The Case: Nate McMillan For Coach Of The Year
are very few mysteries in the NBA. It’s a league of scouts. Everything
there is to know about a player or team is annotated, analyzed,
reanalyzed and synthesized into a handy report, known in these parts as
“a book”. Once you’ve put in that work and put together that book,
you’ve got a solid idea of the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of
an individual or team. The quantifiables are out there. They’re studied
and research endlessly. The end result is that there are no secrets
when it comes to personnel.
But some mysteries do exist, such
as why Nate McMillan is seemingly persona non grata when it comes to
Coach Of The Year discussions. You hear and read names like Mike Brown
of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Stan Van Gundy of the Orlando Magic and
Rick Adelman of the Houston Rockets as the frontrunners for COY, but
Nate McMillan? Nary a mention to be found outside of the Portland media.
It simply doesn’t make any sense.
of the more common rationalizations when it comes to voting on COY
seems to be the notion that if a team outperforms expectations, then it
must be a case of good coaching. Team plays better than the pundits
expected, pundits give the credit to the coach. Maybe a bit simplistic,
but not necessarily invalid. And if you’re a voter and that’s one of
your criteria Nate McMillan has to be at the top of your list.
expected the Trail Blazers to be good, but this good? Most assumed they
would have to fight tooth and nail to secure a playoff spot, which was
a perfectly reasonable assumption to make. Young team, few veteran
leaders, concerns about potential injuries, tough division, tougher
conference. All true statements about the Blazers. But here we are on
the last day of the season and Portland has a legitimate shot at home
court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Western
Conference playoffs. Anyone see that coming?
But you look around
the Coach Of The Year discussion, and it doesn’t seem like Nate
McMillan is getting his share of the credit for that improvement. If
the Trail Blazers win tonight (knock on wood), they’ll have a regular
season record of 54-28. That’s 13 more wins than last season. What’s
more, that 54-28 record would be a 33 game improvement from McMillan’s
first season as head coach. Where’s the love for that? He certainly
hasn’t done it on his own, and who know how the season would have
played out if guys like Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge hadn’t taken
the next step in their progressions as stars in the NBA, but the coach,
the man who sets the tone from the rest of the team, has to be a large
part of the equation, right?
In looking at the other nominees
for COY, it’s hard to argue that any of their teams have exceeded
expectations like McMillan has with the Trail Blazers.
Brown has probably comes the closest. People knew the Cavs were going
to be good, but 67 wins, top of the Eastern Conference and only losing
one game at home good? That’s exceeding expectations. Having the best
player in the game doesn’t hurt, but they had the best player last
season as well.
Has Stan Van Gundy exceeded expectations with
the Magic? Doesn’t really seem like it. Assuming the Magic win tonight
(which is a rather large assumption considering they’ve dropped four of
their last five) they’ll finish with 59 victories, seven better than
last season. That’s decent, but not exactly earth shattering. Did
anyone think Orlando wouldn’t be at the top of the Southeast Division
or that Dwight Howard wouldn’t be the best bigman in the game?
a very good Eastern Conference team, but are they a threat to win the
East? Doubt you’ll find many willing to make that argument. So for the
most part the Magic, in the words of Dennis Green, are who we thought
The same could be said for Rick Adelman and the
Rockets. Assuming they win tonight in Dallas, the Rockets will end the
season 54-28, which is actually one game worse than last season.
They’ve got the inside track on winning the Southwest Division, which
is admirable, but that might say more about the decline of the Spurs
than the improvement of the Rockets. Give some credit to Adelman for
keeping Ron Artest in check and getting by without the services of
Tracy McGrady, but is that worth winning COY? Adelman is getting a lot
out of that roster, but it’s a nice combination of veteran pieces to
Another thing Coach Of The Year voters seem to value
is a coach overcoming the loss of a key player to injury. Must be a
case of good coaching if a player goes down and the team continues to
get wins, or so the logic seems to go. That seems to be one of the
reasons why Adelman (loss of Tracy McGrady) and Van Gundy (loss of
Jameer Nelson) top McMillan in COY talk, but it shouldn’t be. Anyone
who follows the Trail Blazers knows that McMillan has been without the
services of Martell Webster, who was all but penciled into the starting
small forward spot, all season. Is losing Webster on par with losing
McGrady or Nelson? Maybe not on the surface, but when you consider the
replacements, the loss of Webster might be the most significant.
was replaced by Shane Battier, who is arguable better than McGrady at
everything outside of volume scoring. Nelson was replaced by midseason
acquisition Rafer Alston, who is a marginal downgrade from Nelson.
Webster’s replacement? A 19-year old French rookie whom many assumed
would spend the majority of the season pulling stints in the D-League.
If that’s not an indication of superior coaching prowess, then what is?
while on the topic of rookies, how about Coach McMillan integrating
four first year players into the rotation, and ending up better for it?
The Cavaliers and Rockets added veterans and the Magic basically stood
pat, but the Trail Blazers added four fresh faces and still improved
dramatically. What other coaches have been put in that kind of
situation, let alone excelled when confronted with it? In fact, the
Portland Trail Blazers are the first team in NBA history to win 50
games with four rookies appearing in 50-plus contests. Read that again
and then try to make a case against McMillan for Coach Of The Year.
all the playoff bound teams, Portland has the least amount of NBA
experience (that’s including the Raef LaFrentz’s 11 years in the
league). When you add up the years of NBA experience on the Trail
Blazers roster, you come up with 51 seasons, which is 16 seasons fewer
than any other Western Conference playoff team. If Portland can manage
to win tonight, they’ll have 1.06 wins for every year of NBA
experience, making them the only playoff team to have more than one win
per season of experience (the Lakers come in second among playoff teams
with .956 wins per years of experience, after which there’s a rather
precipitous drop off).
The reality is that there are a number
of great coaches in the NBA, but Nate McMillan has the credentials this
season to go toe-to-toe with any of them. Why he’s not given the same
consideration for COY as Brown, Van Gundy and Adelman is tough to
grasp, and even tougher to stomach.