Last week I wrote a post giving my thoughts on what a revised NBA Top 50 team would look like. A less publicized distinction that was also part of the NBA’s 50 anniversary celebration was the naming of the Top 10 Coaches in NBA history. I, for one, had no idea that this award was given back in 1996. As a side note, the NBA also recognized the Top 10 Teams in league history.
But back to the Top 10 Coaches list. The men that made that list:
Red Auerbach, Chuck Daly, Bill Fitch, Red Holzman, Phil Jackson, John Kundla, Don Nelson, Jack Ramsey, Pat Riley and Lenny Wilkins
I read that list and the thought that came to mind was, “What the hell?” Bill Fitch has a career winning percentage under .500. He’s lost more games than he’s won! Don Nelson has never won an NBA title. He’s won a lot of games, but he’s also lost a lot… Same goes for Lenny Wilkins, but Lenny’s at least won an NBA title.
I initially wanted to look at this list of the top 10 coaches in league history as of 1996 and consider updating it with coaches that weren’t yet coaching in ’96. Guys like Gregg Popovich or Doc Rivers. But as I reviewed the list and thought about it more, I realized I didn’t even agree with the original list. Bill Fitch? Bill Fitch! So instead I decided to revise the list by considering coaches that were eligible to be named to that original list, coaches like Jerry Sloan and K.C. Jones, as well as new coaches that weren’t head coaches as of 1996.
Much like I did with the NBA Top 50 team, I’ll compare current coaches named as one of the Top 10 with potential new coaches that could receive the recognition. The difference with this coaching analysis is that I’ll compare all of the top 10 current coaches with those ‘new’ coaches that I think are eligible to be considered for a spot among the top 10. The new ones I’m considering are Gregg Popovich, K.C. Jones, Jerry Sloan, Billy Cunningham, Doc Rivers, Tom Heinsohn and Larry Brown.
I decided to compare these 16 coaches against each other using wins, career winning percentage, playoff winning percentage and championships as the basis of the analysis. For coaches that were named to the original team in 1996 and were currently coaching, I’m using their updated stats through the end of the 2012 regular season.
Red Auerbach – 938 wins, .662 winning percentage, .589 playoff winning percentage, 9 NBA Championships
Larry Brown – 1,327 wins, .568 winning percentage, .511 playoff winning percentage, 1 NBA Championship
Billy Cunningham – 454 wins, .698 winning percentage, .629 playoff winning percentage, 1 NBA Championship
Chuck Daly – 638 wins, .593 winning percentage, .595 playoff winning percentage, 2 NBA Championships
Bill Fitch – 944 wins, .460 winning percentage, .505 playoff winning percentage, 1 NBA Championship
Tom Heinsohn – 427 wins, .619 winning percentage, .588 playoff winning percentage, 2 NBA Championships
Red Holzman – 696 wins, .535 winning percentage, .547 playoff winning percentage, 2 NBA Championships
Phil Jackson – 1,155 wins, .704 career winning percentage, .688 playoff winning percentage, 11 NBA Championships
K.C. Jones – 552 wins, .643 career winning percentage, .570 playoff winning percentage, 2 NBA Championships
John Kundla – 423 wins, .583 career winning percentage, .632 playoff winning percentage, 4 NBA Championships
Don Nelson – 1,335 wins, .557 career winning percentage, .452 playoff winning percentage, 0 NBA Championships
Gregg Popovich – 847 wins, .680 career winning percentage, .611 playoff winning percentage, 4 NBA Championships
Jack Ramsey – 864 wins, .525 career winning percentage, .431 playoff winning percentage, 1 NBA Championship
Pat Riley – 1,210 wins, .636 career winning percentage, .606 playoff winning percentage, 5 NBA Championships
Doc Rivers – 546 wins, .558 career winning percentage, .545 playoff winning percentage, 1 NBA Championship
Jerry Sloan – 1,221 wins, .603 career winning percentage, .485 playoff winning percentage, 0 NBA Championships
Lenny Wilkins – 1,332 wins, .536 career winning percentage, .449 playoff winning percentage, 1 NBA Championship
After comparing all these coaches, I have to say, this decision was much easier than the Top 50 players decision. I decided on the first nine pretty quickly and then it came down to Red Holzman vs. Jerry Sloan. Ultimately I decided on Jerry Sloan because he’s had such consistent success over such a long period of time.
The argument could be made that some of these coaches owe all of their success to the supreme talent they’ve had on their teams. And that argument has actually been made against coaches like Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach. I don’t buy that. There are a lot of coaches that have had a ton of talent, but haven’t been able to win consistently or an NBA Championship. It’s more difficult than it looks. Just ask Erik Spoelstra.
Anyway, the 10 coaches I think are the best in NBA history are Red Auerbach, Billy Cunningham, Chuck Daly, Tom Heinsohn, Phil Jackson, K.C. Jones, John Kundla, Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley and Jerry Sloan.