Wait, before you send in your ballot for rookie Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, look at the Atlanta Hawks. Please. Sure, Kerr’s likable and familiar (you’ve seen him win five championships and he played with that guy), but Mike Budenholzer is performing as well as any coach in recent history. The Hawks are 24-2 since Thanksgiving. That’s extraordinary. They play beautiful, unselfish basketball on offense and they absolutely lock down on defense–the two greatest accomplishments of any coach.
Budenholzer took over the Hawks in May of 2013 just as guard and leader Jeff Teague re-signed with the team. Those two moves, along with getting shooting star Kyle Korver in 2012, planted the seed that is now a mighty oak of a team. (Or take your pick of trees–it’s Atlanta.) Their names won’t be announced on All-Star weekend, but other Hawks that keep opposing players awake at night include Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll, Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroder and Shelvin Mack. Budenholzer is, like them, a winner just to the side of the spotlight. Before taking over the Hawks he was a key assistant to Gregg Popovich in San Antonio for 17 years, during which time the Spurs became one of the winningest sports franchises in history.