A month ago I thought Erik Spoelstra could win the NBA’s Coach of the Year award.
At that point Miami was riding an 11-game winning streak, and while he was entering the discussion it still seemed farfetched considering the Heat was still eight games under .500.
Only two COY winners in the last two decades were on teams that won less than 60 percent of their games.
Today, fresh off tossing up 120 on the Pelicans and their fifth ranked defense, Spo should be considered a lock. While Miami is in the No. 8 slot right now by the margin of a finger nail, it’s not too soon to award Erik Spoelstra with the NBA’s finest coaching job this season.
The facts are absurd:
- Their starting lineup features Luke Babbitt (no offense, Luke).
- Miami’s playoff odds on January 13th when they were 19 games under .500 read 0.04 percent, according to ESPN, as their Net Rating ranked 24th.
- Today their playoff odds are pushing 80 percent, per FiveThirtyEight.
- In the Trump Era (January 20 to present), the only team as hot as the Heat has been the superstar-laden Golden State Warriors — both have a Net Rating of +8.8:
- Since the All-Star Break, Miami is objectively the hottest team in the league, outscoring opponents by a dynamic 10.2 points per 100 possessions. For perspective, the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers have a Net Rating of +1.2 in that same timeframe and for all their injuries they still feature LeBron friggin’ James.
- The Heat’s 11-man rotation features FOUR undrafted players and SIX who’ve spent extensive time in the NBA’s Development league.
- Of those 11 only four were on the roster last season and one of their key young pieces in Justise Winslow has been shelved for the season.
Now it’s foolish to put all or most of the credit on Spoelstra’s shoulders. He’s merely a guide. Just as he can’t force James Johnson to drop his body fat in half, which blasted the cocoon open to reveal a beautiful and diverse skill-set perfectly suited for today’s NBA, he can’t cast a spell on Dion Waiters to suddenly become less sticky with the ball, take better shots, and play vicious defense most of the time (though the latter would make sense).
There’s no question Spo and his staff had a huge hand in transforming a bunch of secondhand players with a “tanktastic” roster into the fatigue-less machine you see today.
Just as we’ve progressed to unthinkable spheres in terms of basketball analytics, we need to be wiser when handing out these season-long awards like Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, and Coach of the Year.
No longer should MVP automatically go to the best player on one of the best three teams (he’s not necessarily the most valuable). No longer should DPOY neccessarily be be given to the player who’s among the league’s leaders in blocks and rebounds. And no longer should the COY be mandated to win 50-plus games.
It doesn’t even matter whether the Heat makes the playoffs or comes up just short anymore. It doesn’t matter if they finish with a winning record. This run alone — from mold to gold — for the last two months should be enough.
As head coach of the NBA’s most unlikely playoff team, a squad that could push even the defending-champion Cleveland Cavaliers in Round 1, Spo should be a shoe-in for Coach of the Year. Nobody is doing more with less.
Did I mention Luke Babbitt is in his starting lineup? (No offense, Luke.)