In only his second season as head coach in the NBA, Atlanta Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer was named coach of the year, leading his team to the best regular season in franchise history (60-22). He received 67 first-place votes and a total of 513 points from a panel of 130 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the US, 42 points more than Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who led his team to a franchise-best 67 wins in his first season as an NBA coach.
Last year, in Budenholzer’s first year at the helm, Atlanta went 38-44 to finish eighth in the conference, earning them a first-round series against the number one seed Indiana Pacers. They respectably lost in the first round 4-3 – after leading the series 3-2 – but Indiana’s defense proved too much in the final two games.
This year, Atlanta improved remarkably. They won 60 games, a franchise record, and posted a 35-6 record at home, leading the conference with seven more wins than Cleveland. The huge 22-game improvement is probably what gave him the nod over Kerr to take home the award. Budenholzer led Atlanta to a 17-0 record in one month, the most wins in a single month in NBA history. The Hawks set another franchise record, making 818 three-pointers, ranked second in the league in assists with 25.7 APG and finished in the top five in three-point field goal percentage and fieldgoal percentage.
The early success of Budenholzer might not come as a surprise. Before taking on head coach responsibilities in Atlanta, he spent 16 seasons as an assistant coach under future Hall of Fame head coach Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, where he was part of the staff that won four NBA titles. Atlanta’s style of play resembles that of Budenholzer’s mentor: a pass-first, unselfish, team-oriented approach without flashy superstars who tend to isolate the ball.
In Atlanta, fans are hoping they can mimic the Spurs even more – by winning titles. Meanwhile, Budenholzer’s Hawks are 2-0 up in their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, and are eying a second-round match-up with the Washington Wizards, a team they beat in three out of four games in the regular season.
History teaches us the following: out of the 52 coaches of the year, only 5 were able to win that season’s championship. Gregg Popovich is the only one who won coach of the year and the title in the same season twice. Can Budenholzer follow into the footsteps of this former mentor and deliver the franchise its first championship since moving to Atlanta almost 60 years ago?