A long, long time ago, Scott Brooks was coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team he took over early in the 2008-09 season after the team started 1-12.
The next season he led the team — which had the NBA’s youngest roster — to a 50-win season and the playoffs. And so for those efforts, in April 2010, he was named Coach of the Year.
Fast forward a few years and one year-long hiatus from NBA coaching and we’ve got Brooks sitting in the same positions as then, but this time at the helm of the Washington Wizards.
It has been reported and reported again that the Wizards had a dreadful 2-8 start and their season appeared to be dead in the water on a fateful November 17th night. (Raise your hand if you wrote them off, too.)
They were a dismal 7-13 in the beginning of December. As of January 13, they were still a measly .500 team at 19-19.
Now, at 41-26, they are the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference with less than a month left in the regular season. Since January 6, they have the best record in the NBA at 25-8. They are a fiery 13-4 at home and 12-4 on the road.
But more importantly is this: the Wizards missed the playoffs in the 2015-16 season and are now on pace for their first 50-win season since 1978, likely as a two or three seed in the playoffs.
Let’s look at why I think Brooks is deserving of Coach of the Year.
Last year, the Wizards were 17th in Net Rating — now they’re 9th. Last season the Wizards were 27th in offensive rebounding, they’re now up to 11th. Their offensive rating has also gone up, from 19th (102.9) last season to 9th (108.4). And per NBA.com, they have the eighth-highest scoring offense since the All-Star break.
Brooks has done all of this with the same starts as last year: John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt, Marcin Gortat at center, Markieff Morris at power forward and Otto Porter as a lethal wingman, who by the way, leads the NBA in three-point shooting percentage. And despite a pretty thin bench, the rotation continues to win.
Wall, Beal, Gortat, Morris and Porter have all grown in their own rights from last year. Looking at the most generic stat, all except Gortat have improved their average points per game.
Let’s take Wall, the team’s leader, for example. His numbers are up across the board. He’s scoring more often, doing it more efficiently, and he’s racking up assists and steals at the best rates of his career. And did I mention he has 44 double-doubles this season, the most of any point guard in the Eastern Conference?
Marcin Gortat, who I was the hardest on last year as a Wizards fan, has made huge improvements this season as well. Most noticeable: He has improved his rebounding rates, even though he’s playing more minutes this season. He’s grabbing 18.7 percent of all rebound chances this season, the best rate he’s posted since becoming a regular NBA starter in the 2010-11 season.
Wall and Gortat are just a small snapshot of a highly successful team that executes pick-and-rolls like a smooth cake night after night.
Here's another cool stat: League-wide, Wall is 7th with 44 double-doubles and Gortat is 11th with 35. The only other teams to have two teammates in the top 20 in double-doubles are Cleveland and New Orleans. And by the way, none of those Cleveland players are Kyrie Irving.
The All-Star caliber seasons of Beal (who, like Wall, is having a career-best year) and Porter are not to be dismissed either. Plus, Brooks has found ways to get the best out of players like Jason Smith and Ian Mahinmi, and maximize new additions like Bojan Bogdanovic and Brandon Jennings.
I turn to words from a recent post by Bradley Beal on his blog. The first paragraph says it all:
Everything changed this year with the arrival of our coach, Scott Brooks. Ever since he got here, the culture has been different. Everything he does is about our team, our family. Win, lose, or draw, it’s always a collective effort. I know that sounds like something everyone says their team believes in, but it’s one thing to say it, and it’s another thing to live it.
Beal says that now with Brooks at the helm, “things have been fun” and that the team enjoys "our camaraderie.”
He explains that regardless of who you are on the team, you are held responsible:
There’s no favoritism for any of us. We’re all being held to a high standard, and knowing that has actually given all of us confidence. Coach trusts us all with the same responsibility, from the top down, and it’s spread throughout the players, too. The team atmosphere is great. It’s a family, brother-like atmosphere.
Clearly, he is flourishing in the new atmosphere. He’s taken a big step forward this season and made a case for why he should be the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Beal says it all for me in so many words: Brooks deserves to be Coach of the Year.
Why Brooks stands out from the rest of the field
Other coaches, such as Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat or Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets also have strong cases for why they deserve Coach of the Year consideration. D’Antoni has the Rockets firing on all cylinders, and Spoelstra just might get the Heat to the playoffs, even after losing Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Here’s why Brooks should still get the nod: D’Antoni and Spoelstra both got to bring in new players to fit their style of play. Brooks has largely had to work with the players he inherited from last season. Though the Wizards brought in several players last summer, the two biggest players were complete non-factors until February and the other summer additions didn’t add much else.
Brooks had to enter a tense situation and figure out a way to get the best out of his starters on the fly, since he didn’t have any alternatives. He was backed into a corner because of the Wizards’ roster situation and still found a way to thrive in spite of it. That’s the true essence of coaching and thus why Brooks deserves the edge over the other top candidates out there.