5-on-5: Key questions on coaches

Five ESPN.com writers debate five of the biggest talking points involving NBA coaches

Originally Published: April 4, 2011
ESPN.com

Tom ThibodeauDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireIn his first season as a head coach, Tom Thibodeau has kept the East-leading Bulls on their toes.

It's time for a little 5-on-5, our new experts' roundtable featuring five voices on five hot questions.

Today we touch on coaches. Who has done the best job, who has the most riding on the playoffs and more.

Check it out and come back to ESPN.com for more 5-on-5.

1. Which coach has done the most with the least? Most with the most?


Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: I'm incredibly impressed with what George Karl has done this season. The incessant Carmelo Anthony trade chatter, the current lack of a go-to player, and a complete roster overhaul were difficult obstacles to overcome. Despite all that, he's got the Nuggets playing at a high level.

Jackson
Adelman

Rahat Huq, Red94.net: As has been par for the course during his Rockets tenure, Rick Adelman has once again extracted maximum production from an unheralded bunch. After trading away two of last season's starters and yet again losing Yao Ming, Adelman has a Kyle Lowry-led squad producing the NBA's best offense since the break; that stands for something.

Phil Jackson's role in righting the Lakers garners him claim to "most with the most."

NAME
Thibodeau

Carlisle

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Most with least: Rick Carlisle doesn't have a team chocked with scrubs in Dallas, but it's also amazing that his oft-injured and elderly squad, which features one really good player, will likely win more than 55 games in the ever-strong West.

Most with most: Tom Thibodeau gets tremendous defensive production from the entire team. Thibs didn't focus on what the Bulls don't have: scorers. Through their defense, he has made his role/bench players matter every game.

Karl

Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: George Karl. No disrespect to the players currently on the Nuggets' roster, but Carmelo Anthony left the team and we all wondered if they would be able to score enough. Not only have they been able to score, but they are now the most efficient offensive team in the league, and a lot of it has to do with Karl's offense.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com: It's not Doug Collins or Tom Thibodeau, because their teams have lots of talent. It's George Karl, because the MeloDrama could have crushed a lesser coach both before and after the trade. He had the team running early, and now it is galloping. That's masterful stuff with any roster, and even more impressive considering the circumstances.

Phil Jackson has shown once again why he's so special. He has the Lakers seemingly ready for a great postseason run and a shot for the No. 1 seed, and he's managed to do so with minimal drama.


2. Which coach has done the least with the least? Least with the most?


NAME
Van Gundy

NAME
Westphal

Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: No one thought the Kings were making the playoffs, but Paul Westphal's young, talented core could have shown more this season. Meanwhile, even with the significant roster changes, Stan Van Gundy's Magic should be on the other side of 50 wins at this point in the season. Orlando doesn't look like a contender, and much of the responsibility for that has to fall on Van Gundy's shoulders.

Rahat Huq, Red94.net: Least with the least: Byron Scott has unsurprisingly gotten little out of the NBDL roster at his hands. It's a wonder some argued LeBron had a competent cast during his reign.

Least with the most: One could argue that a more creative mind than Erik Spoelstra might have plucked more wins from a roster featuring two of the three best players in our sport. You could posit that argument.

NAME
Smart

NAME
Scott

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Least with least: Byron Scott lost any hope of competitiveness in July. But that doesn't excuse Cleveland's league-worst defense. I feel for Scott's 127 Hours-esque predicament, but there's been little team or individual development.

Least with most: Of the innumerable field goals Keith Smart's Warriors have surrendered this season, 64 percent have been assisted. That's the NBA's highest rate, and illustrates the potentially playoff-worthy Warriors' utter inability to prevent opposing teams from executing their intended offensive actions.

Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: Kurt Rambis. Rambis doesn't have the best roster to work with, but he hasn't helped it with the coaching decisions that he has made. Trying to get the Timberwolves to run the triangle offense was a poor decision, but his in-game management is even worse.

Scott Skiles, for least with most. Many had the Bucks pegged for the playoffs, but a poor offensive game plan involving a lot of jumpers has doomed them.

NAME
Rambis

David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Kurt Rambis has simply not been able to get the Wolves to compete and play as well as they can with anything close to consistency. From benching Kevin Love early in the season to having a team with lesser talent play faster than almost anyone in the league, his decisions show he's just not been a guy who can help his players play their best basketball.

I like the Warriors' talent, on paper. What I don't like is their indifference to defense, and Keith Smart has to be accountable for that. That team should not be a bottom-five defensive team.


