We've reached the midpoint of an NBA season filled with the unexpected — who expected we'd see the Warriors dynasty crumbling while the Oklahoma City Thunder seems ready to take off? The midpoint also means it's time to take stock of the NBA postseason awards. All week long, we will make our picks for some of the NBA's top awards at this point in the season. Today:
NBA Coach of the Year: Mark Daigneault (Thunder)
Coach of the Year is always one of the most challenging awards to vote on for a couple of reasons. First, there are usually a lot of contenders — my "short list" at mid-season has nine guys on it, all with a legitimate case. Second, we're not in each locker room, so it can be difficult to say which coach is doing a great job and parse that out from teams where the coach benefits because the GM did their job well or a team is making a leap despite the coach. This is one award where talking to league sources influences my vote more than others.
At the top of the list at the midpoint of the season is Oklahoma City's Mark Daigneault, who has helped develop the talent on this roster and put in systems and schemes that maximize the strengths of the players he has. This is still one of the youngest rosters in the NBA and Daigneault deserves some credit for the development of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jalen Williams, the fit of Chet Holmgren as a rookie, and the play of guys like Luguentz Dort, Cason Wallace and Isaiah Joe.
Daigneault also does some of the more creative play designs in the league — he is incredible at putting guys in positions to play to their strengths and succeed. It is part of why Holmgren has thrived and is a frontrunner for Rookie of the Year.
The next two guys on my list have gotten the most out of teams that could have crumbled due to drama and egos. Instead, the coaches have them looking like contenders.
Nick Nurse was brought in to take Philadelphia to the next level and instead walked headlong into James Harden calling Daryl Morey a liar and demanding a trade. This all could have gone sideways fast, but instead, Nurse has helped turn Tyrese Maxey into an All-Star (he is a lock to make it this year), added motion to the offense, and has Joel Embiid on another MVP trajectory (if he can stay healthy for enough games). Nurse's work this season was on display Tuesday night when the 76ers knocked off Denver.
Tyronn Lue was the guy who inherited Harden from the 76ers and had to mesh him at the point with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Lue was masterful through the ugly five-game losing streak that came when Harden first took the court for the Clippers, he let Westbrook figure out for himself he should be the sixth man and accept the role, and he tweaked and adjusted the system to fit the players. Now, the Clippers look like a threat to come out of the West.
Just missing out on making the top three but very possibly there by the end of the season is Chris Finch in Minnesota. Getting Karl-Anthony Towns back healthy certainly helped the Timberwolves make a leap this season, but he's blended the two bigs (KAT and Rudy Gobert) and still made this Anthony Edwards team.
Other coaches on my list and who could be in the top three at the end of the season are Erik Spoelstra in Miami, Jamahl Mosley in Orlando, Rick Carlisle in Indiana, Will Hardy in Utah and Ime Udoka in Houston.