There have been some phenomenal coaching jobs in the NBA this season. Jeff Hornacek has done a beautiful job overseeing the remarkable rise of the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix plays a brand of basketball that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, using an up-tempo, run-and-gun offense that takes full advantage of their rapidly rising star, Goran Dragic. Another team that can light up the scoreboard, the Portland Trail Blazers, are also led by a first-year head coach. Terry Stotts makes fine use of one of the most dangerous pick-and-roll duos in the league, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, to put up one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA. Of course, there are always the perennial favorites. Kevin Durant is making Scott Brooks look like a genius. LeBron James is making Erik Spoelstra look like a genius. Gregg Popovich is Gregg Popovich. There is one coach, however, who often gets overlooked.
Before becoming one of the NBA’s most successful head coaches, Vogel might have been best known for spinning a basketball on a toothbrush while simultaneously brushing his teeth as a kid on Late Night with David Letterman. Don’t believe me?
He played a little DIII college ball before moving to Lexington and transferring to the University of Kentucky. Vogel then got a job as a student manager under Rick Pitino, eventually following him to the Boston Celtics as a video coordinator. He jumped around the league, taking jobs with the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards before accepting an assistant coaching job with his Celtics coaching buddy Jim O’Brien.
Vogel took over for the Pacers midway through the 2010-11 season after O’Brien was let go. O’Brien’s system at the time relied heavily on shots from beyond the arc with very little emphasis on defense. O’Brien also favored playing veterans rather than the organization’s abundance of young talent at the time, including Roy Hibbert and Paul George. Vogel took over on an interim basis and immediately began to right the ship. He increased the playing time of the young stars and eventually led the team to the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. The Pacers gave Derrick Rose’s Chicago Bulls a tough fight before eventually falling in five games. The Pacers gave Vogel an extension shortly after the season ended.
The rest is history. The Pacers have had two straight seasons with deep playoff runs, losing to the eventual-champion Miami Heat both times. Vogel’s defense-orientated approach to the game of basketball has transformed the franchise. No longer are the Pacers a finesse doormat; they are a shining example of that consistent, physical effort on the defensive end of the floor can win basketball games. Thanks to Vogel, the Pacers are an elite franchise once again, going toe-to-toe with Miami for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. If Indiana can keep up this pace, he should be able to add a couple of extra awards to his mantle at season’s end: a Red Auerbach Trophy and a Larry O’Brien Trophy.