With each team now at least 60% completed with their regular season, the end of season awards contenders are becoming more and more evident with each game. While players like Jarnell Stokes and Elliot Williams stand out as contenders for MVP, the men patrolling the sidelines also deserve some recognition.
In the past, the Dennis Johnson Coach of the Year Award has primarily went to the coach that leads the NBA D-League team with the best record, as has been the case in four of the last five years (with former Canton Charge head coach Alex Jensen being the outlier), so it's clear that Dan Craig of the Sioux Falls Skyforce is hands down the leader of the pack through this point, but he's not without competition.
Though the Skyforce have led the way thus far, a portion of the Coach of the Year voting seems to stem from year-to-year improvement from a team. When Scott Morrison won the award last year, he led the Maine Red Claws to 16 additional wins compared to the previous season and when Eric Musselman won with the Los Angeles D-Fenders in the 2011-2012 season, his team saw a 22-win jump from the year before.
With this in mind, it wouldn't be reasonable to rule out a candidate other than Craig. Though he is the odds on favorite, there are a few others that stand out as being able to take home the award this year.
David Arsenault Jr. - Reno Bighorns
Now in his second year with the Bighorns, Arsenault has been able to make things click in a way that they didn't last year. As Ridiculous Upside editor Keith Schlosser laid out a few weeks ago, Arsenault has made a concentrated effort to improve his team on the defensive end and the results have been immediate. After finishing last year a dismal 20-30, the Bighorns now stand second in the entire league with a record of 23-11.
Still only 29-years old, Arsenault's adjustments going into this year have been enormous and they show the type of potential that convinced the Bighorns to hire him in the first place. Coming from the Grinnell College fast-paced system that was developed by his father, Arsenault has been able to make the necessary tweaks for it to be a success at the D-League level. With the team's overall success, the development shown by players like Vince Hunter and Ricky Ledo throughout the year and the team's improvement from last year, Arsenault has built just as good of a case as anyone.
Mike Miller - Westchester Knicks
While the overall landscape of the D-League is much different than other professional sports leagues, the Knicks looked exactly how you would expect an expansion team to perform last year. Closing out the season with a 10-40 record, a change was made on the bench and former Austin Spurs head coach Mike Miller was brought in to lead the team. The results so far have been better than the team could have hoped, as they currently stand at 19-16, good for second place in the Eastern Conference.
Miller has been able to aid in the development of rookies like Darion Atkins and Travis Trice, while also helping former lottery pick Jimmer Fredette find the role that is he is best suited for. The team has gone just 6-11 over their past 17 games after a hot start, so Miller is going to have to right the ship and finish the season strong to stay in contention.
Casey Owens - Los Angeles D-Fenders
After finishing last year with a 17-33 record, the D-Fenders chose to move on from coach Phil Hubbard and hire Conner Henry one season after he was named Coach of the Year with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Before he could get started in Los Angeles, however, he accepted a position with the Orlando Magic. Following all this re-shuffling, the team wound up hiring Casey Owens, a coach who had once worked as an assistant for them.
The decision to go with a familiar face is looking to be a wise one, as the team has already surpassed their 2014-2015 win total as they stand third in the Western Conference with a 20-16 record. They've turned it on as of late, winning seven of their last ten, and Owens has the team firing on all cylinders offensively as they make their push towards the playoffs. If they can continue their strong play throughout the last 30% of the season, Owens is going to make the decision for Coach of the Year a tough one.