14 of the NBA’s 30 head coaching positions are held by Black men. That’s 46% and certainly higher than any of the other major professional sports leagues. But who are the best of this group, thereby among the best in the entire league?
5. Tie Wes Unseld Jr. and J.B. Bickerstaff
Right off the bat, we try and sneak an extra coach in the mix. It’s tough, there are some really good coaches in the league.
Let’s start with Wes Unseld Jr., as an assistant with Denver he helped the defense improve from 28th to 10th. During his last three seasons in Denver, the team was top six in defensive efficiency.
In his first season as Wizards head coach the team has a 14-8 record, tied for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. The team is 11th in adjusted defensive rating and 16th in adjusted net rating.
J.B. Bickerstaff became head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2020, and he’s managed to turn the bottom-dwelling Cavs into the third-ranked defense in adjusted defensive rating, and eighth overall in adjusted net rating.
He’s doing this on a team made up of mostly young players.
The head coach of the Atlanta Hawks has been leading teams for 17 seasons. He has a .535 winning percentage and is as steady as they come. You can almost always guarantee that a McMillan-led team won’t beat themselves.
He grounds his teams in defensive principles and rewards effort on that end the floor. On offense he isn’t the most imaginative, but the team will be organized and know what they are doing in running sets.
But it was last season when he took over the Hawks after Lloyd Pierce was fired and led the team to the conference finals that we saw what he could do with a different kind of team.
3. Doc Rivers
Glenn “Doc” Rivers has been an NBA head coach for 23 seasons and won an NBA championship when he was guiding the Celtics. His career record is 1,003 wins and 715 losses. That’s a .583 winning percentage.
He is one of only 10 coaches in the history of the NBA with 1,000 or more wins.
Long revered by players and his peers alike for the way he handles and manages difficult situations. His acumen for the game is among the best.
His biggest challenge yet is as the Philadelphia 76ers’ head coach. Can he lead Joel Embiid and possibly Ben Simmons to an NBA title?
In his first season with Philadelphia they were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns head coach led the team to their first NBA Finals appearance in 28 years last season. When he was hired prior to the 2019-20 season he improved a bottom dwelling team on offense and defense to the middle of the league in his first season.
This season the Suns are the hottest team in the league, currently winners of 17 straight games. They are number three in adjusted net rating and have the league’s best record. They have a disciplined defensive identity and an offensive flow based on movement and cutting.
Last season their run to the finals was derided as a fluke by some. Williams is proving they were anything but again this season.
Williams and the Suns are doing all of this with the cloud of team governor Robert Sarver‘s NBA investigation looming.
1. Ty Lue
When you win a championship and LeBron James is the best player on your team, it’s hard to get any credit. Ask Erik Spoelstra about that. Since Bron has left South Beach, Spo started to widely gain appreciation as one of the top coaches.
Lue won an NBA title with LeBron in Cleveland and made multiple finals. They just happened to come up against the Steph and KD Warriors. Tough beat.
But as head coach of the Clippers, Lue is showing why the wins in Cleveland weren’t all about LeBron.
Last season the Clippers were the No. 2 team in adjusted net rating. They were elite on both ends of the floor. The only team statistically better were the Jazz.
Lue completely out-coached the Jazz’s Quin Snyder in last year’s playoff series. Beginning in Game 3 of that series, Lue went with a center-less starting five and the Clippers’ defense gave the Jazz fits. On offense the Clippers’ ability to space and drive one-on-one made the No. 3-rated defense look like swiss cheese.
The Clippers got to the conference finals against the Suns, but without Kawhi Leonard couldn’t get over the hump.
Lue gets the top nod here because as far as an in-game, in-series adjuster, he is the best among this group. He has his beliefs and philosophy as it relates to the style of ball he would like his teams to play.
But he’s not intransigent. He will make a move or switch to a different setup if it works. If he sees something is working he will go to it continually until it no longer works and then move to something else.
Almost half of the NBA’s rosters are led by Black men, and among this group are the best and brightest.
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