Stan Heath - Lakeland Magic
In a league where rosters can change drastically every week and the amount of teams tend to balloon on a yearly basis, the Lakeland Magic have remained a consistent playoff team since Stan Heath took over as the team’s head coach in 2017. During the team’s first three seasons, they maintained a 85-57 total record. Although they never made it to the G League Finals during that time, as they lost a 108-106 heartbreaker in the 2019 Conference Finals to Long Island and dealt with a pandemic-shortened season in 2020.
Although they weren’t able to reach that final level, Heath’s ability to keep the Magic as a playoff contender, no matter which players filled their roster is impressive.
That consistency remained in the short 2021 season in the Disney World Bubble as Lakeland finished the regular season with a 9-6 record, which gave them the 6th seed for the playoffs. As I described in a piece from a few days after they won the G League title, the team’s success during the regular season and run in the playoffs came through an elite defense. During the regular season, opponents averaged a league-low 100.7 points per 100 possessions. The next team, the Memphis Hustle, were two-and-a-half points worse as the opposition put up 103.2 points per 100 against that squad.
While the team’s defensive success can be linked to great point of attack ball stoppers like Tahjere McCall or rim protectors like Jon Teske and Mamadi Diakite, the fact that the team was able to play together as a cohesive defensive unit. That chemistry was apparent when you watched them play as their switching was quick and on point while the guards and bigs worked together with stopping opposing players that were working to drive towards the paint.
A lot of the credit should go to the work that Stan Heath did during a short training camp which happened to only feature three players from the prior season (Antonio Campbell, Andrew Rowsey, and Justin Jackson). That predicament along with the team’s postseason success and run to the title allows Heath to be one of our finalists for Coach of the Year.
Patrick Mutombo - Raptors 905
Before Stan Heath’s Lakeland Magic caught fire on both ends of the court on their run to the G League title, Patrick Mutombo’s Raptors 905 stood as the toast of the NBA G League. During the regular season, the 905 went 12-3, which ended with a massive eight-game winning streak. That sustained excellence allowed them to maintain an all-time G League-best 80% winning percentage.
As I explored in a film deep dive following the regular season, the team’s success came through their offense. Not only did that offensive attack lead the G League, as they averaged 118.6 points per 100 possessions, they absolutely dominated as the second closest competitor was the Westchester Knicks, who were six points behind at 112 points per 100. That history-making doesn’t just stop at this year as that per 100 average was enough for them to be an all-time best G League offense in league history.
As was the case for Lakeland Magic’s fantastic defensive effort, the 905’s all-time best offense was through tremendous teamwork from everyone involved as the team showcased great on and off-ball movement. Along with that, they shared the ball well and created a lot of open perimeter chances, as they led the G League in both assists (27.1 per 100 possessions) and 3-point percentage (38%).
Although that great offense wasn’t enough to take them towards the promised land as they lost in the 2nd round to the Magic, Patrick Mutombo doing his work as a coach to allow everyone to buy in and work at a historic level during the regular season is more than a good enough reason to have him be included as one of our finalists for G League Coach of the Year.
Ryan Pannone - Erie BayHawks
After a rough 1st year as Erie head coach during the 2019-20 season, where the team went 13-30, coach Pannone looked to redeem during the following season. The team did exactly that as they finished the regular season with a phenomenal 11-4 record, good enough to tie the Santa Cruz Warriors as the 2nd best team in the NBA G League.
Unlike the 905 or Magic whose success was due to them being brilliant on one end of the ball, the BayHawks were different through being solid on both ends of the floor. On offense, the BayHawks finished third through scoring 111 points per 100 possessions, which placed them just behind the 905 and Westchester. That great play on the offensive end was largely to how efficient they were around the rim through shooting a league-best 69% field goal percentage in the restricted area on 29.4 attempts per game.
Moving onto the defensive end, Erie remained solid through allowing their opposition to average 105.3 points per 100 possessions, which placed them 8th in the G League. While that positioning put the BayHawks in the upper-half of a season that included 18 teams, it doesn’t tell the full story of the season. In fact, Erie stood as a top-5 defense during the first ten days of the G League season until NBA veteran Jordan Bell suffered an injury on February 20th that ended up sidelining him for the remainder of the regular season.
While the team itself ended up being sidelined by a Lakeland Magic team that hit 23 threes in a 139-112 victory over Erie, that defeat shouldn’t take away from the work that the team did during the regular season. The fact that Erie was able to be a top-10 team on both ends, even after losing a big that played 157 NBA games, is impressive in itself and a testament to the work that Ryan Pannone did as the team’s head coach this year.
Kris Weems - Santa Cruz Warriors
Dating back from when the team moved from North Dakota to Santa Cruz in 2012, every coach that has led the team from Nate Bjorkgren, Casey Hill, and Aaron Miles have maintained a winning percentage above .500. In terms of team success, the headliner of that was Hill as he was the head coach of a Santa Cruz team led by James Michael-McAdoo, Darington Hobson, and Elliot Williams that won the 2015 D-League title.
Unfortunately for the organization, they hit a roadblock in their path towards continued success during the 2019-20 season, where they finished with a 21-21 record before the premature end for the season. For first-year head coach Kris Weems, that solid but unspectacular year could’ve been looked at as disappointing.
In a similar vein to his predecessor Aaron Miles, who pushed the Warriors to 34-16 one year after going 23-27, Weems was able to take the lessons that he learned as a rookie coach to have success in his 2nd year. In a completely new environment and a new team, the Warriors’ success took a 180 degree turn as they finished the regular season with a 11-4 record. Similar to Erie, who ended the year with the same record, Santa Cruz’s success came through being great on both ends of the floor. In fact, the Warriors were the only team to finish in the top-5 on both ends of the floor as they were 4th on offense (scored 109.8 points per 100) and third in defense (103.3 points allowed per 100 possessions).
Honestly if it was any other year, this type of production would have the Warriors stand as the best team in the G League if the Raptors 905 weren’t such an absolute force during the regular season. That claim comes from how their 6.6 net rating stands behind the 2021 905 as the 2nd best net rating in the G League since the 2017-18 season.
Santa Cruz’s spectacular play on both ends of the floor and progression from the 2019-20 season are great reasons as to why head coach Kris Weems stands as one of the finalists for Coach of the Year.