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:
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):
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):
|Bill Russell drafted 2nd overall in 1956 Draft|
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: