You Are Here > Basketball-Reference.com > BBR Blog > NBA and College Basketball Analysis

SITE NEWS: We are moving all of our site and company news into a single blog for Sports-Reference.com. We'll tag all Basketball-Reference content, so you can quickly and easily find the content you want.

Also, our existing Basketball-Reference blog rss feed will be redirected to the new site's feed.

Basketball-Reference.com // Sports Reference

For more from Neil, check out his new work at BasketballProspectus.com.

Best Offensive and Defensive Coaches

Posted by Neil Paine on September 21, 2010

When I posted last month about the all-time players who played for the best offensive and defensive teams in NBA history, there was a common theme among a number of the names at the top of each list: namely, they all played for a certain coach, or under a certain scheme. It only makes sense, then, to do the same study for coaches, and determine the guys who have called the shots for the top offenses and defenses of all time (or at least, since 1951).

First, the offensive coaches (minimum 140 career games coached), sorted by points of lifetime regular-season offensive rating above the league average, along with the best offensive team they ever coached:

Rank Coach Gm W L Offense Best Team
1 Mike D'Antoni 603 328 275 5.14 2005 Phoenix Suns
2 Ed Jucker 164 80 84 4.84 1968 Cincinnati Royals
3 Larry Bird 214 147 67 4.76 1999 Indiana Pacers
4 Avery Johnson 264 194 70 4.15 2006 Dallas Mavericks
5 Johnny Egan 281 129 152 3.60 1975 Houston Rockets
6 Phil Jackson 1558 1098 460 3.53 1996 Chicago Bulls
7 Paul Westphal 508 292 216 3.18 1993 Phoenix Suns
8 George Senesky 216 119 97 3.08 1956 Philadelphia Warriors
9 Billy Cunningham 650 454 196 3.02 1985 Philadelphia 76ers
10 Danny Ainge 226 136 90 2.99 1999 Phoenix Suns
11 George Karl 1657 986 671 2.93 1998 Seattle Supersonics
12 K.C. Jones 774 522 252 2.88 1988 Boston Celtics
13 Rudy Tomjanovich 943 527 416 2.80 1999 Houston Rockets
14 Stan Van Gundy 431 282 149 2.69 2010 Orlando Magic
15 Larry Costello 730 430 300 2.68 1971 Milwaukee Bucks
16 Dick Versace 160 73 87 2.65 1990 Indiana Pacers
17 Rick Adelman 1479 902 577 2.62 2004 Sacramento Kings
18 Fred Schaus 560 315 245 2.60 1966 Los Angeles Lakers
19 Les Harrison 348 199 149 2.46 1951 Rochester Royals
20 Don Nelson 2398 1335 1063 2.38 2004 Dallas Mavericks
21 Doug Moe 1157 628 529 2.12 1982 Denver Nuggets
22 Alvin Gentry 516 249 267 2.07 2010 Phoenix Suns
23 Jerry Sloan 1970 1190 780 2.02 1998 Utah Jazz
24 Joe Mullaney 193 105 88 2.01 1971 Los Angeles Lakers
25 Bob Hill 603 310 293 1.96 1992 Indiana Pacers
26 Nate McMillan 805 410 395 1.95 2005 Seattle Supersonics
27 Terry Porter 215 99 116 1.95 2004 Milwaukee Bucks
28 Vince Boryla 165 80 85 1.87 1958 New York Knickerbockers
29 Jerry West 246 145 101 1.86 1979 Los Angeles Lakers
30 Sam Mitchell 345 156 189 1.70 2006 Toronto Raptors
31 Charles Wolf 330 143 187 1.65 1962 Cincinnati Royals
32 Allan Bristow 410 207 203 1.59 1996 Charlotte Hornets
33 Del Harris 1013 556 457 1.44 1998 Los Angeles Lakers
34 Joe Lapchick 397 228 169 1.44 1953 New York Knickerbockers
35 Doc Rivers 831 451 380 1.42 2008 Boston Celtics
36 Brian Hill 613 298 315 1.42 1995 Orlando Magic
37 Paul Seymour 512 271 241 1.34 1959 Syracuse Nationals
38 Bill Sharman 573 333 240 1.31 1972 Los Angeles Lakers
39 Ray Scott 281 147 134 1.29 1973 Detroit Pistons
40 Richie Guerin 618 327 291 1.29 1970 Atlanta Hawks
41 Eric Musselman 246 108 138 1.28 2003 Golden State Warriors
42 Pat Riley 1904 1210 694 1.17 1987 Los Angeles Lakers
43 Gregg Popovich 1098 736 362 1.10 2007 San Antonio Spurs
44 Herb Brown 146 72 74 1.08 1977 Detroit Pistons
45 Mike Brown 410 272 138 1.05 2009 Cleveland Cavaliers
46 Jim Lynam 720 328 392 1.00 1990 Philadelphia 76ers
47 Jack Ramsay 1647 864 783 0.94 1984 Portland Trail Blazers
48 Mike Fratello 1215 667 548 0.92 1989 Atlanta Hawks
49 Rick Carlisle 656 386 270 0.92 2002 Detroit Pistons
50 Stan Albeck 574 307 267 0.88 1983 San Antonio Spurs