3. For which three coaches are the stakes highest this postseason?


D'Antoni

Van Gundy

Spoelstra

Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: The first two are simple: If either Stan Van Gundy or Erik Spoelstra isn't pacing that sideline in the Eastern Conference finals, either of them could be shown the door.

The third is trickier. I'll say Mike D'Antoni. No matter the outcome, he likely will not lose his job. But a tidy first-round exit for the Knicks will put a lot of pressure on him next season.

Rahat Huq, Red94.net: Stan Van Gundy, Erik Spoelstra, Larry Drew. Van Gundy for the Magic's imminent stagnation in the face of an impending Howard free agency; Spoelstra for the daunting burden of unparalleled expectations; Drew because I'm not quite sure what the Hawks are doing.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Erik Spoelstra. He's done an admirable job with a wildly unbalanced team, but if the Heat go out early, all eyes will be on his job security.

Phil Jackson. If for no other reason than he has said this will be his last season.

Doc Rivers. This might be the last year for both Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers. If so, the Boston championship window isn't closing, the guillotine is dropping.

Brooks

Popovich

Drew

Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: Larry Drew. Drew was brought in to take the Hawks places were Mike Woodson couldn't using a new offense.

Gregg Popovich. Popovich made a decision to be more of an offensive team versus a defensive team; that could hurt the Spurs in the playoffs.

Scott Brooks. After a successful, but losing, first-round series the Thunder are expected to take the next step.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Erik Spoelstra, for the most obvious reasons possible. Stan Van Gundy, because even though the poor personnel decisions made were not his choices, he still has to get this team to play like contenders this spring. And if the Knicks don't put up a great effort in the playoffs, there will be calls for Mike D'Antoni's head all summer (and maybe all fall too). No one expects New York to pull an upset, but losing a series in five games or fewer, with some ugly losses, would be very bad for the coach's future.


4. Ten seconds to go: Which coach do you want to draw up the play?


Popovich

Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: In late-game situations, Gregg Popovich has always shown a willingness to blend the innovative and the traditional effectively. The key point is that, no matter what he calls, there's a high likelihood Popovich's play will be effective.

Rahat Huq, Red94.net: Tom Thibodeau. Only Tom would hold knowledge of what cannot be defended by an NBA team.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Gregg Popovich has an incredible ability to draw up a play that takes advantage of whatever in-game tendencies he notices in an opposing defense. Whether it's Richard Jefferson slipping a back screen or getting a favorable switch for a Manu Ginobili isolation, Pop always has his team ready to execute. Could also nominate Doc Rivers for the same reasons.

Rivers

Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: Doc Rivers. My biggest issue with coaches drawing up plays is that there tends to be only one option, and if it gets taken away the play falls apart. With Rivers, there always seems to be an action away from the basketball, that if the first option isn't there, the Celtics can always go to that action taking place at the opposite side of the court.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com: Gregg Popovich. His misdirection stuff and use of flare screens give his team a great shot in almost every circumstance. He always runs plays that are best for his personnel on the floor.


5. Who are your first, second and third choices for Coach of the Year?


NAME
Thibodeau

Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: 1. Gregg Popovich. 2. Tom Thibodeau. 3. Doug Collins. Popovich doesn't deserve to lose to Thibodeau just because people slightly underrated the Bulls' roster and aren't easily shocked by a successful Spurs unit.

Rahat Huq, Red94.net: 1. Tom Thibodeau; 2. Doug Collins; 3. Rick Adelman.

Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: 1. Tom Thibodeau. The league's best defense starts at the top, where Thibodeau has installed his suffocating strongside pressure principles and a winning culture.

2. Doug Collins. If team improvement from the beginning to end of the season were the primary measure, Collins would win this award.

3. Gregg Popovich. He's redefined "Spurs basketball" while effectively integrating the entire depth chart into a winning system.

NAME
Popovich

Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: 1. Gregg Popovich. As mentioned earlier, Popovich completely revamped his team's style when most coaches wouldn't and the result has been the best record in the NBA.

2. Tom Thibodeau. Coach Thibodeau has the Bulls playing the type of defense the Celtics were playing last season. Thibodeau has taken a roster with only one big addition (Boozer) and led it to the No. 1 seed in the East.

3. Lionel Hollins. During the early part of the season Coach Hollins was mentioned as a coach who might get fired. He has completely turned the Grizzlies around and he has them in playoff contention.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com: 1. George Karl; 2. Doug Collins; 3. Tom Thibodeau.

David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com. Graydon Gordian, Rahat Huq, Beckley Mason and Sebastian Pruiti are writers for the TrueHoop Network.