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NBA midseason awards: Willie Green for Coach of the Year

Kurt Helin reveals his NBA mid-season award frontrunners for Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, and Sixth Man of the Year.

We’ve reached the midpoint of a wild, unpredictable NBA season with many more questions — How good are the Bucks? The Nets? Can Golden State flip the switch? — than answers. The midpoint also means we know which players have put themselves in position for NBA postseason awards. We will make our picks for some of the NBA’s top awards all week long at this point in the season. Today:

NBA Coach of the Year: Willie Green (Pelicans)

2. Jacque Vaughn (Nets)
3. Rick Carlisle (Pacers)

I have no idea which way this wide-open race will go.

That is with all apologies to Willie Green, who is in the midst of an unbelievable season leading the Pelicans to the upper echelons of the West. However, I could have made a legitimate Coach of the Year case for at least seven coaches and maybe more.

Green’s case is the strongest in my mind, at least today. The Pelicans are 25-17 and sit third in the West, and two things got them there where Green deserves credit. First, New Orleans is defending at a top-10 in the league level (sixth as of today). Entering the season, the question was whether the Pelicans’ offense — led by Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and CJ McCollum — could cover up a terrible defense. Except they are not a terrible defense, Green has them thriving on that end of the court.

The other area is overcoming injuries. Ingram hasn’t played since around Thanksgiving, Zion is out (again) this time due to a hamstring, and McCollum has been in and out of the lineup. Yet this team steps up and keeps winning. Give Green some credit for the culture he built.

That said, so many other coaches can make a good case for the award this season.

Jacque Vaughn quieted the off-the-court storm in Brooklyn and got this team to focus on basketball (which they are very good at). Rick Carlisle has taken a team that most pundits thought would tank and has them in the mix to be a top-six team and avoid the play-in in the East.

Joe Mazzulla was thrust into an impossible situation just before the start of the season and the Celtics didn’t miss a beat. Tyler Jenkins has the Grizzlies looking like a threat to come out of the West despite Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. missing large chunks of the season. J.B. Bickerstaff has gotten the Cavaliers to mesh and look like potential contenders faster than anyone expected. Mike Brown has the Kings believing and looking like a playoff team out West. Will Hardy has impressed in Utah, even if that team has slipped of late.

This is always the hardest award to judge — there are a lot of outstanding coaches in the NBA, and we are not in the locker room. We see the effect of coaching decisions and style, but not the sausage getting made. This season seems especially difficult because there are a lot of great coaches doing impressive work.

It’s a wide-open race and could go in a lot of directions before this season is over.