In part 6, we compare all current NBA coaches on two crucial factors: experience and regular season success. In part 7, which will be in the next game report, the one for the Hornets game, we will compare all current NBA coaches in playoff experience and in playoff success.
HOW KARL’S COACHING EXPERIENCE AND REGULAR SEASON SUCCESS COMPARE WITH THOSE OF OTHER COACHES
TOTAL EXPERIENCE: TOTAL NUMBER OF GAMES COACHED BY NBA COACHES
The first number is the total number of games, the middle number is the number of regular season games, and the last number is the number of playoff games.
1 Golden State Don Nelson 2366 2200 166
2 Miami Pat Riley 2127 1845 282
3 Utah Jerry Sloan 1947 1772 175
4 LA Lakers Phil Jackson 1614 1358 256
5 Denver George Karl 1598 1457 141
6 Houston Rick Adelman 1418 1280 138
7 LA Clippers Mike Dunleavy 1231 1160 71
8 San Antonio Gregg Popovich 1040 897 143
9 Detroit Flip Saunders 1029 948 81
10 Boston Doc Rivers 651 629 22
11 Portland Nate McMillan 621 605 16
12 New Orleans Byron Scott 620 580 40
13 Philadelphia Maurice Cheeks 522 512 10
14 Washington Eddie Jordan 491 471 20
15 Seattle P.J. Carlesimo 464 452 12
16 Phoenix Mike D'Antoni 450 404 46
17 Indiana Jim O'Brien 419 388 31
18 New York Isiah Thomas 390 375 15
19 New Jersey Lawrence Frank 371 333 38
20 Toronto Sam Mitchell 298 292 6
21 Atlanta Mike Woodson 289 289 0
22 Dallas Avery Johnson 270 228 42
23 Orlando Stan Van Gundy 262 234 28
24 Minnesota Randy Wittman 252 252 0
25 Cleveland Mike Brown 243 210 33
26 Milwaukee Larry Krystkowiak 66 66 0
27 Charlotte Sam Vincent 48 48 0
28 Memphis Marc Iavaroni 47 47 0
29 Sacramento Reggie Theus 46 46 0
30 Chicago Jim Boylan 20 20 0
In every employment, in every business, in every pursuit of any kind, experience is supposed to produce efficiency and effectiveness in performance. Basketball coaching is no exception. NBA coaching is not a simple thing, and coaches with more experience have a substantial advantage over coaches with less. Therefore, you should tend to see that the coaches with the most experience will also tend to have the best win-loss records. This is exactly what you do see.
Coaches who have been repeatedly stuck early in their careers with bad teams that can not be improved enough to become winners will inevitably get fired after a few years, at the most, and they will never reach what you might call the “permanent head coaching career level,” which I would say is at about 500 games or so.
In a class of their own as the most experienced NBA coaches are Don Nelson-Warriors and Pat Riley-Heat. The third most experienced NBA coach is Jerry Sloan-Jazz. Phil Jackson-Lakers and George Karl-Nuggets are virtually tied for fourth. There are really only 3 coaches in the NBA who have coached substantially more games than Karl has: Nelson, Riley, and Sloan.
Rick Adelman, who is out to get one of the last two playoff berths in the West, is the 6th most experienced Coach. Don Nelson of the Warriors is also gunning for one of the last two seeds. Should both of them succeed, it would probably mean devastation for the Denver franchise, since the Nuggets most likely will not even make the playoffs if that scenario plays out.
The only other coaches who have coached more than 1,000 games are Mike Dunleavy-Clippers, Greg Popovich-Spurs, and Flip Saunders-Pistons. Following the 9 coaches who have the huge experience of more than 1,000 games coached, there is a huge drop-off. The 10th most experienced coach is Doc Rivers-Celtics, with 651 games. Should there be a Lakers-Celtics Championship this year, which seems to become more likely with each passing week, the Celtics’ Coach will be less than half as experienced as the Lakers’ Coach, which will give the Lakers a key advantage, especially if the teams are otherwise about equal.
The other coaches who are much less experienced than the top 9, but who have reached the permanent head coaching career level of 500 games, where they have some protection from being fired if they can not turn a bad team into a winner, would be Nate McMillan-Trailblazers, Byron Scott-Hornets, Maurice Cheeks-76’ers, and, soon to be qualified, Eddie Jordan-Wizards.
CURRENT NBA COACHES RANKED BY CAREER REGULAR SEASON RECORDS AS OF FEBRUARY 4, 2008
The first number is the regular season winning percentage, the middle number is the number of regular season wins, and the last number is the number of regular season losses.
