Jason March - Memphis Hustle
Team record: 30-12
Call-ups: Dusty Hannahs, Jarrod Uthoff, and Matt Mooney
For the third straight year, the Memphis Hustle entered the 2019-20 G League season after previous lead man Brad Jones left to become an assistant with the Grizzlies. Although this was his first year with the Hustle, March was no stranger to the Grizzlies organization as he was with the franchise from 2007-16 working as an advanced scout and in the video room. Despite spending the prior three years as an assistant for Sacramento, the new head coach still appeared right at home through being able to successfully implement the Grizzlies’ gameplans at the G League level.
This was most apparent on the offensive end as the Hustle finished the pandemic-shortened season averaging 113 points per 100 possessions, which placed them as the best scoring team in the G League. The team’s high-powered offense was led by a well-rounded core as Dusty Hannahs, Josh Jackson, Yuta Watanabe, and Jarrod Uthoff all averaged more than 15 points per game for the team. Even when a few of those players were called up to the NBA, the team was able to still put up ones as March’s system put rookies Shaq Buchanan or Ahmad Caver in a good position to have some huge games late in the season.
Chase Buford - Wisconsin Herd
Team record: 33-10
Call-ups: Rayjon Tucker
After entering the G League for the 2017-18 season, the Wisconsin Herd struggled during their first two years where they finished 21-29 and 12-38, respectively. That rough stretch pushed the organization to relieve their inaugural head coach Jordan Brady of his duties shortly after the end of the 2018-19 season. Following an extended search, the team announced on July 29th that long-time G League assistant Chase Buford would be taking over that gig.
From the jump, the team looked completely different through being a defensive-minded team that also pushed the pace on the offensive end. Their ability to stop offenses is seen from how opponents averaged just 105.3 points per 100 possessions against the Herd, which stood as the fourth lowest average in the G League. On the other end of the floor, the dynamic trifecta of Jaylen Adams, Frank Mason, and Rayjon Tucker were the leaders of a high octane offense that finished second in the G League in pace by averaging 108.8 possessions per 48 minutes.
Those factors combined with a strong rotation pushed the team to finish the shortened season with a league-best 33-10 record. Considering how the franchise was just twelve months prior, Chase Buford is an undeniable finalist for G League coach of the year.
Martin Schiller - Salt Lake City Stars
Team record: 30-12
Call-ups: Juwan Morgan, William Howard
Way back in mid-December, this site featured a piece about why the Stars were one of the hottest teams prior to the G League Winter Showcase. That article was centered around how tremendous defense pushed them to on-court greatness as they were a cohesive unit that was able to constantly switch. This skill really prevented opposing teams from getting a lot of open looks inside the paint or from beyond the three-point line.
Despite versatile big William Howard leaving the team on December 27th to sign a two-way deal with the Houston Rockets, the Stars tremendous play on the defensive end continued through the remainder of the season. For the year, opponents averaged just 105.1 points per 100 possessions against the Stars, which was the third lowest average in the G League. That tremendous work had a lot to do with opposing squads only shooting 31% from beyond the arc against Salt Lake City.
Although defense was a tremendous anchor for the team, they weren’t bad on the other end as they stood as a top-10 offense. Yet again, their solid play on that end comes through the team working together as a cohesive unit with moving the ball around and creating open perimeter looks. That fact is evident by how the Stars shot 37% from beyond the arc on 33.3 attempts per game.
Nate Reinking - Canton Charge
Team record: 29-14
Call-ups: Levi Randolph, Tyler Cook, Marques Bolden, Malik Newman, JP Macura, Sir’Dominic Pointer, Sheldon Mac
During most of the previous decade, the Canton Charge consistently stood as one of the league’s best team as they made it to the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons from 2011-12 through 2016-17. Although they never made a Finals appearance, that run was still remarkable when you consider how drastically rosters change every year in this league.
Unfortunately for the team, that run came to an abrupt end in 2017-18 as they finished the year at 22-28. Weirdly enough, they had the same record in the following year, Despite being there for those two seasons of lackluster play, Nate Reinking remained the head coach of the team as the 2019-20 season began. That decision paid off in huge ways for the Charge as a tremendous late season run vaulted them to finish the year at 29-14, which had them finish 2nd in the Eastern Conference. If you want to learn more about that late season run, make sure to check out the pieces breaking down their work on the offensive and defensive end.
Darren Erman - Maine Red Claws
Team Record: 28-14
After Brandon Bailey was promoted to be an assistant coach for the Celtics following two years with the Red Claws, the organization looked to outside sources to find the replacement. The person to take that job was the experienced Darren Erman, who spent the prior four seasons as an Associate Head coach for the New Orleans Pelicans. Before that role, he worked with the Celtics from 2007-08 and the Warriors from 2011-14.
The Celtics’ organization’s decision to hire an experienced coach to lead their G League paid off in major ways. Finishing the pandemic-shortened season with a 28-14 record, Erman’s leadership pushed the Red Claws to be a top-10 team on both ends of the court. From a defensive perspective, opposing teams averaged 106 points per 100 possessions, which placed then seventh in the G League. Behind a strong collective effort, their offense was strong enough to average 110.4 points per 100, which placed them eighth in the G League.
Although the Red Claws didn’t have any players get called up, that status as a well-rounded unit combined with the progression of rookies Bryce Brown and Tremont Waters are the biggest reasons why Darren Erman deserves to be a finalist for Coach of the Year.
Ty Ellis - Stockton Kings
Team Record: 24-19
Call-Ups: Gabe Vincent and Eric Mika
When you compare Stockton’s record with some other G League teams whose head coaches weren’t included, it might not make sense for Ty Ellis to be included on this list. However, the fact that Stockton stood as the 4th seed in the Western Conference is kind of stunning when you consider what they had to deal with.
Heading into the year, NBA veterans Tyler Ulis and Hollis Thompson looked like they were going to be the two leaders of the team. However, they combined to play only 13 games for the team as they both struggled with injuries. As they were still on the rosters while rehabbing, the Kings weren’t able to bring in additional players that could help out. In addition to not having those players, standout center Eric Mika spent a month playing in the Chinese Basketball Association while elite scorer Gabe Vincent signed a two-way with Miami in early January.
All of those moves led to the Kings having some games where they only have seven or eight players that were able to actually play. Surprisingly, Stockton was able to put up 112.7 points per 100 possessions, which placed them second in the NBA G League. Each of those factors is why Ty Ellis stands as one of the finalists for Coach of the Year.