Pondering the Pacers: McMillan is Coach of the Year Material

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There aren’t many coaches who’ve had to deal with what Nate McMillan has this season. Usually, if your best player goes down, you might just pack it in and say “well, on to next year.”

But not Nate.

Since Victor Oladipo was lost for the season, McMillan has guided the Pacers to a 22-11 record while maintaining the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Even with Philadelphia and Boston right on their heels, McMillan and the Pacers have kept them at bay with textbook teamwork.

It certainly helps when Bojan Bogdanovic decides to go on the best stretch of his career. Bogey’s averaging 17.7 points per game, capitalized by 16 games with at least 20 points. Even more impressive: Bogdanovic has put up 23.5 per game since Oladipo’s exit (highlighted by a Pacers career-high 37 points against Minnesota last week).

For me, McMillan deserves all the credit here. He’s made Bogdanovic the main scoring option for Indy which makes total sense. He was the second option when Victor was healthy and now he’s seamlessly stepped into the go-to role.  Now that Tyreke Evans is finding his bearings with the second unit thanks to the addition of Wes Matthews, it seems entirely possible that McMillan and the Pacers will maintain the third spot in the East.

Logically, Nate should be the front-runner for the Coach of the Year award. I don’t really see a reason why he shouldn’t be. The Pacers have never gotten the spotlight that some other teams get, but this just can’t go unnoticed.

Of course, McMillan’s not the only one who should be in the conversation. Let’s run through some other worthy candidates.


Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks

There’s really no explanation needed here. If it wasn’t for Bud, the Coach of the Year award would probably be Nate’s to lose.

Budenholzer has designed the Bucks’ game-plan completely around Giannis Antetokounmpo, and why wouldn’t he? We all know about Khris Middleton, a guy who can go and get 20 points on any given night, but let’s not forget about all the shooters that Giannis is surrounded by. Budenholzer has put Malcolm Brogdon, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, and Ersan Ilyasova out there, all of whom complement Giannis perfectly.

We knew Budenholzer was a good coach during his days with the Hawks, but he’s taken it to a different level with the Bucks.


Kenny Atkinson, Brooklyn Nets

If I would’ve told you before the season that the Brooklyn Nets would be a playoff team, you would have laughed in my face.

What Atkinson has done with this up-and-coming Nets squad is pretty special. Early in the year, he handed Caris LeVert the keys to the car and was on his way to the Most Improved Player award before a leg injury sidelined him. In his stead, Atkinson turned to D’Angelo Russell, who played so well he was named to his first All-Star game.

Atkinson has helped make Russell one of the most potent scoring threats in the Eastern Conference. It’s gotten to the point that D’Angelo is expected to push 30 points every night. During his Lakers days, you could see the talent under the surface (and certainly what made him the #2 pick in the 2015 draft), but he could never quite put the pieces together. Now, with Atkinson, he’s found his groove and is about to lead Brooklyn to its first playoff berth since 2015.


Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets

After two consecutive late-season heartbreaks, Mike Malone has finally gotten the Nuggets over the hump.

Malone has morphed Nikola Jokic into a top 5 MVP candidate, molded Jamal Murray into Denver’s point guard of the future, and made Gary Harris one of the most dangerous sixth men in the league. The Nuggets have been hanging around the top of the Western Conference standings for most of the season and they could very well end up with the top seed.

You could see that Malone had solid coaching chops during his tenure with Sacramento. Remember, it was under his watch that DeMarcus Cousins became the force he is today. Now, he’s done it again with Jokic.


Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors

Nick Nurse isn’t going to win Coach of the Year, but I thought I should mention him here.

After Masai Ujiri wheeled and dealed this summer for Kawhi Leonard, he replaced Dwane Casey with Nurse. So far, all Nurse has done is make Ujiri look like a genius, making the Raptors a serious contender in the process.

Like I said, he's not going to win, but he should be mentioned.

If I had to bet, I’d say that Budenholzer will take home the award. Still, I’d vote for Nate if I could. Getting to see what he’s been able to do first-hand has really been awesome, and I hope that the voters can see it as well.

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