The Western Conference has dominated the NBA for the last two decades. Of the past 20 NBA champions, 12 have come from the West (Spurs, ’99; Lakers, ’00-’02; Spurs, ’03 & ’05 &07, Lakers’09-’10; Mavericks, ’11; Spurs, ’14; Warriors ’15). Part of the reason Western teams have dominated is because of generational talent replacing generational talent. Kobe and Duncan were here, now they are gone. Dirk is nearly gone too. But Steph and KD and Harden and Westbrook have taken their place. Western teams have an advantage because they scout and draft well, take chances and build around their talent. Plus, for the most part they have luck. It is hard for a coach to break into coach of the year talk in such a powerful conference with such talent depth. Coach of the Year candidates usually are the mentors of unexpected contenders. Here are three standouts for 2016-17.
Mike D’Antoni: Houston has rejuvenated the career of Mike D’Antoni. He took it on the chin in Los Angeles and New York but in Houston he has shooters who can play his system. He brilliantly moved James Harden to point guard and Daryl Morey added Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to fill out the roster and allow D’Antoni ball to thrive. The Rockets have been the surprise of the league. It’s D’Antoni so the defensive numbers are below average: 24th in scoring defense, 22nd in field goal percentage defense. But the Rockets are a quality three point defensive club. It is the scoring that has Houston a contender, 2nd in scoring. The most three pointers attempted in a season is a record Houston will shatter. If they were in the East, they would have the number one seed. The only worry spot is when the Rockets don’t drain threes, they don’t win.
Gregg Popovich: After the loss of Tim Duncan, and adding an old Pau Gasol, the regurgitated opinion was that the Spurs would slide back and not be the second seed in the West. But they are on route to a 60 game season and have a legitimate superstar in Kawhi Leonard, a rare breed two way player. The Spurs have not missed the playoffs in twenty years and this may be one of Gregg Popovich’s best seasons as a coach, after losing the cornerstone of the franchise. They are 4th in field goal percentage, 1st in 3-point percentage, 8th in defensive rebounding, 7th in assists, 2nd in scoring defense, 3rd in shooting defense and 3-point defense. The Spurs are still the Spurs, no drop off. Credit Pop.
Quin Snyder: For the past several years, Utah has been predicted as the team to break out of the lottery scrum and make the playoffs. They were so close last year, eliminated on the last day of the season. Now here they are, 4th seed in the west. The Jazz still have offensive issues, 28th in scoring, but they are 1st in defense which only pushes Quin Snyder into coach of the year discussion. The Jazz are winning in this offense era without much offense but heavy on Rudy Gobert in the paint and defense, defense, defense. 1st in points allowed, 2nd in field goal percentage defense.