April 03, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale speaks to his players during the third quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena. The Houston Rockets defeated the Sacramento Kings 112-102. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The Houston Rockets are on the edge of being in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Yet, their orchestrator, head coach Kevin McHale, still is not getting any recognition as a candidate for NBA Coach of the Year.
McHale has led the Rockets to exceed all expectations this season, and currently has them at 43-34, and clinging to the 7th seed in the western conference. Since taking over as head coach, McHale’s record in Houston is currently 77-66.
When general manager Daryl Morey hired McHale two years ago, he didn’t want McHale to install a system that would lead a specific team. Because the team was at a crossroads, from trying to clear cap space after the Yao Ming–Tracy McGrady era ended, to filling the roster with average/above-average players to stockpile the team’s assets, Morey wanted somebody who could coach a specific process instead.
And that is what McHale has done this season. Because the team’s roster would be constantly shuffling, McHale decided to put an offensive system that would let players play a free, open game, which has worked to an extremely high degree so far this season. Currently, Houston is in the top 10 in advanced offensive statics such as Offensive Efficiency, Pace, True Shooting Percentage, Three-Point Attempts per Game, Attempts at Rim per Game, and Fast-Break Points per Game. The Rockets Pace (points per 100 possessions), at 98.5 is first in the NBA, while they lead the league in Three-Point Attempts per Game, and are second in Attempts at Rim per Game, three aspects that the Rockets put in their formula in order to achieve success before the season.
But what has been more impressive has been McHale’s ability to create and maintain team chemistry amongst the players, with so much personnel changes and shuffling of the roster the last two years. Only two players on the current roster, Chandler Parsons and Greg Smith, were at training camp in McHale’s first season, and only 8 players out of the current 15 were in training camp this season.
After finishing between 9th and 10th place the last three seasons, the Rockets were picked by many to finish in 10th place or lower in the very competitive west. As of April 8th, they are in command of the 7th seed, with 6th place theirs for the taking.
Yet, McHale is nowhere to be found as a candidate for coach of the year. Instead, the likes of a Mark Jackson, Tom Thibodeau, Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra, Lionel Hollins, Frank Vogel, and George Karl are classified as legitimate candidates in the eyes of most “experts”.
With the exception of Jackson, the rest of the field has taken their respective teams to numerous playoff appearances. While each coach has done a tremendous job with their teams this year (i.e. Thibodeau guiding the Bulls without Derrick Rose, Vogel taking the Pacers to second in the East without Danny Granger), McHale has guided the Rockets with a roster that, at the beginning of the season, was pretty much unproven.
As the youngest and most inexperienced team in the league, the Rockets came into the season with three starters in new and expanded roles. James Harden, who had been a sixth man during his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder, would be a starter and the focal point of the team. Omer Asik, who had been a reserve with the Chicago Bulls, was a player who played between 10-20 minutes a game and would be a starting center for the first time. Jeremy Lin, who after his incredible rise, was still somewhat an unknown commodity in terms of what kind of player he would be, had a lot to prove to not only his new team, but to critics all over the world. Not to mention others who have stepped up such as Chandler Parsons, Carlos Delfino, Patrick Beverly, Greg Smith, etc. the Rockets had a roster that was unrecognizable to the average NBA fan coming into the season.
Yet, they are poised to make a run in the playoffs.
Who Should Win the NBA Coach of The Year Award?
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Total Voters: 138