, it was a particularly strong field of coaches this season. Erik Spoelstra's team hardly ever lost. Mike Woodson turned a terrible defensive team into an average one and got the best out of Carmelo Anthony. Gregg Popovich seems like he could win this award every year. Pop rested his older players throughout the regular season, and now the Spurs might be the favorites to come out of the West. Frank Vogel was the man behind the league's top ranked defense, and helped guide the Pacers to the No. 3 seed in the East without Danny Granger. Lionel Hollins kept the Grizzlies formidable after the Rudy Gay trade, and Mark Jackson found success with a throng of young players and without Andrew Bogut.
But I don't believe it's a homerific thing to suggest that Tom Thibodeau had a very strong case for winning the award, let alone finishing higher than eighth.
The amount of adversity the Bulls had to overcome to grab the No. 5 seed in the East this season was more substantial than anything his peers faced. No one else had to deal with their star player missing the entire season. Perhaps Thibs is being docked here because of the perception that he runs select players into the ground, and that is certainly a fair criticism. But even so far as team management goes, an eighth place finish still seems like a rather strong indictment.
The other part of coaching, obviously, is X's and O's, and there isn't another person on this list with as strong a history of designing schemes than Thibodeau. The entire league practically copies his defensive style at this point: overload the strong side and attack the ball handler to defend the pick-and-roll; pack the paint for 2.999999 seconds to avoid layups, don't let the other team shoot corner threes. The Bulls have also run some nifty offensive things this year, enough to at least make them a viable threat offensively without any real shot creators other than Nate Robinson.
Tom Thibodeau: eighth best coach in the NBA. Something doesn't feel right about that. Also: how the hell did Vinny Del Negro get a first place vote????