We've reached the final weekend of the 2022-23 NBA regular season. This season has been a thrilling ride, with some teams performing well above expectations and others well below them. One can only hope that the playoffs are full of just as much excitement as the regular season.
With the regular season winding down, the awards races are as well. The races for player awards like Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year have all been thrilling to watch, but don't forget about Coach of the Year.
While the player awards are relatively simple in their criteria, Coach of the Year is a bit more multi-faceted. Most of the time, the award goes to a coach whose team outperformed preseason expectations, but that's not always the case. Dealing with adversity, taking a team to the next level or just being historically good all go into the criteria for the award. That's what makes it so interesting, because the reason why coaches win it changes so often.
As the season comes to an end, it seems like a great time to go over the leaders for the award. Without further ado, here are the top three candidates for 2023 NBA Coach of the Year.
3. Mark Daigneault, Oklahoma City Thunder
In his third season, Mark Daigneault has brought Oklahoma City back to relevance. In Daigneault's first two seasons, the Thunder finished well outside the playoffs with 22 and 24 wins, respectively. Many expected more of the same in Year 3, with the Thunder's preseason win total at 23.5. Instead, they've smashed that total and been one of the more surprising teams in the league, making Daigneault an easy NBA Coach of the Year candidate.
Granted, they still aren't title contenders by any means, sitting at 10th in the Western Conference at 39-42 and still fighting for a spot in the Play-In Tournament. However, the step forward the Thunder, led by breakout superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, is still very commendable. Oklahoma City has a boatload of future assets to work with (plus Chet Holmgren!), and if Daigneault can build on this season, this team could be one of the league's scariest very soon.
2. Joe Mazzulla, Boston Celtics
On the other hand, Joe Mazzulla is not an NBA Coach of the Year candidate because the Celtics outperformed preseason expectations. Fresh off a trip to the 2022 NBA Finals, the Celtics' preseason win total sat at 54.5, the highest in the league. Although they don't have the best record in the league, they do have the second-best at 55-25 with two games to go.
Instead, Mazzulla is on here because of how well he has transitioned into the role. Mazzulla had been an assistant coach with the Celtics since 2019, but after they suspended Ime Udoka before the season, they elevated Mazzulla to be the interim head coach. He took the opportunity and ran with it, winning Eastern Conference Coach of the Month in October and November and coaching Team Giannis in the All-Star Game. In February, the Celtics removed the interim tag and made Mazzulla their full-time coach, a well-earned accomplishment.
If the Celtics botched their coaching change, they could've been a shell of their former selves this season. Thankfully for them, this hasn't been the case, as Mazzulla was a slam-dunk hire.
1. Mike Brown, Sacramento Kings
Really, who else could have earned the top spot on this list? The Sacramento Kings have been the feel-good story of the NBA this season, and that's largely thanks to first-year head coach Mike Brown.
Before this season, Sacramento was the laughingstock of the NBA. The Kings hadn't had a winning record or made the playoffs since 2006, and hadn't won their division since 2003. With a preseason win total of just 34.5, many expected them to be the same old Kings this season.
Instead, Brown has completely turned the franchise around in just his first season. He has broken all those aforementioned droughts, and at 48-32, Sacramento is third in the conference and the winner of the Pacific Division. Reminder that the Kings share their division with the defending champion Warriors, as well as the star-studded Suns, Clippers and Lakers. The Kings beating out all of those teams was unthinkable before the season, but Brown made it happen.
Needless to say, Brown is the overwhelming to win NBA Coach of the Year. Many in the league have openly campaigned for him to win it, including LeBron James of the division rival Lakers. This may be one of the best coaching jobs ever, and it would be shocking if Brown doesn't win the award when the votes are tallied.