A coach is a motivator, but also a thinker. And no one in the NBA — if you ask the GMs, that is — plans, executes, and shifts strategy better than Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle.
The franchise’s all-time wins leader was voted the head coach who makes the best in-game adjustments in NBA.com’s annual GM survey, earning 41.4 percent of the vote, and edging San Antonio boss Gregg Popovich (31.0 percent) and Boston’s Brad Stevens (13.8 percent). He was also one of six to receive votes for the head coach who runs the best offense, finishing tied for third with new Houston playcaller Mike D’Antoni.
If there’s anything we’ve learned from watching Carlisle work over the years, it’s that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win a game, even if it means benching stars or calling on the deepest reserve to make an impact. His mantra of “stay ready” has motivated backup players to work hard no matter the playing time he’s been receiving, because he could always get a chance in the next game, depending on the circumstances. For example, Salah Mejri had barely played an NBA minute last season before entering late in the game at home against Oklahoma City, but he went on a shot-blocking rampage and led a charge to help the Mavericks turn a double-digit deficit into a one-shot game.
Carlisle also finished second in the best head coach in the NBA category, with Popovich receiving 83.3 percent of the vote. Carlisle earned 13.3 percent. The Mavs’ head caoch had finished second to Popovich in the in-game adjustments category every year since 2011.
Mavs names pop up elsewhere in the survey. After being named the league’s top international player every year but two since 2004, Dirk Nowitzki (22.4 percent of the votes) was surprisingly voted third-best behind Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.6 percent), a first-time winner, and Memphis’s Marc Gasol (24.1 percent). Nowitzki finished second to Gasol in voting last season, but the Spanish center suffered a significant injury which prematurely ended a terrific season. Nowitzki, meanwhile, averaged a team-high 18.3 points to go along with 6.5 rebounds per game, one of the best seasons by any player his age in NBA history.
Antetokounmpo, also known as “The Greek Freak,” is still just 21 years old, but GMs and fans alike are captivated by his athleticism and potential. At nearly seven feet tall, Antetokounmpo began playing point guard for the Bucks toward the end of last season and could continue those duties in 2016-17. He averaged 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game for Milwaukee. All that’s missing from his arsenal is a reliable 3-point shot; he’s just 28.0 percent from beyond the arc in his career.
Fellow international player Andrew Bogut appeared on the list, but in a different category: most underrated player acquisition. He received 10.3 percent of the vote, finishing third behind George Hill to Utah (24.1 percent) and Jeff Teague to Indiana (13.8 percent). That pair finishing 1-2 in the voting is interesting because they were essentially traded for each other in a three-team deal involving Teague’s former team, the Atlanta Hawks.
Bogut is considered a top-flight interior defender and a very good defensive rebounder, and his passing skills have already dazzled Mavs fans just a couple weeks into preseason. The man he replaced at center, Zaza Pachulia, also received votes in the underrated acquisition department, as he’s now in Golden State with Bogut’s former team.