Ranking the NBA’s 10 Best Head Coaches Going into the 2021-22 Season

By Nick Sterling in Sports
| September 16, 2021 7:22 am PDT

Having a superstar player is key to building a successful team in the NBA. However, a team can only go as far as their head coach takes them. That’s why it’s so important to have a great coach.

There are so many great coaches in the NBA. It’s hard to rank 10 that stand out above the rest, but I feel pretty confident with my selections.

Let’s look at the top 10 coaches in the NBA going into the 2021-22 season.

10. Tyronn Lue (Los Angeles Clippers)

Tyronn Lue

Tyronn Lue took over as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers midway through the 2015-16 season.

He led the Cavaliers to their first championship in franchise history. They fought back from a 3-1 finals deficit to defeat the 73-9 Golden State Warriors.

Over the next two seasons, Lue led the Cavaliers to back-to-back NBA Finals. They fell to the Warriors both times.

Lue led the Los Angeles Clippers to their first Western Conference Finals appearance last season.

For his career, Lue is 175-108. He has been fortunate enough to coach great players like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George.

This season will be his biggest test, as Leonard will likely miss the entire season as he recovers from ACL surgery.

9. Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors)

I don’t think Steve Kerr receives enough credit for the Golden State Warriors dynasty.

Kerr led the Warriors to back-to-back NBA Finals before Kevin Durant joined the team. And the 2015 and 2016 team was basically the same team that couldn’t make it to the Western Conference Finals with Mark Jackson.

In his first five seasons, the Warriors made the NBA Finals every season, winning three titles. He is 77-28 in his career in the playoffs.

My opinion of him has dropped slightly as the Warriors have struggled since Durant left following the 2018-19 season.

This upcoming season will tell a lot about Kerr. Klay Thompson is back and the Warriors have their big three that won the 2015 NBA Finals.

Can they recapture that success?

Only time will tell. But everyone knows they have one of the best coaches in the NBA to help them try.

8. Michael Malone (Denver Nuggets)

Michael Malone lasted just over a season with the Sacramento Kings, but he has made his mark with the Denver Nuggets.

He increased their win total in his first three seasons. Denver finally made it to the postseason in the 2018-19 season. Over the last three seasons, the Nuggets have been one of the best regular-season teams.

  • Milwaukee Bucks: 162-65
  • Denver Nuggets: 147-80
  • Utah Jazz: 146-80

The only issue is Denver is 20-23 in the postseason in the Malone era. That keeps Malone from being a top-five coach in the NBA.

He has Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. at his disposal, but Jamal Murray will miss the majority of the 2021-22 season.

It’s time for Malone to step up in the postseason.

7. Doc Rivers (Philadelphia 76ers)

Doc Rivers

Doc Rivers reputation as a coach is all over the place.

He won Coach of the Year in his first season with the Orlando Magic in 2000. Rivers didn’t win a playoff series until he led the Boston Celtics to an NBA Title in 2008.

Rivers returned to the NBA Finals in 2010, but they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Los Angeles Clippers hired him in 2013. Rivers made the playoffs six times in seven seasons, but they never made it to the Western Conference Finals.

In his first season with the Philadelphia 76ers, they finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

However, they fell in the Conference Semifinals.

He really is a top-tier coach but everyone remembers him for his playoff failure.

6. Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks)

Mike Budenholzer has had a standout coaching career. He took over as coach of the Atlanta Hawks in 2013-14. In his second season, he won Coach of the Year after leading the Hawks to a league-best 60-22 record.

The Hawks fired Budenholzer in 2018, opening the door for him to join the Milwaukee Bucks.

In his first season, he won his second Coach of the Year award with a 60-22 record. The Bucks lost in the Conference Finals that season.

Milwaukee finally broke through last season, winning their first NBA Finals in franchise history.

The championship earned him a contract extension.

With Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way, the Bucks have a good chance to win some more championships. Even so, I don’t think they could do it without Budenholzer.

5. Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs)

If this list was ranking coaches by their career accomplishments, Gregg Popovich would no doubt be number one. I mean, check out what he has accomplished in his 25-year career.

  • 5-Time NBA Champion
  • 3-Time Coach of the Year
  • 170-144 Postseason Record

It’s crazy how long Popovich has kept the San Antonio Spurs in contention.

He falls just a bit in my rankings because the Spurs haven’t made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. It’s the first time in franchise history that has happened.

They could be entering a rebuild, but if Popovich keeps this team in playoff contention, he may very well earn some coach of the year votes.

As long as Popovich is coaching, you can never count out the Spurs.

4. Monty Williams (Phoenix Suns)

Monty Williams never had much success in his five seasons coaching the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans. However, he has established himself as one of the best coaches in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns.

Check out the Suns record from 2015-2019. Then, look at their record in Williams’ two seasons.

  • 2015-2019: 87-241
  • 2019-2021: 85-60

Williams took a Suns team that won 19 games in the 2018-19 season to the NBA Finals last year. Acquiring Chris Paul definitely helped their chances, but no one believed they would be that successful.

He finished second in coach of the year voting last season.

I think the Suns are due for some regression this season. At the same time, I believe Williams will have this team in contention.

3. Tom Thibodeau (New York Knicks)

Tom Thibodeau

Tom Thibodeau has bounced around the NBA, but he has improved every team he has coached.

He won Coach of the Year in his first season of coaching with the Chicago Bulls. That team won 62 games and featured MVP Derrick Rose.

Chicago went to the playoffs in all of Thibodeau’s five seasons. However, they made the Conference Finals just once.

From there, he spent two and a half seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves. In 2018, he led them to their first playoff appearance since 2004.

Last season, Thibodeau won Coach of the Year after leading the New York Knicks to the playoffs with a 41-31 record.

New York transformed themselves into one of the best NBA super teams this offseason, but Thibodeau needs to start winning some playoff games.

2. Quin Snyder (Utah Jazz)

Quin Snyder does not receive the credit he deserves. Everyone discounts the Utah Jazz year in and year out, but they are always one of the top teams in the Western Conference.

Over the last five seasons, the Jazz have been the best team in the Western Conference.

  • Utah Jazz: 245-145
  • Los Angeles Clippers: 237-153
  • Golden State Warriors: 236-147

Last season, the Jazz finished with the best record in the league at 52-20. They lost in the Conference Finals, but I think everyone is finally starting to recognize Snyder as one of the best in the game.

It’ll be interesting to see if they can sustain that success this season. Snyder has the talent to lead Utah to the Western Conference Finals.

1. Erik Spoelstra (Miami Heat)

Erik Spoelstra

Erik Spoelstra has been nothing short of amazing in his 13 seasons with the Miami Heat.

He led the squad to four straight NBA Finals from 2011-2014. Having LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh certainly helped, but we’ve seen super teams fall short of expectations before.

Spoelstra always has Miami in playoff contention. Perhaps his most impressive season came when he led the Heat to the 2020 NBA Finals.

The team entered the playoffs as the five seed, but they took out heavyweights like the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.

Miami had a great offseason and should contend for the Eastern Conference title this season. Surprisingly, he hasn’t won a coach of the year award in his career.

Maybe this year will be the first.

Honorable Mentions

  • Steve Nash (Brooklyn Nets)
  • Rick Carlisle (Indiana Pacers)

I wanted to include Steve Nash on this list but he has only coached one season. He has the talent to lead the Brooklyn Nets to the championship this season.

Rick Carlisle led the Dallas Mavericks to nine playoff appearances in 13 seasons. That includes a championship in 2011. He returns to the Indiana Pacers after coaching them from 2003-2007.

There are a few coaches that could jump into the top 10 with a big 2021-22 season. Check out if their team improved or regressed in the articles below.

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