NBA Power Rankings: Top 10 Overachieving Coaches In The NBA Playoffs

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Some NBA coaches have developed a reputation for not being able to come through in the NBA playoffs. Coaches such as Rick Adelman and George Karl pop immediately to mind when thinking of coaches who might have underachieved in their playoff coaching careers.

But there is also a group of coaches who have done more with less, coaches who took teams to unexpected heights despite taking lightly regarded teams into the postseason.

Here are the top 10 overachieving coaches in the NBA playoffs from the last 30 seasons, beginning with the 1983-84 season when the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams.

 

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Tags: Bernie Bickerstaff Cotton Fitzsimmons Don Nelson Doug Collins Jeff Van Gundy John Macleod Larry Brown Lionel Hollins Nba Playoffs Phil Jackson Rudy Tomjanovich

  • Michael Dunlap

    Hard to believe some of the names available on the coaching free agent wire. I guess it goes to show that executives are afraid to have someone they can’t control. huh?

    • Phil Watson

      Some of them are, certainly. I can’t see any reason why Lionel Hollins didn’t coach somewhere this season. I did see George Karl’s name among the 14 million candidates being rumored to be connected with the Lakers job, though.

  • Joe Kidd

    Yes and no on the 1990 Suns. Undoubtedly, Phoenix shocked the basketball world and to knock off the 55-win Jazz and the 63-win Lakers in consecutive series, without home-court advantage in either matchup, constituted a sensational accomplishment. Indeed, the 1990 Suns became the only team to defeat both John Stockton’s Jazz and Magic Johnson’s Lakers in the same postseason, and they sent the Lakers to their earliest playoff exit since 1981. But Phoenix didn’t necessarily overachieve. They’d reached the Western Conference Finals the previous year (losing to the Lakers), and in ’89-’90, they actually led NBA in Schedule-Adjusted Offensive and Defensive Ratings, or net points per possession (after finishing second in ’88-’89). In other words, combining offense and defense, the Suns amounted to the single most efficient team in the NBA that season. They also went 35-7 from December 23, 1989, thorough March 16, 1990, before some late-season injuries, primarily to Jeff Hornacek and Dan Majerle, temporarily slowed their momentum. But with those guys back and healthy for the playoffs, the Suns were arguably the best team in the West. Indeed, if you discard Phoenix’s playoff opener, when Kevin Johnson only played 9 scoreless minutes due to a bad bout with the flu, the Suns actually went a combined 7-2 versus the the Jazz and the Lakers during the first two rounds, including a 4-1 record on the road. Then they out-scored Portland by 34 points during the Western Conference Finals, but unfortunately, Phoenix lost four close games by a total of 12 points, the last coming in Game Six at home when Kevin Johnson pulled his hamstring late in the second quarter while hitting a blind, acrobatic layup and sliding across Kevin Duckworth’s chest (think of Blake Griffin’s spectacular layup late in Game Seven versus Golden State, but in a 6’1″ body). K.J. tallied 16 points (4-6 FG, 8-9 FT) and 6 assists in just 14 minutes, after averaging 24.3 points, 14.3 assists, and a .638 field goal percentage over the previous three games. Without that fluky injury, there’s a great chance that the Suns would have at least played in a Game Seven of the 1990 Western Conference Finals, and perhaps this time, they would have broken through in Portland.

    • Phil Watson

      I remember the KJ layup and the hamstring pull. That Suns team in 1990 was a very good one, but got a boost in my rankings because of the late-season slump. It was probably too good a team to be a No. 5 seed, but then (as is the case now) the West was insanely deep. I remember hearing that about the John Stockton-Magic Johnson thing, but didn’t recall it for this piece. Appreciate the additional information on a Phoenix team that was a lot of fun to watch once upon a time.

      • Joe Kidd

        Yeah, I think that given how the Suns stunned the basketball world and given the arduous nature of their accomplishment (defeating both Stockton’s Jazz and Magic’s Lakers in consecutive playoff series, without home-court advantage in either matchup), your citation is certainly fair. The irony is just that the Suns were empirically a much better team than most people acknowledged, then or now, meaning that their victories should not have been as surprising as they seemed.

        And, yes, 1990 represented the time that the West became an incredibly deep conference and it’s been that way, more or less, ever since. Those Suns, like the Lakers, Celtics, and Blazers of that era, were really fun to watch because of the way that the ball moved, which is something that we don’t see as much of nowadays, aside from San Antonio.