Miami Heat: ESPN Coach Rankings Disrespectful To Erik Spoelstra

Mar 3, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra calls a play against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Orlando defeated Miami 110-99. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 3, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra calls a play against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Orlando defeated Miami 110-99. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

On Wednesday, ESPN released its NBA head coach rankings and Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was ranked below Brad Stevens and Steve Kerr. This is an insult to his ability.

ESPN released a ranking of the 30 NBA head coaches, based on a variety of factors that were all considered by a panel of journalists and forecasters. When I opened the article, I expected to see the excellent Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra in second or third position.

Unfortunately for Spoelstra, and basketball fans, Steve Kerr and Brad Stevens found themselves ranked above Spoelstra in what is one of the strangest rankings I’ve seen in quite some time.

Spoelstra probably won’t care what a panel from ESPN think of him, but the fact of the matter is that his ranking is an absolute insult to his overall ability and the legacy he has built in Miami.

What makes Spoelstra such an excellent coach is that he has experienced the top and the bottom, he has had to consistently adapt his systems to changing personnel and he thinks outside the box as a coach.

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For example, the Heat ran a drive-heavy offense in the LeBron James era, but Spoelstra adapted the offense to an isolation offense after LeBron went back to Cleveland.

He did this to maximize Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson and although Spoelstra’s preferred style is to keep the ball moving, he built an offense around his personnel.

Now the Heat run an offense that is much more three-point happy than it was previously and there is a much higher emphasis on a drive-and-dish style game, with a lot of pick and roll and off-the-dribble action.

Most coaches often have one system they can coach, but Spoelstra has been able to run three totally different offenses in his nine years as Miami Heat head coach and this is why he is a better coach than the likes of Stevens and Kerr.

Miami Heat
Miami Heat /

Miami Heat

The constraints Spoelstra has had to work under in 2016-17 are far more testing than anything than Stevens or Kerr has had to deal with. Spoelstra lost two franchise players and was handed D-League players such as Rodney McGruder and cast-offs such as Dion Waiters and James Johnson.

Spoelstra hasn’t once complained about this and he has quietly gone about building a carefully designed offense and a defensive system that has stifled James, James Harden and Stephen Curry in recent weeks.

Kerr is a good coach and he may well be a great one, but he hasn’t achieved what Spoelstra has and he hasn’t had to thrive in different types of environments.

Kerr inherited a good roster and, to his credit, he brought in Alvin Gentry to run an up-tempo offense and he preached a defensive culture that they didn’t have under Mark Jackson.

But Kerr hasn’t had to deal with player departures and he has not had to re-design an offense in a three-month period.

Spoelstra’s eye for player development is also incredible and he has developed a series of role players over his career in Miami. Take Norris Cole in his early Heat days, Spoelstra worked hard with him and molded him into a serviceable backup point guard despite his limited talent.

He also rebuilt the career of Hassan Whiteside by putting him in a position to succeed, but also by giving him some tough love. Kerr and Stevens have no doubt developed role players and young players, but not to the same extent as Spoelstra in Miami.

This isn’t in any way meant to be a knock on the ability of these coaches, I just find it baffling that a supposed wide-ranging criteria has managed to put two much less-experienced and decorated coaches above Spoelstra.

One of the factors was “long-term success” and this is one area Spoelstra trumps Kerr and Stevens, as he has been a coach for much longer and he has delivered hardware to South Beach in the process.

The other two coaches have one championship between them and Stevens doesn’t even have a playoff series win. If their criteria is “short-term and long-term success,” then there is no way that Stevens should be ranked above Spoelstra.

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On the whole, I was sure that Spoelstra was beginning to gain more respect from journalists and pundits.

But after reading this article, it is clear that there are some people in the profession who are grossly underrating his work not just in this season, but in previous seasons when Miami had their famed Big Three.

People are of course entitled to their opinions, but the most concerning thing here is that their criteria doesn’t actually work, as Stevens has not had more long-term or short-term success than Spoelstra.

If Spoelstra had flopped this year, then the ranking might be justified, as Spoelstra wouldn’t have been thriving after the loss of three Hall of Fame-caliber players, but the fact he has got a very limited roster as a favorite to earn a playoff spot shows that he deserves to be ranked among some of the all-time great coaches.

Longevity shouldn’t be the determining factor, but when longevity includes success in different ways, different styles and with differing circumstances all the time, then it should be taken into account.

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If Erik Spoelstra manages to get this Heat roster to make noise in the postseason, then his critics will likely have to start giving him more notice and more respect, as a Miami Heat playoff series win would be one of the biggest shockers in recent years.