D'Antoni's presence at the top of the list shouldn't surprise anyone who read the post about players on the top offensive teams, a ranking dominated by members of the Steve Nash-era Suns. In fact, there is a lot of overlap in general between these lists and the player lists from a month ago... As always, it's a frustrating exercise to separate the coach's contribution from that of his players, and you can go around in circles forever arguing whether D'Antoni made Nash great, or vice versa.

At any rate, here are the top defensive coaches along with the best defensive team they ever coached (remember, negative numbers are good for defenses):

Rank Coach Gm W L Defense Best Team
1 Gregg Popovich 1098 736 362 -4.88 2004 San Antonio Spurs
2 Jeff Van Gundy 748 430 318 -3.91 2007 Houston Rockets
3 Mike Brown 410 272 138 -3.62 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers
4 Red Auerbach 1192 795 397 -3.25 1964 Boston Celtics
5 Tom Heinsohn 690 427 263 -3.22 1973 Boston Celtics
6 Scott Skiles 696 361 335 -3.09 2007 Chicago Bulls
7 Stan Van Gundy 431 282 149 -3.02 2009 Orlando Magic
8 Phil Jackson 1558 1098 460 -2.92 2000 Los Angeles Lakers
9 P.J. Carlesimo 500 204 296 -2.70 1996 Portland Trail Blazers
10 Chuck Daly 1075 638 437 -2.66 1990 Detroit Pistons
11 Neil Johnston 154 95 59 -2.66 1960 Philadelphia Warriors
12 Erik Spoelstra 164 90 74 -2.63 2010 Miami Heat
13 Pat Riley 1904 1210 694 -2.56 1993 New York Knickerbockers
14 Avery Johnson 264 194 70 -2.43 2007 Dallas Mavericks
15 K.C. Jones 774 522 252 -2.15 1975 Washington Bullets
16 Larry Brown 1974 1089 885 -2.14 2004 Detroit Pistons
17 Alex Hannum 883 471 412 -2.08 1964 San Francisco Warriors
18 Bobby Wanzer 234 98 136 -1.94 1956 Rochester Royals
19 Doug Collins 619 332 287 -1.88 1996 Detroit Pistons
20 Flip Saunders 1065 613 452 -1.78 2004 Minnesota Timberwolves
21 Vinny Del Negro 164 82 82 -1.74 2010 Chicago Bulls
22 Billy Cunningham 650 454 196 -1.73 1981 Philadelphia 76ers
23 Butch Beard 164 60 104 -1.72 1996 New Jersey Nets
24 Al Cervi 503 275 228 -1.58 1954 Syracuse Nationals
25 Byron Scott 707 352 355 -1.53 2003 New Jersey Nets
26 Jerry Sloan 1970 1190 780 -1.50 1997 Utah Jazz
27 Rick Carlisle 656 386 270 -1.42 2004 Indiana Pacers
28 Red Holzman 1300 696 604 -1.39 1970 New York Knickerbockers
29 Frank Layden 571 277 294 -1.38 1987 Utah Jazz
30 Mike Fratello 1215 667 548 -1.32 1987 Atlanta Hawks
31 Bill Russell 631 341 290 -1.31 1969 Boston Celtics
32 Bill Sharman 573 333 240 -1.20 1972 Los Angeles Lakers
33 John Kundla 597 328 269 -1.14 1952 Minneapolis Lakers
34 Lawrence Frank 466 225 241 -1.10 2006 New Jersey Nets
35 Mike Schuler 338 179 159 -1.01 1991 Los Angeles Clippers
36 Larry Costello 730 430 300 -0.97 1974 Milwaukee Bucks
37 Dave DeBusschere 222 79 143 -0.97 1967 Detroit Pistons
38 George Irvine 290 100 190 -0.95 1986 Indiana Pacers
39 Jeff Bzdelik 192 73 119 -0.91 2003 Denver Nuggets
40 Rick Adelman 1479 902 577 -0.90 2008 Houston Rockets
41 Jerry West 246 145 101 -0.82 1977 Los Angeles Lakers
42 Larry Bird 214 147 67 -0.79 1998 Indiana Pacers
43 Gene Shue 1645 784 861 -0.78 1982 Washington Bullets
44 Doc Rivers 831 451 380 -0.74 2008 Boston Celtics
45 Dan Issel 388 180 208 -0.72 1994 Denver Nuggets
46 Al Attles 1075 557 518 -0.63 1976 Golden State Warriors
47 Lenny Wilkens 2487 1332 1155 -0.59 1982 Seattle Supersonics
48 Scott Brooks 151 72 79 -0.56 2010 Oklahoma City Thunder
49 Cotton Fitzsimmons 1607 832 775 -0.55 1980 Kansas City Kings
50 Harry Gallatin 256 136 120 -0.41 1963 St. Louis Hawks

