2020 PBT Awards: Coach of the Year

The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1. Nick Nurse, Raptors

2. Brad Stevens, Celtics

3. Mike Budenholzer, Bucks

This was an incredibly deep field and a difficult choice (as it usually is). Nurse took a Raptors team expected to take a big step back after Kawhi Leonard left and has them as the two seed in the East with the exact same record as the season before. Nurse deserves credit for helping develop Pascal Siakam and finding a role for Norman Powell. It was very difficult to leave off Erik Spoelstra, Frank Vogel, and Billy Donovan, and there are more guys you can make a good case for.

Dan Feldman

1. Nick Nurse, Raptors

2. Erik Spoelstra, Heat

3. Nate McMillan, Pacers

Nick Nurse kept Toronto humming through Kawhi Leonard’s and Danny Green‘s departures and several injuries to key returning players. Nurse’s defensive creativity particularly stood out. Doing it in the playoffs was one thing. Few teams can execute so many different schemes during the regular-season grind.

The Heat played one of the most positionless starting lineup I’ve ever seen, and Erik Spoelstra helped get those unconventional pieces on track offensively and defensively. His record of player development somehow grew even stronger.

Nate McMillan narrowly edged the Celtics’ Brad Stevens and Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer. The Pacers had major roster turnover, and Victor Oladipo‘s injury left them at a talent deficit. But Indiana kept defending well, kept playing hard – staples of McMillan’s teams.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel and Clippers coach Doc Rivers were most difficult to place. Both teams are shooting for a championship. The regular season is merely a prelude to the playoffs. So, before seeing the postseason, it’s extremely difficult to judge how well Vogel and Rivers used the regular season. The Lakers have been awesome. Did Vogel do a great job of getting everyone on the same page far more quickly than expected? Or did he let a talented team expend too much energy before the playoffs? The Clippers had more rockiness, though they also won at a strong clip. Did Rivers adeptly manage his team’s nearly inevitable internal issues, getting everyone on the same page by the time the postseason begins? Or do the Clippers still have potentially destructive fissures entering the playoffs? It’s just difficult to answer these questions now. Coach of the Year is a regular-season award in a league with some coaches who use the whole regular season to prepare for the postseason, and we have to vote before the postseason.

Keith Smith

1. Nick Nurse, Raptors

2. Mike Budenholzer, Bucks

3. Frank Vogel, Lakers

Coach of the Year has to go to Nick Nurse. No one predicted the Raptors would be second in the Eastern Conference. No one predicted Toronto would be on pace to win more games than last year’s title team. When Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left town, most figured the Raptors would sink to the bottom of the East playoff picture. Instead, Nurse has guided them to the third-best record in the NBA. He’s done so while dealing with injuries to every one of his main rotation players throughout the season. And the Toronto bench is made up of mostly undrafted players and castoffs from other teams. That can only be done by having a great coach on the sideline.

Mike Budenholzer and Frank Vogel shouldn’t be overlooked though. Budenholzer led the Bucks to the league’s best record by three games and had them on a 70-win pace before Giannis Antetokounmpo got hurt. Vogel brought together a newly-formed Lakers team quicker than anyone could have expected. That’s made easier by having LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but Los Angeles turned over half of their roster this season. The Lakers having the NBA’s third- best defense is also a feather in Vogel’s cap as well.