San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is not one for awards. He’d rather stay out of the spotlight and let other coaches get the attention. Pops, however, deserves his credit for this season in which the Spurs over performed by many expectations. Why does Popovich deserve it over, say, Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau who has done a masterful job without Derrick Rose?
While Thibodeau had to deal with injuries to Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Rose, Pops has had to deal with a roster in which two of his three stars are on the wrong side of thirty. Tim Duncan, at age 35, is playing a career low 28.5 minutes. Manu Ginobili missed a huge chuck of the season, but arguably could be the reason the Spurs make a deep playoff run. Tony Parker, though not old at age 29, has been playing in the league for 11 years already. Not really a young guy.
Popovich deserves this award, first, because of how he has managed minutes. Defying media, he sits his stars and does not care about the backlash. Only two players, Duncan and Parker, average over 25 minutes per game. How many other teams can say that? Zero (NOTE: Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw are above the 25 minute mark when included with their respective teams before joining the Spurs. Richard Jefferson also averaged more than 25 minutes before being traded). No Spurs player is in the top 50 of minutes played per game, with Parker currently 52nd.
That, in and of itself, is quite the feat, considering the Spurs are only a half game behind the Chicago Bulls for the best record in the NBA this season. Still though, that is not the sole reason Pops deserves this award.
Let’s look at the Spurs bench. The Spurs added Patty Mills, Jackson, and Diaw in March, and somehow Pops has them playing regular minutes and playing at a high rate. Daniel Green, the Spurs sharp-shooting guard, nearly didn’t even make the opening day roster. Talk about getting the most from your players.
Pops also has adapted his offense to his team. The Spurs used to win games by playing suffocating defense. Sure, they can turn it on when they need to, but they now wins games buy relentlessly executing offensively until opponents submit. Take a look a few days ago at the matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers; the Spurs blew the game open when they shot 61% from the field, including 67% from behind the arc and 95% from the charity stripe.
How’d they win that game? Up tempo offense, adapted by Coach Popovich to fit his current team. Considered one of the best coaches in the league, he somehow only has one coach of the year to his name.
Thibodeau has done a masterful job getting his second unit to perform well without Rose, but his Bulls have only played 35 games against teams above .500, compared to the Spurs 41. The Spurs have 30 wins in those games, compared to just 23 for the Bulls. Say what you want about injuries, but Pops has done a wonderful job getting hist eam ready to go. According to ESPN’s John Hollinger, the Spurs strength of schedule is .512 compared to the Bulls .490. Even playing with a healthy Rose, the Bulls barely beat a Spurs squad without arguably their most important player, Manu Ginobili.
Frank Vogel is also deserving of this award, having lead the Indiana Pacers to a three seed in his first season. But the Pacers have a strength of schedule of just .480, and a less than stellar 15-19 versus teams above .500.
I couldn’t complain if Thibodeau ended up winning, because he has done a wonderful job. But Pops just keeps this team playing their best ball while getting the most from every single one of this players. That’s why he deserves to win.
Agree? Disagree? Let’s hear your comments below.
Follow Paul Troupe on Twitter @gamin4HIM