After a fresh National Basketball Association (NBA) season began Tuesday, a flurry of new head coaches accompanied the league’s outset for what may be one of the most dynamic basketball seasons in quite some time.
With a coaching landscape that has constantly shifted in the past couple of years, eight NBA teams announced permanent head coaches — some accustomed and some brand new to the arguably the loftiest role in professional basketball. The league continues to see a modernized play style and new coaches are called upon to support teams’ visions for the future.
And yet, still a handful have become league-wide figures by way of their leadership styles and approaches to basketball, earning a solidified and unique place in league history.
Below is a ranking of the NBA’s top five coaches for the 2021-2022 season, taking into account their obstacles, accolades and team development skills.
5. Nick Nurse
In his first season as the new head coach for the Toronto Raptors, Nick Nurse led the Raptors to win their first NBA championship in franchise history. Nurse has high expectations for his players and ensures that they are all performing to their full potential.
After losing star player Kawhi Leonard in 2019, the Raptors overachieved and finished second in the East. Nurse has done a wonderful job of combining key players with younger and newer talents in recent years.
Going into the season with Scottie Barnes, the fourth overall pick in the draft, the Raptors have the potential to be serious contenders this year, despite being in a revamped Eastern Conference.
4. Gregg Popovich
Few people would dispute the claim that Gregg Popovich is the greatest NBA coach of all time. He has won five NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs and has coached them to the playoffs in 23 of his 25 seasons as a coach. He’s also a three-time winner of the Coach of the Year award.
Popovich and the Spurs tied the NBA record of 22 consecutive postseason appearances, and despite the fact that the Spurs have not made the playoffs since 2019, Popovich is expected to help the new San Antonio Spurs make their way back into the postseason this year and get them back to their winning ways.
3. Monty Williams
Monty Williams took the Phoenix Suns from a 19-win squad to a team on the verge of capturing their first NBA championship in 2021. After watching the Suns suffer throughout the 2018-2019 season, Williams decided to take the head coaching job because he believed that he could help the Suns overcome their rut.
The Suns finished 10th in the West with a 34-39 record in the 2019-2020 season, and while they were gradually improving, it was evident that Williams still had a lot of work ahead of him. Last year, the Suns stunned the league by going 8-0 in the Orlando bubble, and they proceeded to shock the world as they advanced to the 2021 NBA Finals.
Williams helped the Suns go from one of the worst teams in the league to a strong franchise that almost won a championship. Falling just short of a title, Phoenix still has plenty of room to grow and has a strong core of pieces around perennial All-Star Devin Booker to make another Finals run in 2022.
2. Steve Kerr
Steve Kerr is without a doubt the most successful NBA coach in recent years. Kerr took the Golden State Warriors to the NBA Finals five times and returned to the Bay Area with three championships. Additionally, Kerr won the Coach of the Year award with the Warriors to break the previous record of the best regular-season record in NBA history. However, things have been looking different for the Warriors in recent seasons due to the injuries of key players like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Despite the Warriors’ failure to reach the playoffs the past two seasons, Kerr has been exploring new options for the team, such as the potential of younger players, including guard Jordan Poole and center James Wiseman. Heading into the 2021-2022 season, Kerr will look to get back on track with his squad and pose a threat in the West with the Splash Brothers set to make their return to the court.
1. Erik Spoelstra
Erik Spoelstra remains one of the league’s most consistent coaches, despite the Big Three era being very much a thing of the past. Because he and the rest of the Heat organization work their players to their maximum potential, Spoelstra produces incredible results, like leading the Miami Heat to an unexpected NBA Finals appearance in 2020.
During his time as Miami’s head coach, Spoelstra has only missed the playoffs three times out of twelve seasons. Spoelstra has been a great leader for the team and has done wonders for the organization since arriving in 2008.
In a recent survey regarding the 2021-22 season, NBA general managers named Erik Spoelstra the best head coach. Spoelstra was also voted the top head coach in last year’s survey.
Going into the regular season with Miami’s new, bolstered roster, Spoelstra will have to shuffle some assets around to figure out how to effectively mesh his new talents together. However, given his track record of years of consistency with an overachieving team, Spoelstra is definitely looking to win another championship with the Heat sooner rather than later.