In a year when one team is on the verge of breaking the all-time NBA record for wins in a single regular season, it seems crazy to suggest their coach should not win Coach of the Year.
To be honest, it is crazy to suggest that, so I won’t, although the argument could be made that, even though he was involved regularly, Golden State coach Steve Kerr wasn’t *technically* coach for the first half of the campaign.
Yet, flying under the radar with very little credit, Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger has done a remarkable job, with the team just a couple of wins away from a sixth successive playoff appearance.
So why is it such an incredible job that Joerger is doing when this Memphis team won 55 regular season games last year and made it to the second round of the playoffs, where they took two games from the eventual champions?
Quite simply, injuries. There is hardly a single player on the entire Memphis roster who has not struggled without one problem or another all year long.
Memphis have played a grand total of 27 players so far this year, which has tied the season record set by the Dallas Mavericks in the 1996-97 season, and signed Bryce Cotton from the D-League to a 10-day contract on Friday, who will be player number 28 if he makes an appearance for the Grizz.
Currently, the Grizzlies are without two of their star players, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, as well as three backup and rotation players in PJ Hairston, Brandan Wright, and Jordan Adams.
Gasol is out for the season while Conley is targeting a comeback for the playoffs if Memphis are to make it, yet somehow with all of this going on around him Joerger has managed to continue forcing his team to churn out victories in the most unlikely of scenarios.
The Grizz have been relying on players who had been out of the NBA or who have little to no experience of NBA basketball in recent weeks and months, which just illustrates the incredible work being done by Joerger and his coaching staff, as many other teams would have crashed and burned had they been placed in similar circumstances.
Just because Memphis are not a franchise that inspires league wide viewership and are a small-market team, people appear to be overlooking the work that he has done to keep his team afloat throughout this period, and it should not be understated.
It embodies the ‘grit and grind’ mantra of the franchise in the way that the team has been able to overcome such misfortune throughout the course of the season, and huge credit must be given to the players on the team for fighting on even with the odds stacked against them.
For Joerger to be able to guide a group of team-mates who have been thrown together and had to adjust to each other’s games on the fly in recent weeks speaks to the quality of a coach who will be around the NBA for many years, and Memphis fans will hope, at the Grizzlies.
A crushing late-game home loss to Toronto on Friday night could have virtually secured playoff basketball for the Grizzlies had they been victorious, however the four-win gap to ninth-placed Houston could already be enough to make the postseason, and Memphis fans will certainly hope so, as their remaining six games on the schedule are not kind to the team.
Even if they do manage a top eight finish, the severity of Gasol’s injury ruling him out for the season it makes it unlikely that they would stand much of a chance in a series with no home-court advantage, but that would not take anything away from their achievements.
Last year’s coach of the year award was given to Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, who, even though his side did not win the most games, helped make his good squad into a fantastic team for a year, with every player playing at the highest standard possible.
This just showed that sometimes you should not reward the team, or coach, who have simply won the most, but instead the one who has overcome the most challenges and still found great success. This season Joerger has done that to an even greater extent.
Whether he wins coach of the year or not is up to the voters but, whatever happens, this season has most definitely cemented Joerger as one of the best, and most underappreciated, coaches in basketball.