Stevens belongs in award-winning group of NBA coaches
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas doesn't get it.
He's seen first-hand just how impressive Brad Stevens was this year as Celtics' head coach. The players got props for what was a successful season, but the play-calling of Stevens -- especially after time-outs (ATOs) -- made him stand out among his coaching brethren.
Which is why Thomas is struggling to come to grips with as to why Stevens' name isn't one of the first that rolls off the lips when talk begins about the league's Coach of the Year award.
"We're the number one seed in the East, and everybody in the world thinks we're half as talented as anyone in the NBA," Thomas said. "It's weird he's not being in the conversation."
Actually, Stevens is in the conversation when you talk about the best coaching jobs this season. But standout coaching jobs were in a greater abundance than usual this year. That's why the Celtics' fourth-year coach, while not expected to be a serious contender for Coach of the Year award, is certainly a strong candidate to be among the top five vote-getters.
Last year, the award was won by Golden State's Steve Kerr while Stevens finished sixth in the voting. And in 2015, Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer came away with the Coach of the Year award with Stevens finishing fourth.
Here's a look at the tale of the tape for four other coaches likely to finish among the top vote-getters, along with Stevens, for the league's coach of the year award this year:
Mike D'Antoni -- Houston Rockets
Houston finished with the third-best regular-season record (55-27) in the NBA, a 14-game improvement over the previous season. The Rockets advanced to the second round of the playoffs before being eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs. But during the regular season, the Rockets rewrote the league's record book when it came to the 3-ball, setting new marks in 3's per game (14.4), 3's taken per game (40.3), total made 3's (1,181) and total 3's taken (3,306). In addition, All-Star guard James Harden, a strong candidate for the league's MVP award, finishing second in the NBA in scoring (29.1), including a league-best 10.9 free-throw attempts per game.
Erik Spoelstra -- Miami Heat
What was supposed to be a rebuilding season instead became a fight for a playoff spot. The Heat came up short on the last day of the regular season, but not before they'd pulled off a complete 180-degree turn from midway point on. Injuries to key players like Dion Waiters forced Spoelstra to rely on a cast of core guys that might not have even been on the active roster of many teams. After a 11-30 start, Miami closed out the regular season with a 30-11 record, one of the greatest in-season turnarounds in league history. That kind of comeback, without making any significant change to the core group, speaks to the job Spoelstra did this past season and why he's likely to be among the top three finishers when all the votes are tallied and released next month.
Gregg Popovich -- San Antonio Spurs
The truth is Popovich is a candidate for this award every season. But what made this year stand out was that it was the first without Tim Duncan, and yet the Spurs still managed to not just win but put together one of the finest regular seasons in franchise history (a team-record 69 victories). MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard led the charge, finishing with career highs in several categories while still proving to be the best all-around defender in the NBA. One of the more masterful jobs we've seen from Popovich came in the playoffs, when the Spurs absolutely blasted the Rockets despite not having Leonard or Tony Parker. They won because they have a system that, when executed properly, gives them a shot at success regardless of who's in the lineup. Talent helps, obviously. But having a guy like Popovich pushing all the right buttons? That helps even more.
Quin Snyder -- Utah Jazz
Utah snapped a four-year playoff drought and Snyder's coaching wasone of the keys. The Jazz have lots of talent that didn't always fit neatly together. In the offseason they added veterans like George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw, but it was Snyder who figured out the best way to blend those guys in with a core of young playerss like Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood and Rudy Gobert, who lacked the kind of big-game experience Utah would need in order to get in the playoffs. A second-round sweep at the hands of Golden State doesn't take away from what was a really good season for the Jazz, a season that was strong for several reasons. Snyder's coaching was near the top of that list.