Given how dominant the Russell-era Celtics were on defense, why is Red Auerbach not #1 here in a landslide? Well, take a look at Red's coaching record since 1951 (the first year we can estimate offensive/defensive ratings):

Year Team G W L Offense Defense
1951 BOS 69 39 30 1.66 1.93
1952 BOS 66 39 27 4.34 0.32
1953 BOS 71 46 25 4.45 2.32
1954 BOS 72 42 30 4.83 2.41
1955 BOS 72 36 36 3.29 3.35
1956 BOS 72 39 33 2.43 1.86
Bill Russell drafted 2nd overall in 1956 Draft
1957 BOS 72 44 28 0.27 -4.26
1958 BOS 72 49 23 0.35 -4.10
1959 BOS 72 52 20 0.69 -4.37
1960 BOS 75 59 16 1.41 -4.77
1961 BOS 79 57 22 -2.14 -6.37
1962 BOS 80 60 20 0.31 -6.85
1963 BOS 80 58 22 -1.75 -7.42
1964 BOS 80 59 21 -2.90 -9.27
1965 BOS 80 62 18 -1.11 -7.98
1966 BOS 80 54 26 -1.54 -5.57

It really is amazing how much the Celtics' defensive fortunes changed when Russell arrived in Boston. You might be tempted to look at this and conclude that the Celts' dominant D should be credited mostly to Russell (especially since Boston continued to be a great defensive team after Red retired and Russell became coach), but Auerbach clearly orchestrated the acquisition of Russell in the first place and showed a remarkable amount of vision in the way he planned the team's construction. Again, it's all but impossible to differentiate between player and coach contribution, and in most successful cases it's a mutual relationship where neither could have accomplished as much without the other.

