It has been a stellar season for the Memphis Grizzlies. They have home court in the first round of the playoffs for the first time ever, and they are on the verge of another special run through the playoffs. For those of you who do not know Memphis plays phenomenal defense, rotates ten players, and is led by one of the best coaches in the NBA.
Hollins is pushing all of the right buttons at the right times and is looking like a leading candidate for the NBA’s Coach of the Year. With the team on the cusp of another magical playoff run throughout the playoffs I see no reason why Hollins should not be a strong candidate for COY.
Sure the Spur’s Gregg Popovich has led an aging core of players to the best record in the NBA, but three future Hall of Famers certainly helps your roster no matter how old they are (the same thing holds true for Doc Rivers and the big three in Boston).
I hear some of you clamoring for Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau. After all, he did lead his team to the best record in the Eastern Conference without his best player (Derrick Rose) for a good portion of the year. Yet, the Eastern Conference is a bit easier than the Western Conference, and shouldn’t degree of difficulty count for something?
Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that if the two teams switched conferences the Grizzlies would leap to the top of the East while the Bulls would be a middle of the pack team in the West, but their records against the opposite conference makes you wonder. The Grizzlies are 15-3 against Eastern Conference opponents while the Bulls are just 11-6 against Western Conference foes.
What about the coach of that team in Oklahoma, Scott Brooks? His young upstart team is the two seed in the Western Conference and poised for a return to the Western Conference Finals. This comes as a surprise to no one, so how can you reward a coach for getting his team to live up to the expectations set for them at the beginning of the year?
Do not worry Pacers fans I will not leave you out. I hear you asking for Coach Frank Vogel. Your team is the third seed in the Eastern Conference after finishing in eighth place last year. And while that feat is to be commended, the Pacers are not a legitimate contender for a NBA title.
Now that I have given reasons why some of the other candidates should not win the award, here are five reasons why Lionel Hollins should be Coach of the Year:
1. Hollins has exceeded expectations
Hollins has taken a team that most critics thought would be a seven or eight seed in the very deep Western Conference and made them into a legitimate title contender. The Grizzlies are the four seed in the Western Conference, which is four spots higher than they finished last season. We expected teams like the Bulls, Spurs, Lakers, and Celtics to have good years. But the Grizzlies have taken a lot of the national media by surprise with what they have been able to accomplish this year, especially with Darrel Arthur out the entire season and Zach Randolph missing games due to injuries.
2. The Grizzlies are a defensive nightmare thanks to Coach Hollins emphasis on defense
The way the Grizzlies dominate opponents on the defensive side of the ball is awe inspiring. This effort can be attributed to Coach Hollins’ emphasis on the defensive end. The team is holding opponents to just 44 percent from the field, leads the league in steals and forced turnovers, and is fifth in the league in opponents’ points per game. On top of that, three Grizzlies (Conley, Allen, and Gay) rank in the top 20 in steals. Hollins has gotten everybody to by in to the system and it is showing in the success that the team is having.
3. No Zach… No problem
Last year’s best player was Zach Randolph, so when he went down just four games into the season there were some questions about whether the Grizzlies were good enough without him to make a playoff run. In fact, most of us were thinking “Hopefully they can keep it close until Zach gets back. Then make a strong playoff push when he gets healthy.” Yet, Memphis did more than just hold onto a playoff spot. The team went 23-15 without Z-Bo and remained in playoff contention during his absence. Coach Hollins is a huge reason for their success during this time. His ability to find appropriate lineups and utilize a player’s strengths while masking his weaknesses helped to carry the Grizzlies during their 38 game stretch without Zach.
4. Hollins has incorporated several new pieces throughout the season very well
The projected starting five at the start of the year (Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph) has barely played together this season thanks to injuries. This lack of continuity can be enough to eliminate most teams from the playoffs, but Hollins has still found ways to coach the team to wins and a consecutive playoff appearance. With the addition of Quincy Pondexter and Dante Cunningham right before the season and Marresse Speights six games into the season, the Grizzlies were in a position where the new players had to learn on the fly. This issue was only exacerbated with the condensed schedule. Having to play every other day left little time for practice, but Coach Hollins did a masterful job getting the new players integrated quickly. And he found ways to use their unique set of skills to help the Grizzlies be effective.
5. Coach Hollins has done a terrific job developing the players on the roster
For an example of this look at… well everybody. He has taken a player like Speights, who rarely played in Philadelphia and turned him into a legitimate starter. Speights is averaging well over his career average in minutes played this season (22.4 this year as opposed to 16.4 for his career) and is posting career highs in almost every category, with numerous double doubles on the year. This season under Hollins, Conley has emerged as one of the better point guards in the league, and is third in the league in assist to turnover ratio. Gay struggled early on during the season, but Hollins found ways to get him more active in the offense by giving him more isolation and back door plays. So now Gay is having a career year scoring the ball (his 19.0 points per game average is good for 17th in the NBA). OJ Mayo has always been a solid reserve, but this year with Coach Hollins’ help he has developed into a viable option at the backup point guard position. Everybody’s game has improved this season and it is thanks to the job Hollins has done developing, motivating, and getting the players to buy in to what the team needs to do to win.
CJ Hurt covers the Grizzlies for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from FedExForum.
Other recent Grizzlies articles:
- Gilbert Arenas On Stan Van Gundy: “He basically sat me in a corner”
- Chris Wallace For Executive of the Year
- Is the Grizzlies Franchise a Success
- Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy Holds No Regrets on Gilbert Arenas’ Role In Orlando
- Makin’ Moves Grizzlies Adjust