Assessing Scott Skiles’ NBA Coach of the Year candidacy

Oct 28, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Scott Skiles reacts against the Washington Wizards during the second half at Amway Center. Washington Wizards defeated the Orlando Magic 88-87. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 28, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic head coach Scott Skiles reacts against the Washington Wizards during the second half at Amway Center. Washington Wizards defeated the Orlando Magic 88-87. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Scott Skiles has succeeded in his mission to improve the Orlando Magic. That makes his place in the NBA Coach of the Year race an interesting discussion.

With the benchmark date of Christmas gone by on the NBA calendar, it is a fair time to evaluate what individuals are in the running for awards at the end of the season.

When discussing the Orlando Magic, head coach Scott Skiles might have the best case for capturing a league-wide trophy.

Certainly, Skiles is in the short conversation for NBA Coach of the Year honors. A few weeks ago, our friends at Hoops Habit assessed his chances and also came away with a favorable conclusion.

At the moment, Skiles has the Magic at 17-12, good for sixth place in the East, and only three games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for first place. This, in and of itself, is an impressive achievement.

Without even looking at any specific numbers, the fact Skiles has Orlando in playoff contention with basically the same roster Jacque Vaughn/James Borrego slogged through 2015 with is significant.  When evaluated against the backdrop of a much more competitive East this year, it looks even more impressive.

Skiles has improved the Magic across several key statistical categories. He was brought in to get the talented athletes already on the roster to play better defense and they have accomplished that mission so far.

Last season, Orlando ranked 28th in the league with teams shooting 46.3 percent from the field against them. Contrast that to this year where the Magic are currently 10th in the category with 43.7 percent.

Despite not having the most talented glass crashers, Orlando is also a top-10 rebounding squad and up nearly three boards a game from last year. Their defensive rating has improved from 105.2 to 100.5, 12th in the league.

From the eye test, Nikola Vucevic has become a much more dedicated defender and greatly improved rim protector. Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo also appear to be using their natural defensive abilities in the Skiles system better.

Their success on defense has paid dividends on offense. While not shooting significantly better from the floor, the Magic are scoring more points by getting more chances.

The metrics work in Skiles’ favor, but so too do the juicy headlines that voters will review at season’s end.

He has pushed all the right buttons from benching Vucevic and Oladipo during one game and later completely removing Oladipo from the starting lineup to jump start his team. The turnaround in the team’s record that is sure to come too will get Skiles plenty of notice from voters.

One can question if Skiles’ methods will be effective long term, but the immediate results have made his moves look like master strokes. The team is playing on edge for their coach, but not so much that they fall off the cliff and crash.

Ultimately what becomes most important for Skiles’ chances to win Coach of the Year is where his team sits in comparison with his competition.

It is impossible for a coach who does not reach the playoffs to win the award and extremely difficult at least if he does not have his team in the upper half of either conference.

There has not been a NBA Coach of the Year with less than 50 wins since Sam Mitchell went 47-35 with the 2008 Toronto Raptors. No coach has taken home the hardware with his team hovering around .500 ironically since Doc Rivers finished exactly 41-41 with the Heart and Hustle group in 2000.

This is not a time to fret about those actualities when it comes to Skiles’ candidacy however. Despite the current historic achievements of the Golden State Warriors, none of the other top teams in the league are overachieving on expectations enough for their coach to get a crack at the trophy.

Additionally, the Warriors have the complicated situation of whether Luke Walton or Steve Kerr should be the candidate from their franchise considered. Right now, the Coach of the Year honoree looks like it will come from one of the East’s plucky playoff contenders.

The Raptors’ Dwane Casey, Indiana Pacers’ Frank Vogel, and, again ironically, the Detroit Pistons’ Stan Van Gundy all have similar records and cases when compared to Skiles. If Brad Stevens’ Boston Celtics or Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets go on a tear, they could also play their way into the conversation.

Ultimately, it looks like Skiles chances to win Coach of the Year are very good. He is at least one of the early favorites.

Next: Scott Skiles helped push the Orlando Magic to the next level

The coach out of that group that gets his team to differentiate themselves from the pack should be awarded.