clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why Rick Carlisle was never going to win Coach of the Year

Steve Kerr winning Coach of the Year wasn't surprising, but Rick Carlisle's lack of votes was. Why didn't he do better?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The results of this year's Coach of the Year voting were released yesterday, and the results were largely unsurprising. Steve Kerr took top honors after his team set a new record for regular season wins, and Terry Stotts came in second after leading the Trail Blazers to a much better than expected finish this season.

But a lot of Mavericks fans were surprised to see just how few votes Rick Carlisle received (three third-place votes), and how far down he finished (12th, behind Quin Snyder and Erik Spoelstra). As frustrated as we sometimes felt about his lineups, the Mavericks over-performance this season was due almost entirely to his coaching genius. Surely that's worth of more than three meager third-place votes?

Unfortunately, Rick Carlisle's brand of sustained pretty-goodness in the face of adversity just isn't the kind of performance that tends to win this award. Let's take a (very unscientific) look at the winners from the last 20 years to see just why Carlisle never had a chance:

CoY Winners

He (and the Mavericks) have already won

If there's one thing that stands out when looking at coach of the year winners from the last two decades, it's that unless you're Gregg Popovich, you're very unlikely to win this award more than once. The same goes for franchises. Aside from Popovich's Spurs, the award hasn't gone to the same coach or franchise more than once in the last 20 years.

Don Nelson, Hubie Brown, and Pat Riley all won multiple awards (though not all with the same franchise) in the 80s and 90s, but voters don't seem as interested in handing out repeat victories more recently.

Unfortunately for the 2016 Mavericks, Rick Carlisle won in 2002 as head coach of the Detroit Pistons, and Avery Johnson won it as coach of the 2006 Mavericks.

This team was just not good enough...

Everyone loves a good Cinderella story, but the award almost always goes to the coach of a very good team. Only twice in the last 20 years has the coach of a team with fewer than 50 wins* received the award (more on these two outliers below). The average win percentage for a team coached by a Coach of the Year winner is around .670 or 58 games.

While the Mavericks wildly over-performed in the face of overwhelming injury and Rick Carlisle is responsible for a lot of that, this team was not good enough for Carlisle to have any hope of winning. It's the sort of performance people like to talk about, but it's not one they tend to reward.

*I adjusted the two lockout years for an 82-game season. Obviously there's no guarantee, but the 35-win 1999 Trail Blazers had a win percentage of .700, which translates to around 57 wins in a normal season. The 2012 Spurs actually managed to win 50 games in a shortened season, with a win percentage of .732.

... but they were also not bad enough

That's not to say the award always goes to the perceived best team. The two worst teams to have coaches win this award were the 2000 Orlando Magic coached by Doc Rivers (they won just 41 games and failed to make the playoffs) and the 2007 Raptors coached by Sam Mitchell (47 wins and a first-round playoff exit).

In Mitchell's case, he led the Raptors to the team's first playoff appearance in years, and 47 wins is a good record, even if it's not quite as good as that of most CoY winners. The 2000 Doc Rivers win is the only time the coach of the year award was given to the coach of a team whose record was similar to that of this year's Mavericks.

However, the Rivers win illustrates two other factors voters love to reward: new coaches (the award has gone to Scott Brooks and Mike D'Antoni, among others, in their first years) and big turnarounds. When Rivers took over the Magic in 1999, the team was widely expected to finish last in the league. Instead, he led them to 41 wins and a near playoff berth.

And while Mavs fans are probably already queuing up to remind me about a certain website's predictions, ESPN forecasted a 41-win season and the eighth seed for Dallas this year, not far from what actually happened.

Carlisle didn't engineer a major turnaround of the team, and he wasn't a new coach riding in to the rescue of a damaged franchise. He simply kept on keeping on and was in some ways a victim of his (and Dirk's) legacy of success in Dallas. Maybe one day they'll hand out an award for that.