NBA Power Rankings Update: Coaching Carousel
The NBA coaching community was up in arms this past week as David Blatt, owner of a 30-11 record this season and 83-40 record overall, was let go by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Right or wrong, his dismissal ignited some fiery responses across the league, from Stan Van Gundy's disdain to Rick Carlisle calling it bizarre.
Even before Blatt's dismissal, job security for the NBA's head coaches has always been an illusion. In less than a year, there have been 12 coaching changes; Blatt's firing was the third time a coach was let go this season and most likely not the last.
In this edition of the update, we are going to take a closer look at the three teams that have already swapped coaches this season and three others whose leaders have been called out by the players or fans.
Our power rankings here at numberFire are not subjective or influenced by the latest hype; we put our faith and trust in our algorithms. Each week, we’ll list all 30 teams in the Association from worst to best based on our nERD metric, which is a predictive measure to help define what the team's winning percentage ultimately will be.
30. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 18.3, Record: 9-38, Last Week: 29)
29. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 18.9, Record: 7-40, Last Week: 30)
28. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 27.0, Record: 12-34 Last Week: 28)
To no one's surprise, the Brooklyn Nets have been a hot mess this year. After spending and trading like mad to try and build a championship-worthy roster in Brooklyn, the Nets have been left with an entirely underwhelming roster. With the season spiraling down the drain and with only 10 wins in the first 37 games, the organization decided to move on from coach Lionel Hollins.
Through January 10, When Hollins was let go, the Nets' anemic offense managed only 95.7 points per game, ranking 29th, and a 97.7 Offensive Rating, ranking 28th. Since assistant coach Tony Brown took over on an interim basis, the Nets have not fared much better offensively. Since January 11, the Nets have only scored 95.2 points per game even as their efficiency nudged up a bit to a 101.7 Offensive Rating.
The defense has stunk up the Barclays Center just as much as the offense since the coaching change. Allowing 106.2 points per game, the Nets allow opponents to make over 50 percent of their shots from the floor, ranking them dead last in the NBA.
27. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 27.5, Record: 14-33, Last Week: 27)
26. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 35.7, Record: 17-29, Last Week: 26)
25. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 37.4, Record: 20-27, Last Week: 25)
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 38.8, Record: 14-33, Last Week: 23)
23. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 40.8, Record: 16-28, Last Week: 24)
22. Washington Wizards (nERD: 42.5, Record: 20-23, Last Week: 20)
After 46 wins and a first-round sweep of the Raptors last season, the Wizards entered 2015-16 with high hopes. Their playoff success with a smaller lineup gave coach Randy Wittman the idea to turn his defensive-minded squad into a fast-paced offensive. Wittman, a former critic of advanced metrics, seemed to have a change of heart as the Wizards have bumped up their Pace from 93.7 possessions per game, ranking 18th last season, to 97.4 possessions per game, good for 5th in the NBA.
The offensive change for the Wizards and Wittman has not translated well this season as Washington has gone from having a top-10 defense in both points allowed and Defensive Rating to 24th in points allowed (104.1 per game) and 18th in Defensive Rating (106.9). Even as the team is taking 7.1 more three-pointers per game, the offense has remained relatively stagnant. Their 101.6 points per game and 104.3 Offensive Rating is only a slight increase from 2014-15, and Wittman is taking all the heat.
Their 20-23 record leaves the Wizards outside of the playoff picture and has them on pace for only 38 wins this year. If they can not turn around the season and make one last push for the playoffs, Wittman and his career winning percentage of 39.8 percent will be shown the door in our nation's capital.
21. New York Knicks (nERD: 42.9, Record: 22-25, Last Week: 18)
20. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 43.8, Record: 20-25, Last Week: 21)
George Karl's grasp on the Kings' coaching job seemed tenuous at best after a rough start to his tenure. With an 11-19 record after taking over last February and a 1-7 start to this season coupled with his rocky relationship with the team's best player and star, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl was all but run out of town. Ever since being cursed out by and then apologized to by Cousins, Karl has led the Kings to unexpected heights.
Since November 11, the Kings are sporting a winning record, at 19-18, own the third-best offense in the NBA, with 107.1 points per game, and have inserted themselves into the race for the eighth and final seed out West. If Sacramento was to sneak into the postseason, they would end their 10-year playoff drought, the second-longest current streak in the NBA to only Minnesota.
Igniting the offense over the past two and a half months has been the combo of Cousins and Rajon Rondo. The NBA leader in assists with a career-high 11.8 per game, Rondo has racked up six triple-doubles this year, good for second behind Draymond Green. However, the offense will only go as far as Cousins can take it. The NBA's third-leading scorer with 27.3 points per game, the 25-year-old center posted 48 and 56 points on consecutive nights this past week.
