Milwaukee Bucks: Is Mike Budenholzer the Coach of the Year front runner?

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 09: (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 09: (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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SANTA MONICA, CA – JUNE 25: (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Turner Sports)
SANTA MONICA, CA – JUNE 25: (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Turner Sports) /

Analyzing past winners

Even in our relatively small sample size of five coaches, we have a pretty wide variety of different coaches and teams. Three come from Western conference teams, two from the East.

We have coaches who were first-time winners and relatively new to head coaching like Budenholzer (second year as a head coach) and Kerr (also second year) to more grizzled veterans like Popovich and D’Antoni, who had been head coaches for over a decade of and were previous winners of the award.

On the surface, there’s not much to tie these five coaches together; they each have their own unique coaching style, from on-court schemes to leadership philosophy. But if we look closely at the performance of their individual teams, we can start to see some similarities.

The first thing that I looked at from the five coaches is where their team finished the season in the standings. It seems like the COY award winner rarely goes to a coach that isn’t at least a possible contender for the title.

Sure enough, each coach’s team was either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed come playoff time, with each team winning at least 55 games. Clearly, voters believe in rewarding a coach that’s won more rather than a coach that overachieved with a below-average team but had little chance of making playoff noise.

The next thing I looked at was comparing the win-total of the COY’s team to the win-total from the previous season. Improvement and progress seem to always be big factors in deciding which coach had the best season, and it turned out to be true.

Every coach’s team saw a win increase from the previous season. Some were modest, like in the case of Popovich, whose Spurs won just four more games than the previous year, while others were much more substantial, like Budenholzer, whose Hawks won 22 more games than they did the previous season.

D’Antoni, in his first year leading the Houston Rockets, bumped their win total by 14, Casey went from 51 wins to 59 and even Kerr went from winning 67 to 73 games.

Obviously, COY voters value teams that are playing at their highest level in the span of at least two years. Previous seasons shouldn’t technically matter as the COY is supposed to only focus on the current season, but voters can’t help but compare previous seasons.

Next, I wanted to look at the offensive rating (ORtg) and defensive rating (DRtg) for the COY’s team to see if I could find any more similarities. Did voters prefer defensive-minded coaches? Or did they like coaches with teams that scored more?

In the end, there was no real trend of offensive or defensive coaches being more favored by voters, but there was one tendency that did become apparent.

With the exception of the DRtg of D’Antoni’s Rockets, every team ranked at least in the top 10 of the league in both ORtg and DRtg. Casey’s Raptors ranked 2nd and 5th in ORtg and DRtg, respectively. D’Antoni’s Rockets were 2nd and 18th, Kerr’s Warriors 1st and 5th, Budenholzer’s Hawks 6th and 6th and Popovich’s Spurs 7th and 3rd.

Obviously, voters love balanced teams. A coach with a team that is among the best in the league on both offense and defense has a much greater chance of being named COY than one who doesn’t.

So, based on the research of past winners, we’ve found a couple of things we can look for among COY candidates.

COY award winners generally coach teams that win nearly 60 games or are at the top of the conference, have improved from the previous season and are among the best in the league on both offense and defense.

Now that we have some parameters, which current coaching candidates meet these criteria?