The season is still young with some teams having played as few as nine games, and the Tulsa Shock has played 13. But now we are at the point where we can give some preliminary Coach of the Year candidates for the 2013 season.
What a Coach of the Year often has done to win the award
Generally speaking in the pros, the Coach of the Year has usually done at least one of the following:
- Earned the best regular season record in the Eastern or Western Conference, if not the league as a whole, in particular if it wasn't expected.
- Considerably improved the regular season record of a team that was not good in the standings the previous year.
- Is a first year head coach for a team and does a better than expected job with that team.
With many of the league's head coaches also serving as General Managers (ATL, CHI, DC, NY for the East; PHX, SASS, SEA for the West), it's easy to blend in GM'ing accomplishments with the head coaching accomplishments for this award. However, for the purposes of this post, I will leave GM'ing accomplishments (trades and drafts) out of a rationale why someone deserves the award.
So without further or do, here are the top three coaches I have in consideration for this award:
1. Fred Williams, Atlanta Dream
Why: First, the Dream has the WNBA's best regular season record as of today, July 2, at 10 wins and 1 loss. The Dream is 7-0 at home and also 3-1 on the road. This is also Williams' first full season as ATL's head coach, so considering the kind of job he's doing, he's got to be the front runner as of today.
Second, the backcourt had a significant acquisitions with Jasmine Thomas coming in from DC
and Alex Bentley being drafted 13th overall
in this year's draft but it's not the acquisitions themselves which is why one should vote for him. Both Thomas and Bentley are playing at a high level for the Dream and with significant minutes. In addition, Angel McCoughtry is averaging nearly 4 steals as well as five assists a game along with over 20 points a game.
There are some who believe that the Dream has an inflated record
, at least from the standpoint that their schedule up to this point has not been as difficult as some others in the league. So far, all but one of the Dream's wins have been against sub .500 teams which include multiple wins over the Fever and Mystics, and none against the perceived Western powers in Minnesota, Phoenix, and LA.
The Dream begins a four game road trip out West starting with Minnesota, then Seattle, LA, and Tulsa in that order. That road trip will either confirm or squash doubters' feelings on this team and how far it can go.
2. Mike Thibault, Washington Mystics
Why: First, Thibault inherited the roster with the least talent (and the worst regular season record) in the WNBA in 2012 and the Mystics still have one of the WNBA's least talented rosters in 2013, and you can make a case that it's still the least talented in the league. While the core of the 2012 team remains along with several new additions, like Ivory Latta and Kia Vaughn, Coach Thibault has gotten all of his players to buy into his concepts and their play has improved significantly. This has resulted in a 5-6 record as of today, where four of the wins came in close matches that were decided late, and one of those wins came against the star-studded Minnesota Lynx.
Like Coach Williams, Thibault has made good use out of post-first round draft picks
this year as Emma Meesseman, a mid second round pick, and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, an undrafted rookie are both playing rotation minutes and making good contributions on a consistent basis.
When a coach takes a team like the Mystics which doesn't have any nationally followed stars (after all, I consider Coach Thibault as the franchise star
right now and he is the real deal), was as bad as they were last year, but is playing well this year, and has wins to show for it, you have to consider that coach for this award, even if the Mystics aren't a 20 plus win team this season.
Why not: It's rare that a WNBA head coach of a team that ends up around .500 wins the award, even if there is a major improvement from a year before. So far, only three coaches (Marianne Stanley for DC in 2002; Suzie McConnell Serio for Minny in 2004, and Marynell Meadors for ATL in 2009) won this award with teams that were barely over .500. Two of the three coaches listed here (Stanley and McConnell Serio) were gone soon after they won this award once their teams' performance declined considerably. Either way, the league probably wouldn't give this award to Thibault for a third time (he is the 2006 and 2008 winner) if the Mystics are at or even slightly above .500, let alone below it.
I know that Tayler Hill's lack of scoring and being a core player right away is giving me a lot of frustration in regards to Coach T's job performance, probably more than any other Mystics fan out there, but that issue in my opinion comes more from his GM'ing decisions, rather than his coaching which is what I'm focusing on for this award.
3. Pokey Chatman, Chicago Sky
Why: The Sky is out to a 7-3 start this season, which is good for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. In addition, she is utilizing her talent effectively, with Sylvia Fowles and Elena Delle Donne comprising a frontcourt that averages over 4 blocks a game.
Two quick reasons. First, Coach Chatman had a playoff caliber roster in 2011 and 2012 and yet she still couldn't get this team to the playoffs. Second, Chatman has arguably the best rookie in the 2013 Draft Class and yeah, it is supposed to be easier to win games. So in short, if the Sky makes the playoffs, it was expected that they'd be there in large part because the roster was considered playoff worthy without Elena Delle Donne and better be playoff worthy
Other coaches who may be in consideration as the season goes on:
Bill Laimbeer, New York Liberty - He has kept this team over .500 so far, but at the same time, this team was projected to be a playoff caliber team to begin with according to many. If the Liberty was first in the East, Laimbeer would be a leading candidate for sure, but standings-wise, New York may still be on the dreaded "treadmill of mediocrity" like it has been the last several seasons.
Corey Gaines, Phoenix Mercury - He has the Mercury to a 7-4 record as of today, but like Chatman, he has a Big Three pick, and even if the Mercury wins the number one seed in the West, it would hardly be surprising which discounts Gaines' coaching ability in the eyes of many.
Cheryl Reeve, Minnesota Lynx - She is coaching the first place team in the West, and they also beat Phoenix multiple times and Los Angeles at home this past Friday. However, most people expected the Lynx to be at the top of the Western Conference anyway. Also, they were annihilated on the road against LA two Fridays ago, and they took the Mystics for granted as an easy win and that didn't work out too well back earlier in June, and that can be a knock against her.
So here's some food for thought in regards to some really early WNBA Coach of the Year candidates. Obviously things can change rapidly over the next month, but if the season ended today, who is your pick as the Coach of the Year? Feel free to vote in the poll, comment, and if you have a LOT to say, please write a FanPost! We need more of those!