Why Mark Daigneault of the Thunder and Frank Vogel of the Suns Stand Out as Preseason Favorites
In any given NBA season, the Coach of the Year award typically has only about eight legitimate contenders, if that. Realistically, the number of viable candidates is often even smaller. Why is that? Well, because every Coach of the Year recipient since Scott Brooks in 2010 has led a team that finished in the top four of their respective conference. In this century, the only exceptions were Doc Rivers with the Magic in 2000 and Hubie Brown with the Grizzlies in 2004.
However, merely finishing fourth in the conference usually doesn’t guarantee the award either. From Scott Brooks with the Thunder in 2010 to Mike Brown with the Kings last season, eight out of the 12 winners coached teams that were the No. 1 seed in their conference. Nick Nurse (Raptors) claimed the award with a No. 2 seed in 2020, while George Karl (Nuggets, 2013) and Mike D’Antoni (Rockets, 2017) won as No. 3 seeds, and Tom Thibodeau (Knicks, 2021) secured it as a fourth seed. In seasons without unusual circumstances, the average Coach of the Year over the past two decades has overseen teams that won approximately 58 games. Simply put, the higher your team’s seed, the better your odds of winning this prestigious coaching honor. Here are a few more insights to keep in mind before we delve into this season’s odds:
Winning the award without a top seed means surpassing expectations. Mike Brown only won 48 games last season, but he guided the Kings to their first playoff appearance in nearly two decades. Thibodeau took over a Knicks team that had spent seven consecutive years in the draft lottery and transformed them into a top-four seed. If you don’t believe a coach has a realistic shot at a top seed, the only reason to bet on them is the belief that they can outperform very low team expectations.
No coach has ever won Coach of the Year in consecutive seasons (apologies to Mike Brown), but several coaches have claimed the award multiple times. Three coaches have won it three times, and eight others have won it twice. When in doubt, voters often lean toward a coach with a proven track record.
While it may not necessarily have a direct impact on the award, it’s worth noting that the last two winners have hailed from the Western Conference, whereas the previous four winners came from the Eastern Conference. Does this mean anything significant? Not necessarily, but for most of this century, the Western Conference has been considered the stronger conference.
However, this dynamic has slowly shifted in recent years. While the West has won the last two NBA championships, the East has shown more stability at the top of the standings. This implies that there is more room for teams in the East to exceed expectations and surprise, as seen with coaches like Dwane Casey, Mike Budenholzer, and Nick Nurse when they won the award. Currently, except for the Nuggets, there is considerable uncertainty in the Western Conference, making it highly likely that a strong candidate will emerge as a top-two seed. All these factors suggest that if you consider one conference significantly weaker than the other, you will likely find a candidate or two who can capitalize on the weaker competition.
With all these considerations in mind, here are the top choices for Coach of the Year by Sam Quinn and Ameer Tyree.
All odds are provided by Caesars Sportsbook.
These coaches have odds of +1000 or lower.
Quinn: In this category, we have only two coaches from an odds perspective, making our options somewhat limited. However, it’s important to note that this award often eludes the most deserving candidate. Erik Spoelstra, widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the NBA, has never won Coach of the Year. Betting on him at +750 is a bit of a gamble. Miami was in the play-in tournament just last season, and without a Damian Lillard trade, they are likely to land in a similar range this season. But if you believe that Lillard might eventually find his way to Miami, or if you have faith that this roster is better than it appears, then betting on Spoelstra could be a wise move. If it’s a close race, there will be voters who believe he’s due for the award.
Our other favorite in this category is Mark Daigneault, the frontrunner at +700. Given his young and talented roster, he will have ample opportunities to contend for this award. Even if his odds aren’t particularly enticing, he’s an exceptional in-game coach, and with the addition of Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 overall pick, who perfectly complements his roster, Daigneault stands as a solid choice. If his young players develop as expected, the Thunder could potentially secure a high enough seed for Daigneault to claim the award.
Tyree: While I’m among those who believe Spoelstra is arguably the best coach in the NBA, given his ability to produce results regardless of injuries and star power on his roster, I don’t see him as a strong contender for the award in the 2023-24 season. Coach of the Year tends to be decided long before his deep playoff runs, and adding a superstar like Lillard doesn’t necessarily enhance his case. On the other hand, Mark Daigneault has a remarkably young team that hasn’t seen the playoffs in three years. Their division features the reigning champions, and they haven’t added proven game-changers to their roster like some of the other contenders this offseason. Daigneault is my clear favorite among the options with the best odds. Last season, only Mike Brown received more votes.
Quinn: The Cleveland Cavaliers have some vulnerabilities that may impact their performance in a playoff setting, but they are ideally suited for regular-season success. They boasted the NBA’s top defense last season and might even improve as Evan Mobley progresses in his career. Despite ranking 24th in 3-point attempts last season, they’ve added two sharpshooters in Max Strus and Georges Niang. With Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland, they consistently have an All-Star-level shot creator on the court. These factors typically lead to regular-season victories, making J.B. Bickerstaff (+1500) a solid pick in this category.
A slightly riskier choice would be Frank Vogel (+1400). His team lacks depth and relies heavily on two injury-prone superstars. However, if Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, and Devin Booker are all healthy in a given game, Phoenix is poised to score a significant number of points. Vogel, on the other hand, is renowned for his defensive coaching abilities. In two of his three seasons with the Lakers and three out of his five full seasons with the Pacers, he achieved a top-three ranking defensively. If we assume that Phoenix’s talent can secure a top-five offense and Vogel’s coaching can establish an above-average defense, the Suns should be in a strong position to secure Vogel the award.
Tyree: Joe Mazzulla (+1100) finished third in the Coach of the Year voting