Gregg Popovich was named the 2013-14 NBA coach of the year, guiding the San Antonio Spurs to the league’s best record at 62-20 and giving them home-court advantage throughout the postseason. This was his second NBA coach of the year award in the past three seasons and third of his career. He joins Don Nelson and Pat Riley as the only coaches to win the award three times.
“They’re on the hood of my car,” Popovich joked. “One, two, three, right on the car, the way players do license plates. … I’ve got three of those right on the hood.”
Rick Carlisle, the winner in 2001-02 while with Detroit and current head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, the Spurs’ opponent in the playoffs, thinks Popovich deserves even higher honors.
“Why don’t we just give him coach of the century?” Carlisle said before Game 2 of the teams’ first-round series. “I mean, he’s the greatest. Obviously very well deserved. They were almost a wire-to-wire top seed in the league. And he’s the best.”
Is he? Depends on how you evaluate coaching. If you are going strictly by championships then yes, Popovich is a solid choice. But what about Phil Jackson?
One way to gauge this is by using Expected Winning Percentage, an adaptation of Bill James’s Pythagorean theorem of baseball where you could estimate the amount of wins by using runs scored and allowed. For basketball, a slight tweak gives us what we need via this formula: Points scored ^16.5 / (Points scored ^16.5 + Points allowed ^16.5).
For example, based on the 8,639 points the Spurs scored and 8,006 they allowed during the regular season we would expect them to win 64 games. Instead, they went 62-20 — still great, but below expectations. In fact, most of the championship teams this century have seen their regular season win totals below expectations.
The Lakers, however, managed to keep their heads above water in two of their three championship seasons under Jackson. Here is how Jackson and Popovich, each with three championships when they both were on the sideline, compared in the regular season:
|Season||Phil Jackson||Gregg Popovich|
Popovich is a great coach, but when determining coach of the century, don’t forget about Phil Jackson.