Finally, here is every coach since 1951 to rack up 500 career games, just to give you an idea of how the legends stack up:

Coach G W L Offense Best Off. Team Defense Best Def. Team
Lenny Wilkens 2487 1332 1155 0.30 1992 Cleveland Cavaliers -0.59 1982 Seattle Supersonics
Don Nelson 2398 1335 1063 2.38 2004 Dallas Mavericks 0.36 1984 Milwaukee Bucks
Bill Fitch 2050 944 1106 -1.60 1980 Boston Celtics -0.28 1978 Cleveland Cavaliers
Larry Brown 1974 1089 885 -0.51 1977 Denver Nuggets -2.14 2004 Detroit Pistons
Jerry Sloan 1970 1190 780 2.02 1998 Utah Jazz -1.50 1997 Utah Jazz
Dick Motta 1952 935 1017 -0.71 1987 Dallas Mavericks -0.29 1972 Chicago Bulls
Pat Riley 1904 1210 694 1.17 1987 Los Angeles Lakers -2.56 1993 New York Knickerbockers
George Karl 1657 986 671 2.93 1998 Seattle Supersonics 0.02 1994 Seattle Supersonics
Jack Ramsay 1647 864 783 0.94 1984 Portland Trail Blazers -0.10 1978 Portland Trail Blazers
Gene Shue 1645 784 861 -2.03 1977 Philadelphia 76ers -0.78 1982 Washington Bullets
Cotton Fitzsimmons 1607 832 775 0.79 1990 Phoenix Suns -0.55 1980 Kansas City Kings
Phil Jackson 1558 1098 460 3.53 1996 Chicago Bulls -2.92 2000 Los Angeles Lakers
Rick Adelman 1479 902 577 2.62 2004 Sacramento Kings -0.90 2008 Houston Rockets
John MacLeod 1364 707 657 0.75 1979 Phoenix Suns -0.30 1983 Phoenix Suns
Mike Dunleavy 1329 613 716 -0.85 1991 Los Angeles Lakers 0.63 1999 Portland Trail Blazers
Red Holzman 1300 696 604 -0.29 1969 New York Knickerbockers -1.39 1970 New York Knickerbockers
Mike Fratello 1215 667 548 0.92 1989 Atlanta Hawks -1.32 1987 Atlanta Hawks
Red Auerbach 1192 795 397 0.80 1954 Boston Celtics -3.25 1964 Boston Celtics
Doug Moe 1157 628 529 2.12 1982 Denver Nuggets 1.18 1990 Denver Nuggets
Kevin Loughery 1136 474 662 -2.54 1994 Miami Heat 0.00 1982 Atlanta Hawks
Gregg Popovich 1098 736 362 1.10 2007 San Antonio Spurs -4.88 2004 San Antonio Spurs
Chuck Daly 1075 638 437 -0.13 1988 Detroit Pistons -2.66 1990 Detroit Pistons
Al Attles 1075 557 518 0.07 1977 Golden State Warriors -0.63 1976 Golden State Warriors
Flip Saunders 1065 613 452 0.34 2006 Detroit Pistons -1.78 2004 Minnesota Timberwolves
Del Harris 1013 556 457 1.44 1998 Los Angeles Lakers 0.41 1997 Los Angeles Lakers
Rudy Tomjanovich 943 527 416 2.80 1999 Houston Rockets 1.53 1994 Houston Rockets
Bernie Bickerstaff 926 414 512 -1.07 1989 Seattle Supersonics -0.04 1998 Washington Wizards
Hubie Brown 919 424 495 -1.02 2004 Memphis Grizzlies -0.38 1983 New York Knickerbockers
Alex Hannum 883 471 412 -0.48 1967 Philadelphia 76ers -2.08 1964 San Francisco Warriors
Doc Rivers 831 451 380 1.42 2008 Boston Celtics -0.74 2008 Boston Celtics
Don Chaney 831 337 494 -1.87 2003 New York Knickerbockers 1.68 1990 Houston Rockets
Nate McMillan 805 410 395 1.95 2005 Seattle Supersonics 2.10 2010 Portland Trail Blazers
K.C. Jones 774 522 252 2.88 1988 Boston Celtics -2.15 1975 Washington Bullets
