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All-Decade Teams: Coaches of the 2000s

Posted by Justin Kubatko on July 28, 2009

When I wrote my post about the All-Decade Teams for the 2000s, I meant to include a section on coaches, but somehow it slipped my mind. Today I would like to make up for that omission by first explaining the system that I use, and then present my selections for the All-Decade Team coaches.

First, let me state the obvious: there is no simple way to rate the accomplishments of coaches; heck, there might not even be a difficult way. That said, I have a six-point system that I like to use to put a number on each coach's season:

  • +1 point if the coach finished with more wins than losses
  • +1 point if the coach won at least 50 games
  • +1 point if the coach won at least 60 games
  • +1 point if the coach's team made the playoffs
  • +1 point if the coach's team won the conference playoffs
  • +1 point if the coach's team won the NBA Finals

Like I said, it's a simple system, and it's by no means perfect, but I think it works well enough. A perfect season would be worth six points: winning at least 60 games during the regular season, followed by an NBA championship.

After assigning a number to each coach's season using the system outlined above, I computed each coach's score for the decade by taking 100% of his best season, 90% of his second-best season, 80% of his third-best season, etc. So, without further ado, here are the All-Decade Team coaches:

First Team: Gregg Popovich (23.5)

Popovich barely edges out Phil Jackson for First Team honors. "Pop" coached the Spurs for the entire decade and made the playoffs each season, never winning fewer than 53 games. The Spurs won three NBA titles during the 2000s, and Popovich is one of only five NBA coaches with at least four championships on his resume.

Second Team: Phil Jackson (23.4)

How close was it between Popovich and Jackson? If Jackson had coached the 2004-05 Lakers and finished above .500 (no sure thing), he would have tied Popovich. That said, Jackson had a great decade: nine trips to the playoffs, six trips to the Finals, and four NBA titles. Not bad.

Third Team: Rick Adelman and Flip Saunders (16.3)

Adelman and Saunders tied for the third slot. Adelman coached the Sacramento Kings for seven years and the Houston Rockets for two years, making the playoffs nine times and winning 50 or more games seven times. Saunders coached the Minnesota Timberwolves for six years and the Detroit Pistons for three years. His teams made the playoffs in eight of his nine seasons, and he led seven teams to at least 50 wins. Neither Adelman nor Saunders led a team to the NBA Finals during the 2000s, but their teams were consistently very good.

With Popovich and Jackson winning seven of the ten NBA championships in the 2000s, only three other coaches won a title during the decade. Here are those coaches and how they ranked using this system:

| Rank | Coach              | Years | Rating |
|    5 | Larry Brown        |     8 |   15.4 | 
|    6 | Doc Rivers         |    10 |   13.9 | 
|   15 | Pat Riley          |     7 |   10.5 | 

The well-traveled Brown took two different teams to the NBA Finals (the 2001 Philadelphia 76ers and the 2004/2005 Detroit Pistons) and won a championship with Detroit in 2004, but he also had an embarrassing season with the New York Knicks in 2005-06 and was a disappointment with the Charlotte Bobcats last season.

Rivers was named NBA Coach of the Year as coach of the Orlando Magic 2000 and won a ring with the Boston Celtics in 2008, but four of his ten teams missed the playoffs, and he did not coach a team that won 50 or more games until the 2007-08 season.

Riley's title came with the Miami Heat in 2006, when he fired Stan Van Gundy early in the season and moved from the front office to the bench. However, three of Riley's seven teams failed to make the playoffs, and two of them finished last in their division, including an awful 15-67 record in 2007-08.

9 Responses to “All-Decade Teams: Coaches of the 2000s”

  1. KneeJerkNBA Says:

    Joe Dumars just read this and cried.

  2. Gary C Says:

    I think you're undervaluing championships, finals and deep playoff advancement here. Hard to see how 3 titles and 3 conference champs trumps 4 titles and 6 conference champs no matter what happened in regular seasons (even ones missed).

  3. Jason J Says:

    It's hard to find a definite value for coaching for the same reason that it's hard to find a definite value for players - the rest of the team has such an impact on winning and losing. But it's actually worse because they don't have any data except wins and losses to work with, since they don't actually have measurable production like players do. In terms of strategy and motivation and keeping players focused, it's hard to argue against Pop or Phil, and clearly the results are there.

    Now I hate "what if" questions in sports, but with coaches I think you almost have to wonder if Brown or SVG or JVG or Adelman or Saunders or D'Antoni happened to coach Shaq, Kobe, Gasol, Duncan, Robinson, Parker, and / or Manu... who knows? They might have at least similar success.

    Henry Abbott over at Truehoop ran an interview with a professional gambler who had some secret mathematical formula that did a reliable job of calculating the impact of coaches on wins and losses (to the point where it effected his wagering). If I recall he had Pop and Phil out front as well.

  4. TSW Says:

    What does your system say about Eddie Jordan over the past decade?

  5. Kaveh Says:

    I absolutely agree with Gary C. PJ went to the NBA finals 6 times and won 4 championships while Pop went 3 times and won it 3 times. By the way, freakin WOW that these two are in the same conference, thus only 1 team from the West outside of the Lakers/Spurs made it to the NBA finals for the ENTIRE decade (mavs). That's amazing.

    Either way, PJ is the best NBA coach of all time and Pop is up there in the top 4-5 in my opinion.

  6. Justin Kubatko Says:

    My apologies for taking so long to reply to some of the issues brought up here. I don't think this system undervalues the playoffs, as 50% of the points are related to the playoffs. Yes, Jackson won one more title and had three more Finals appearances than Pop, but he also had two very mediocre seasons (2005-06 and 2006-07) while Pop didn't have any. Regardless, I think we can all agree that these two coaches were the class of the decade.

    Eddie Jordan finished 23rd with a score of 6.1. Nate McMillan and Lawrence Frank (7.1) were directly ahead of Jordan and Maurice Cheeks (5.6) was directly behind him.

  7. GMO Says:

    Not a bad system, but winning a the title should have more weight.

  8. Dave Says:

    Exhibit A in why Larry Brown is not in the Pop / Jackson category -

    Bobcats coach Larry Brown led some to believe he wasn't crazy about Okafor's game when the coach joked that he'd give Okafor an A in stretching and pilates, but wanted him to get an A in basketball.

    "That kind of got, I felt, a little bit out of hand," Okafor said, laughing. "I'd missed games previously and my mindset was, 'OK, I don't want to miss any games, so I'm going to do everything possible to stay on the court.' So I have a stretching routine 15 minutes before practice, 15 minutes after practice."

    Okafor said he also practices pilates a couple times a week to strengthen his core in an effort to avoid back problems. It's tough to question the results. He hasn't missed a game in two seasons.

    Hmm, let's see, which C had a strong stretching ethic, oh yes Kareem we should fully ridicule Okafor for trying to emulate him.

  9. Ricardo Says:

    Unfortunately, Okafor can't emulate 7'2" or a low-post repetoire featuring an unstoppable skyhook.