19. Orlando Magic (nERD: 44.1, Record: 20-24, Last Week: 16)
18. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 44.4, Record: 26-20, Last Week: 19)
17. Houston Rockets (nERD: 44.6, Record: 25-23, Last Week: 17)
The Rockets, the first team to fire a coach this season, dispatched Kevin McHale after 11 games and a 4-7 start. The coach's fate seemed sealed after a historically bad start to the season. The problems lie not only with the defense (106.5 Defensive Rating, 29th in the league) but with the lack of scoring punch (100.8 points per game) from an offense that finished sixth in points per game in 2014-15.
With interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff at the helm, the offense has returned to its rightful standing as the fourth best offense in the league with an average of 106.1 points per game. They have also overcome the poor start with a 21-15 record since November 18. One key for the Rockets new coaching staff has been the resurgent play of Dwight Howard.
Over the past month, Howard is looking like the Superman of old with averages of 18.7 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game on 65 percent field goal shooting. Even with his superb play of late, Howard has missed four games in the last three weeks due to various injuries. If Houston is going to make a playoff run, like last year, they need D12 healthy to be the secondary scoring option to James Harden the offense desperately craves.
16. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 45.0, Record: 21-26, Last Week: 22)
15. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 48.8, Record: 25-19, Last Week: 14)
Just like Blatt in Cleveland, Tom Thibodeau was unceremoniously let go after a successful tenure, a 64.7 percent winning percentage, in Chicago this past summer. In his stead, Fred Hoiberg was brought in to lead the highly talented Bulls squad. Over the first half of the season, the freshman coach has been tested by both the opponents and his own players.
A little over a month ago, Jimmy Butler called out Hoiberg for being too laid back and not coaching the team up enough. Up until that point, the Bulls had the 27th ranked offense with a 98.3 Offensive Rating. After the public criticism, the Bulls looked to have turned it around with a six-game winning streak. Lately, though, the Bulls have faltered, going 3-7 in their last 10 games, and have seen their offense revert to the 25th ranked offense with a 98.4 Offensive Rating.
Disappointing losses to Milwaukee, Dallas, and an injury-depleted Heat team has the pressure mounting on Hoiberg to help bring the consistency and energy level that seems to be missing from the Bulls on a nightly basis. With the prolonged absence of Nikola Mirotic, due to an appendectomy, on top of the likely season-ending injury to Joakim Noah, Hoiberg will have to get creative with his rotations, especially in the frontcourt, over the next month of the season.
14. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 49.5, Record: 26-22, Last Week: 13)
13. Utah Jazz (nERD: 49.6, Record: 20-25, Last Week: 15)
12. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 51.2, Record: 22-24, Last Week: 12)
11. Miami Heat (nERD: 54.0, Record: 25-21, Last Week: 11)
10. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 55.8, Record: 23-22, Last Week: 9)
9. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 56.1, Record: 27-20, Last Week: 10)
8. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 58.9, Record: 25-21, Last Week: 7)
7. Boston Celtics (nERD: 61.1, Record: 26-21, Last Week: 8)
6. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 63.3, Record: 30-15, Last Week: 6)
5. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 65.4, Record: 30-16, Last Week: 4)
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 65.4, Record: 32-12, Last Week: 5)
As we alluded to earlier, the Cavs surprised the league by firing coach David Blatt after a 30-11 start and fresh off a double-digit victory over a tough Clippers team. Up until the firing, Cleveland had the fifth-best offense (105.6 Offensive Rating) and the fifth-best defense (99.7 Defensive Rating).
One reason for the firing was the lack of success versus the top two Western Conference teams, San Antonio and Golden State. In their three meetings, all losses and within the last month, the Cavs mustered an average of only 92.0 points per game against the Spurs and Warriors. The firing also came on the heels of an embarrassing 132-98 loss to Golden State just four days earlier.
New coach Tyronn Lue's debut versus Chicago left a lot to be desired. Cleveland's offense laid an absolute egg, shooting 37 percent from the field, 17 percent from three and a mind-boggling 40 percent from the line in a 96-83 home loss. Still the Eastern Conference favorite, the pressure is mounting on Lue and LeBron James to return to the Finals and overcome the Western Conference dominance over them this year.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 72.9, Record: 35-13, Last Week: 3)
2. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 88.7, Record: 42-4, Last Week: 2)
1. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 89.8 Record: 39-7, Last Week: 1)