Paul Silas 755 355 400 -0.70 2003 New Orleans Hornets 0.08 2001 Charlotte Hornets
Jeff Van Gundy 748 430 318 -1.56 2007 Houston Rockets -3.91 2007 Houston Rockets
Larry Costello 730 430 300 2.68 1971 Milwaukee Bucks -0.97 1974 Milwaukee Bucks
Jim Lynam 720 328 392 1.00 1990 Philadelphia 76ers 1.67 1996 Washington Bullets
Byron Scott 707 352 355 -1.44 2008 New Orleans Hornets -1.53 2003 New Jersey Nets
Chris Ford 699 323 376 -0.97 1991 Boston Celtics 0.66 1992 Boston Celtics
Scott Skiles 696 361 335 -2.21 2007 Chicago Bulls -3.09 2007 Chicago Bulls
Tom Heinsohn 690 427 263 -0.83 1975 Boston Celtics -3.22 1973 Boston Celtics
Rick Carlisle 656 386 270 0.92 2002 Detroit Pistons -1.42 2004 Indiana Pacers
Billy Cunningham 650 454 196 3.02 1985 Philadelphia 76ers -1.73 1981 Philadelphia 76ers
Tom Nissalke 639 248 391 -1.70 1979 Houston Rockets 2.10 1984 Cleveland Cavaliers
Bill Russell 631 341 290 -0.58 1967 Boston Celtics -1.31 1969 Boston Celtics
Doug Collins 619 332 287 -0.13 1997 Detroit Pistons -1.88 1996 Detroit Pistons
Richie Guerin 618 327 291 1.29 1970 Atlanta Hawks 1.13 1968 St. Louis Hawks
Brian Hill 613 298 315 1.42 1995 Orlando Magic 1.23 2007 Orlando Magic
Bob Hill 603 310 293 1.96 1992 Indiana Pacers 1.43 1996 San Antonio Spurs
Mike D'Antoni 603 328 275 5.14 2005 Phoenix Suns 3.51 2006 Phoenix Suns
Eddie Jordan 600 257 343 0.01 2006 Washington Wizards 2.40 1998 Sacramento Kings
John Kundla 597 328 269 0.82 1953 Minneapolis Lakers -1.14 1952 Minneapolis Lakers
Jim O'Brien 586 286 300 -0.58 2002 Boston Celtics 0.37 2002 Boston Celtics
Stan Albeck 574 307 267 0.88 1983 San Antonio Spurs -0.03 1984 New Jersey Nets
Bill Sharman 573 333 240 1.31 1972 Los Angeles Lakers -1.20 1972 Los Angeles Lakers
Frank Layden 571 277 294 -1.71 1984 Utah Jazz -1.38 1987 Utah Jazz
Maurice Cheeks 570 284 286 0.35 2002 Portland Trail Blazers 0.79 2008 Philadelphia 76ers
Fred Schaus 560 315 245 2.60 1966 Los Angeles Lakers 1.19 1961 Los Angeles Lakers
Jack McMahon 549 260 289 0.73 1965 Cincinnati Royals 1.12 1969 San Diego Rockets
Wes Unseld 547 202 345 -3.59 1994 Washington Bullets 0.77 1989 Washington Bullets
Phil Johnson 542 236 306 -0.11 1985 Kansas City Kings 1.79 1975 Kansas City-Omaha Kings
Matt Guokas 535 230 305 -0.27 1986 Philadelphia 76ers 2.28 1993 Orlando Magic
Bob Weiss 522 223 299 0.38 1991 Atlanta Hawks 3.23 1992 Atlanta Hawks
Butch Van Breda Kolff 519 266 253 0.86 1968 Los Angeles Lakers 1.45 1976 New Orleans Jazz
Alvin Gentry 516 249 267 2.07 2010 Phoenix Suns 1.65 1999 Detroit Pistons
Paul Seymour 512 271 241 1.34 1959 Syracuse Nationals 0.56 1961 St. Louis Hawks
Paul Westphal 508 292 216 3.18 1993 Phoenix Suns 1.29 2000 Seattle Supersonics
Al Cervi 503 275 228 0.22 1953 Syracuse Nationals -1.58 1954 Syracuse Nationals
P.J. Carlesimo 500 204 296 -4.85 1997 Portland Trail Blazers -2.70 1996 Portland Trail Blazers