1 Dallas Avery Johnson 0.763 174 54
2 LA Lakers Phil Jackson 0.699 949 409
3 San Antonio Gregg Popovich 0.674 605 292
4 Miami Pat Riley 0.646 1191 654
5 Orlando Stan Van Gundy 0.611 143 91
6 Houston Rick Adelman 0.609 779 501
7 Phoenix Mike D'Antoni 0.606 245 159
8 Utah Jerry Sloan 0.601 1065 707
9 Cleveland Mike Brown 0.600 126 84
10 Detroit Flip Saunders 0.593 562 386
11 Denver George Karl 0.588 857 600
12 Golden State Don Nelson 0.573 1261 939
13 New Jersey Lawrence Frank 0.532 177 156
14 Indiana Jim O'Brien 0.518 201 187
15 Philadelphia Maurice Cheeks 0.494 253 259
16 Boston Doc Rivers 0.491 309 320
17 LA Clippers Mike Dunleavy 0.486 564 596
18 Portland Nate McMillan 0.483 292 313
19 Sacramento Reggie Theus 0.478 22 24
20 New Orleans Byron Scott 0.476 276 304
21 New York Isiah Thomas 0.475 178 197
22 Toronto Sam Mitchell 0.452 132 160
23 Chicago Jim Boylan 0.450 9 11
24 Washington Eddie Jordan 0.446 210 261
25 Seattle P.J. Carlesimo 0.431 195 257
26 Charlotte Sam Vincent 0.375 18 30
27 Milwaukee Larry Krystkowiak 0.348 23 43
28 Minnesota Randy Wittman 0.333 84 168
29 Atlanta Mike Woodson 0.304 88 201
30 Memphis Marc Iavaroni 0.277 13 34
Avery Johnson, who has coached a relatively small number of games, 270, is the most successful regular season coach in the NBA right now. But Phil Jackson, who has won about 7 of every 10 games he has coached, has a far more impressive record than Johnson, because Jackson has coached almost exactly 6 games for every 1 game coached by Johnson.
Trailing Jackson in both experience and success, by small margins, is Greg Popovich. Pat Riley has been an extremely successful coach as well; he’s 4th in success and 2nd in experience.
Among those who have not yet reached 500 games, Stan Van Gundy is most likely the coach who has the greatest probability of becoming a permanent, career head coach, because his success has been substantial. Just behind Van Gundy and with at least 6 0f 10 games won, is Rick Adelman-Rockets, Mike D’Antoni-Suns, Jerry Sloan-Jazz and Mike Brown-Cavaliers. Like Van Gundy, Brown is likely to become a permanent, career coach, unless general managers decide that LeBron James deserves all of the credit for the Cavaliers success and Brown deserves almost none.
In sum, there are 9 coaches who have achieved the 6 in 10 games won or better mark, which I would call the absolute minimum level needed to qualify to be further considered as to whether they might be an historically great coach. Then there is a group of 5 coaches who are over .500, but under the 6 in 10 games threshold. These would be Flip Saunders-Pistons, George Karl-Nuggets, Don Nelson-Warriors, Lawrence Frank-Nets, and Jim O’Brien-Pacers.
So it would appear that Karl is a good Coach, or at least used to be a good Coach, but he comes up a little short as to whether he might be a great Coach. Close counts only in horseshoes, right? Saunders, Karl, and Nelson are all highly experienced coaches who come up short as to whether they might be truly great coaches. Of the 9 most experienced coaches, there are 5 who qualify as very possibly historically great, Jackson, Popovich, Riley, Adelman, and Sloan. And there is one Coach who is less successful than the partially successful trio of Saunders, Karl, and Nelson: Mike Dunleavy-Clippers. Dunleavy is the only heavily experienced Coach who has a losing regular season record.
The bottom line is that George Karl is one of 9 heavily experienced NBA coaches, but he is not one of the 5 heavily experienced NBA coaches who have achieved a regular season record of 6 out of 10 games won or better. Karl is 18 wins short from that mark and the odd thing is, I am certain he would have those 18 and probably more just from his Nuggets job, if he were truly a great coach. Because the Nuggets are not winning as many games as they should be this year, and nor did they last year.
The Nuggets are exactly the kind of team that a great coach can take to a 54 or 58-win season. Were the Nuggets coached by any of the top 5 NBA coaches, Jackson, Popovich Riley, Adelman, or Sloan, I am certain that they would win 54-60 games this season. Under Karl, they are projected to win 48 games and, astoundingly, have a substantial risk of missing the playoffs.
Exactly how well the Nuggets would do were they coached by Johnson, Van Gundy, D’Antoni, and Brown is more uncertain, since these four, while more successful than Karl in win percentage, are not heavily experienced coaches. However, as an educated estimate, I would say that Johnson, Van Gundy, or D’Antoni, were they coaching the Nuggets this year, would produce 50-54 wins, and would be able to insure that the Nuggets would make the playoffs without having to worry about it right up to and including the last week of the season. Brown would be a wildcard, and all bets would be off with him, because his success may be mostly due to LeBron James.