Coaching in the NBA certainly comes with plenty of benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, they have access to the most talented version of the league that has ever existed, chock-full of some of the best players in NBA history. On the other hand, coaches are tasked with beating immensely talented teams, with front offices willing to get rid of underperforming coaches at the drop of a hat.
These coaches shouldn’t have to worry about job security, as they are the 10 best coaches in the NBA today.
Who's the top coach in the league? Let's find out.
10. Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks
Coaching is always easier when you have one of the best players in the world, but Rick Carlisle is so much more than the roster that he leads. Carlisle has put faith in a young Luka Doncic, allowing the star to grow early in his career while the rest of his young roster has progressed under his leadership as well.
Carlisle has been with the Mavericks since 2008, with the highlight of his tenure being the championship that the Mavericks won over the mighty Miami Heat in 2011. Carlisle’s teams were led by Dirk Nowitzki for the majority of his coaching career, but he has proven himself by helping the Mavericks to play at a high level even after Nowitzki departed. The team will continue to be in good hands for as long as he is there.
9. Frank Vogel, Los Angeles Lakers
Sometimes, the ability to manage stars is the hardest part of being an NBA coach. With so many egos to tend to, coaches need to be able to keep everyone happy. Frank Vogel has done a great job of this since being named the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Vogel has helped to keep Anthony Davis, in his first year with the team, heavily involved without marginalizing his role players.
There is cause to question just how good of a coach Vogel has been this season, though. Given how great LeBron James is both as a player and as a leader, it could be argued that this Lakers team would have come together just as well without Vogel. But while things are working as well as they are, Vogel will continue to get credit for the positive things that have happened in Los Angeles.
8. Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz
Defensive basketball is often overlooked in today’s NBA, where teams routinely score in the triple-digits. But Quin Snyder has not allowed his Jazz the opportunity to slack off on the defensive end, as Utah has managed to earn the third-best scoring defensive average in the NBA in the current campaign. Snyder’s commitment to defensive basketball is the main reason for his team's stellar defensive performances.
This is Snyder’s first head coaching job in the NBA, and he has made the most of it despite not having a true star player during his tenure in Utah. He has made the most of the players he has had, though, with players like Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell performing admirably in their roles in Snyder’s well-oiled machine.
The Jazz have had some success in the playoffs, scoring some first-round upsets under Snyder, and they'll hope to make a deeper run this year.
7. Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets have finished near the top of the Western Conference standings the last two seasons. A huge reason for that has been their talent on the floor, but don't sleep on Mike Malone's coaching. He's utilized the team’s young talent to propel the Nuggets into the playoffs. This year, Denver finds itself in third place in the West heading into the season’s restart in Orlando.
Malone has helped young players like Jamal Murray and Gary Harris find their roles in the NBA, with center Nikola Jokic playing like a bona fide star under the current regime. Denver came one game away from landing in last year’s Western Conference Finals, and could very well compete for a spot in that round again this year. They will need Malone to outcoach the likes of Doc Rivers or Frank Vogel to get past the Clippers or Lakers in the second round, though.
6. Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors
A relative unknown until taking over for Dwayne Casey, Nurse has burst onto the scene as one of the smartest coaches in the game today.
In his inaugural season as the man in charge in Toronto, Nurse helped lead the Raptors to their first NBA title in franchise history. While a lot of that can be attributed to the brilliance of Kawhi Leonard, Nurse did a masterful job of managing his minutes while developing role players such as Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. The Raptors were continually counted out last year, but they kept pulling off the unexpected by defeating the Sixers, Bucks and Warriors on their way to the title.
With Leonard now out of town, the Raptors are still a sneaky contender to make it to the NBA Finals, and a lot of that is due to Nurse's stellar coaching job.
5. Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
Doc Rivers has amassed over 1,500 wins in his career as a head coach in the NBA, but it is possible that his current stop with the Los Angeles Clippers has been the best work of his career. Rivers has had a revolving door of talent in Los Angeles, but his Clippers teams have been fixtures in the playoffs. Given the history of the Clippers, that is no small accomplishment by any means.
This year, Rivers has helped Kawhi Leonard and Paul George navigate through injuries and load management without missing a beat. The Clippers have managed to remain in the top two in the Western Conference, and are among the favorites to win this year’s NBA Finals. If he can pair a title in Los Angeles with the title he won as the leader of the Boston Celtics, Rivers will elevate himself into the category of the all-time great coaches in the NBA.
4. Brad Stevens
Brad Stevens came into the NBA regarded as one of the brightest minds in basketball. He has done a great job of living up to that billing during his time with the Boston Celtics, coaching a group of mostly young players into the postseason time and time again. Stevens has won 55% of his games as the coach of the Celtics, which is impressive given some of the turmoil that he has faced during his pro coaching career.
Stevens’ best work came when the Celtics had Kyrie Irving on their roster. Irving was a detriment to team chemistry and spent a lot of his time with the team out with injuries as well. But Stevens managed to help the team get through that, and things have only improved since then. Now, with Kemba Walker and the best young core in basketball, the Celtics and Stevens are going to be around for years to come.
3. Gregg Popovich
Gregg Popovich will go down as one of the best coaches in NBA history. His run of dominance as the head man with the San Antonio Spurs was one of the best ever, as he and Tim Duncan led a dynasty in a less-than-glamorous destination for free agents. Popovich has won over 68% of his games as the head coach of the Spurs, which is an eye-popping number given how strong the rest of the Western Conference has been during his tenure.
Today, Popovich is still doing impressive work, even if his teams aren’t competing for championships the same way that they used to. He is developing a young roster alongside aging veterans LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan that is in position to compete for a playoff spot in Orlando as a result. While that might not be as exciting as winning titles, it's an accomplishment that speaks to Popovich’s ability to coach.
2. Steve Kerr
The NBA playoffs are a pressure cooker for players and coaches, where one wrong move can cost a team a title and their legacy. Steve Kerr, for the most part, has made sure that the Golden State Warriors have come out on the right side of all of those situations with a coaching style that has brought out the best in his players year after year. And thanks to the Warriors dynasty from 2015 to 2018, Kerr will go down as one of the great winners in league history.
The former guard in the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty, Kerr took over a Warriors team that was close to winning titles under Mark Jackson. He prioritized ball movement and perimeter shooting and the Warriors improved by leaps and bounds as a result.
When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are back to full health in 2020-21, he could end up coaching his team to even more titles.
1. Mike Budenholzer
Right now, there is no better coach in the NBA than Mike Budenholzer. He has the benefit of coaching the best player in the world in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Budenholzer’s coaching is about so much more than just who his best player is. Thanks to his help, the Bucks are far and away the best team in the Eastern Conference and could very well find themselves playing in the NBA Finals in the Orlando bubble.
Budenholzer is no flash in the pan either. He has previously coached the Atlanta Hawks to the top seed in the East, leading a team whose best player was Al Horford to having four All-Stars in one season.
Budenholzer is a coach whose system has transcended the players at his disposal each season, and he could be closing in on his first title as a head coach in 2020.
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