ShareThis

14 Responses to “Best Offensive and Defensive Coaches”

  1. Cloud King Says:

    so what does it mean when the 2009 Los Angeles Lakers aren't on both charts and the 2009 Orlando Magic are the 7th best defense and yet the Lakers beat them in 5 games?

    the top 5 offensive coaches best teams didn't win the title or even play in the finals
    for the top 5 defensive, 2 were in the finals and 1 won.

    so does that mean defense is more important than offense?

    or does it mean that these stats have very little to do with reality?

  2. Ejypt Says:

    Cloud, you can't take one exception (Lakers beat Magic) and generalize it to a massive trend (defense better than offense, or whatever you're trying to hint at with that particular example). There's chance involved, good teams sometimes beat slightly less-good teams, and I'm willing to bet the 2009 Lakers more than made up for a lesser defense with their superior offense.

    In terms of D being more important than O, see the "Does Defense Really Win Championships" post - http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=7276

    That pretty cleared delineates that, while great D doesn't assure you a championship, it goes a lot further than a great offense. Russell's Celtics are yet another demonstration of this: their offense was actually below average most years, but they were the greatest dynasty the sport's ever seen.

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    Cloud, that chart doesn't mean the 2009 Magic are the "7th best defense", it means Stan Van Gundy has the 7th-best defensive rating relative to the league of any coach since 1951 with 140 career games, and the 2009 Magic were the best defensive team he ever coached. The 2009 Lakers aren't on either chart because they were neither Phil Jackson's best offensive team nor his best defensive one.

  4. Neil Paine Says:

    There, I edited the post to make it clearer: "Best Team" means the best offensive (or defensive, depending on the table) team the coach was ever in charge of. Better?

  5. Walter Says:

    Interesing observation...

    Mike D'Antoni is #1 on the list for offense with a rating 5.14... however sort the legends table by defense and Mike D'Antoni is the worst on the list with a score of 3.52

    It's a really good thing that MVP voters completely forgot that basketball has two sides of the court when they voted Nash as MVP twice. The completely ignored the impact he had on placing his coach on the top of the worst defenses list.

  6. Joseph Says:

    Oh yeah, Walter, Nash was the only reason D'Antoni suffered defensively.

  7. JTaylor21 Says:

    He didn't make his defense better that's for damn sure.

  8. ken park Says:

    Article that discusses the D'Antoni and Nash issue ... interesting.

    http://3gotgame.com/kshiz/archives/1296

  9. Matt Says:

    So Phil has the best overall rating with offense and defense combined?

  10. Rolando Says:

    Following Matt's comment, I took that last table and subtracted defensive rating from offensive rating, then ranked them. Sure looks like a better way to rank coaches than by # of wins!

    1-10: Jackson, Popovich, Jones, Cunningham, Auerbach, Riley, Costello, Sloan, Adelman, Karl
    11-20: Daly, Sharman, Heinsohn, J. Van Gundy, Carlisle, Fratello, Rivers, Saunders, Nelson, Kundla
    21-30: Westphal, Cervi, Collins, Larry Brown, D'Antoni, Hannum, Schaus, Fitzsimmons, Tomjanovich, Holzman
    31-40: MacLeod, Ramsay, Harris, Moe, Albeck, Wilkens, Skiles, Seymour, Russell, Attles
    41-50: Bob Hill, Gentry, Brian Hill, Guerin, Scott, McMillan, Layden, McMahon, Motta, Cheeks
    51-60: Van Breda Kolff, Hubie Brown, Lynam, Silas, O'Brien, Bickerstaff, Shue, Fitch, Dunleavy, Ford
    61-69: Phil Johnson, Carlesimo, Jordan, Loughery, Guokas, Weiss, Chaney, Nissalke, Unseld

  11. Jason J Says:

    #10 - Good call! That's not a bad ranking.

  12. Rolando Says:

    BTW, that value (ORtg - DRtg) correlates absurdly (embarrassingly?) closely with winning pct. R^2 = 0.945.

  13. MikeN Says:

    Adelman is awfully low. Morey was saying that he is an underrated defensive coach, who coached some of the best defenses of all time.

  14. Bill Says:

    It's interesting that Russell only gets credited for the massive improvement in Boston's defense, but gets no blame for destroying their offense at the same time.