The NBA’s Next Coach of the Year Likely Resides in Los Angeles

After sifting through the NBA’s rosters in our search for next year’s Most Improved Player, Defensive Player of the Year and MVP, we’ll conclude our series by identifying the candidates for the 2019-20 Coach of the Year Award.

As we did with the previous three awards, we’ll look back at the last nine Coach of the Year winners to formulate a baseline for potential candidates. Ultimately, we examined how many wins a coach’s team had, how many years the coach had with the franchise, the team’s conference standing and their improvement in wins from the previous season.

Here’s how the last nine winners stack up.

Year Coach Wins Season With  Team Team’s Conference Standing Win Total Compared to Previous Season
2010-11 Tom Thibodeau (Bulls) 62 1st 1st +21 wins
2011-12 Gregg Popovich (Spurs) 50 16th 1st +1 win
2012-13 George Karl (Nuggets) 57 9th 3rd +19 wins
2013-14 Gregg Popovich (Spurs) 62 18th 1st +4 wins
2014-15 Mike Budenholzer (Hawks) 60 2nd 1st +22 wins
2015-16 Steve Kerr (Warriors) 73 2nd 1st +6 wins
2016-17 Mike D’Antoni (Rockets) 55 1st 3rd +14 wins
2017-18 Dwane Casey (Raptors) 59 7th 1st +8 wins
2018-19 Mike Budenholzer (Bucks) 60 1st 1st +16 wins
Average  — 59.7 6.3 1.4 12.3


After examining the chart, it’s fair to say that a team’s conference standing and win total are the top two categories that voters focus on when voting for Coach of the Year. For a coach, it’s important that their team’s win total improves from the previous season — only four of the last nine coaches failed to improve their win total by at least double digits during their Coach of the Year campaign.

And since no Coach of the Year winner in the last nine seasons has missed the postseason, we can start narrowing down the list of candidates based on the projected playoff teams for the 2019-20 season.

These are the 16 coaches Las Vegas expects to make the postseason in 2020, along with their team’s win total from last season and their projected win total for next year.

Coach 2018-19 Win Total 2019-20 Projected Win Total
Mike Budenholzer (Bucks) 60 56.5
Doc Rivers (Clippers) 48 55.5
Quin Snyder (Jazz) 50 53.5
Brett Brown (76ers) 51 53.5
Mike D’Antoni (Rockets) 53 52.5
Frank Vogel (Lakers) 37 51.5
Mike Malone (Nuggets) 54 51.5
Brad Stevens (Celtics) 49 48.5
Nate McMillan (Pacers) 48 47.5
Steve Kerr (Warriors) 57 47.5
Terry Stotts (Trail Blazers) 53 46.5
Kenny Atkinson (Nets) 42 46.5
Nick Nurse (Raptors) 58 45.5
Gregg Popovich (Spurs) 48 44.5
Erik Spoelstra (Heat) 39 42.5
Steve Clifford (Magic) 42 40.5


Considering that only six coaches are projected to improve their respective squad’s win total next season, that cuts our pool of candidates to Rivers, Snyder, Vogel, Spoelstra, Brown and Atkinson, and while all six can make a legitimate case for the 2019-20 Coach of the Year Award, it makes sense to place them into three tiers.

Tier Three: Kenny Atkinson and Erik Spoelstra

Not only will the Nets likely be without Kevin Durant for the season, but they also aren’t expected to finish atop the Eastern Conference, further hampering Atkinson’s case for Coach of the Year. That being said, he’ll still be in the mix if Kyrie Irving can inspire a young Brooklyn squad to overachieve in the East.

As for Spoelstra, he has a new superstar in Jimmy Butler, but the Heat will have to elevate their game if they want to make a drastic jump in the standings. Miami’s low win total from last season does give Spoelstra a chance at major improvement in the win-loss column, which greatly benefits him.

Tier Two: Brett Brown and Quin Snyder

Brown and Snyder have talented teams that are projected to finish near the top of their respective conferences, but they might not be able to significantly increase their win total, which is basically required in order to receive consideration for the award. The 76ers did lose Butler in free agency, but will bring back Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris from their 51-win roster. The newly signed Al Horford gives Philadelphia an additional boost, but will it translate to a major improvement? Vegas doesn’t think so.

Snyder’s Jazz will be a tough contender in the West next season. That’s because Utah swung a deal for Mike Conley before the draft and added versatile swingman Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency to complement the talented Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. The Jazz, like the 76ers, are expected to be near the top of their conference, but might not be able to improve their win total. While Snyder is expected to lead the team to a few more wins in 2020, it’s not quite the 12-win improvement that past Coach of the Year winners have averaged over the last nine seasons.

Tier One: Frank Vogel and Doc Rivers

That brings us to the coaches in Los Angeles.

Vogel and Rivers are expected to be leading two of the NBA’s best teams, which will result in a lot more ‘Ws’ in the win column — especially in Vogel’s case.

The Lakers, who limped to 37 wins last year after injuries and wild trade rumors obliterated their season, have their win total set at 51.5, which aligns closely with the average improvement of the last nine COY winners. Even though Vogel is in his first season with the Lakeshow, we’ve seen three of the last nine coaches — including Budenholzer last year — win the award in their first season with their team.

Rivers is expected to push the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George-led Clippers to the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference. While Vegas doesn’t think that Rivers and the Clips will hit our baseline for a 12-win improvement, LA securing the top seed in the West would absolutely make him one of the top candidates for the award.

As a result, Vogel and Rivers are the lone men in our top tier of 2019-20 Coach of the Year candidates. Spoelstra, Atkinson, Snyder and Brown do have the ingredients needed for a successful Coach of the Year campaign, but the two Los Angeles coaches are the front-runners based on Vegas’ early projections and the history of the award.

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