The Blazers, quite quietly, have compiled one of the best records in the NBA, and they’ve done it without everything going as planned. Starting center Robin Lopez has missed 20 games, and crucial small forward Nicolas Batum is having one of his worst years since he entered the league. Much of the Blazers’ ascension is due to the exponential growth of Damian Lillard’s game, but Stotts deserves credit for Portland’s defense improving considerably in 2014-15.
5. Kevin McHale, Houston Rockets
Coming into the season, Mr. McHale’s job status couldn’t exactly be described as “secure.” His Rockets petered out early in last year’s playoffs, falling 4-2 in the first round to the Trail Blazers and often looking disorganized and uninspired as they did so. But McHale has helped shape Houston into something more fierce this year: a defense-first team that falls in line behind MVP front-runner James Harden, and plays selflessly. Harden deserves a lion share of credit for a better Houston with his emergence as a top-five force — as does the continued defensive dominance of Dwight Howard — but McHale has certainly earned himself a nod too.
4. Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
The Pistons’ post-Josh Smith turnaround is one of the more remarkable transformations within recent NBA memory. By kicking the highest-paid player off the team, Van Gundy (who also runs basketball operations in Detroit) created eminent authority for himself and made the necessary platform on which to effect change. But nobody saw things turning this quickly — the Pistons went on a 12-3 tear after shedding Smith, looking suddenly purpose-driven and anchored by a set of shrewd Van Gundy principles. He hasn’t done a full season of excellent work, but Stan gets recognition for one of the most uncanny months in NBA coaching history.
3. Jason Kidd, Milwaukee Bucks
It’s hard to believe how quickly Jason Kidd has brought change to Milwaukee. Last year’s worst team in basketball, the Bucks are a playoff team who surpassed their 2013-14 win total before we even hit 2015. And they’ve done it with minimal roster change: Their biggest transaction was drafting Jabari Parker at No. 2 overall, and the rookie left the team with a torn ACL more than a month ago. The team’s turnaround has been more about Kidd’s sense of direction than anything; under his tutelage, the young squad has become one of the very best defenses in the league. Be afraid of Kidd’s team as they go forward and get more experience under their belts.
2. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors
No first-year coach has ever had a better record than Kerr does with the Warriors. This is in keeping with the former 3-point shooting ace’s biography: Be it either through correlation or causation, nearly every basketball scenario he’s been involved with has seem blessed. Golden State was a good team before Kerr came, but now they’re a great one. Their league-leading 36-6 record owes much to his maximization of their wide array of shooters, passers, defenders and all-around ballers.
1. Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks
In any other year, Kerr’s historic start would launch him into the clear top spot in the race to the top of the coaching hierarchy. But what coach Bud is doing in Atlanta is simply amazing. A team with zero superstars has been nearly perfect since late November, amassing a 30-2 record over their last 32 games. And they’re doing it in a way that only a team with an elite coach can: through exquisite passing, mutual trust, and top-to-bottom sacrifice in the name of a greater good. Budenholzer’s Popovichian system is the star for the Hawks, and the open man is their go-to scorer. If they keep this up, there won’t be a team who can beat them out of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
— John Wilmes