If you asked the average NBA fan who Mark Daigneault was two years ago, you’d probably get more than a few blank stares. Just the second-youngest head coach at the time of his hiring, Daigneault has largely flown under the radar since taking on the mantle.
After last year’s performance, though, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas are starting to take notice. OKC Thunder Head Coach Mark Daigneault is entering the 2023-24 season with the best odds for the NBA’s Coach of the Year award.
What is the path for Mark Daigneault to take home the Coach of the Year trophy in the 2023-24 NBA Season?
Last season, he led the Thunder well beyond their preseason expectations. Even with critical injuries, Oklahoma City fell just one Play-In Tournament win shy of making the playoffs.
Mark Daigneault placed second in last season’s Coach of the Year voting behind Mike Brown and his historically good Sacramento offense. Could he claim the title of Coach of the Year this upcoming season?
Like the MVP award, narratives often determine Coach of the Year. Common narratives for Coach of the Year include:
The Overperformers – Teams expected to be bad that turns out to be very good. Ex. Scott Brooks and the 2009-10 OKC Thunder won 50 games after going into the season with an over/under of 34.5 wins.
The Steamrollers – Teams that are so profoundly dominant that their coach must be rewarded. Ex. Steve Kerr and the 73-9 Warriors.
The Pioneers – Teams whose coach introduces a successful, revolutionary style of play. Ex. Phoenix Suns Coach Mike D’Antoni won the award in 2004-05 with the Seven Seconds or Less philosophy.
I struggle to see this Thunder squad falling neatly into one of those archetypes. Overperformers need to have low expectations going into the season. With an over/under of 44.5 wins, OKC doesn’t fit the mold of an “Overperformer” team. “Steamroller” is extremely unlikely, reserved for historically great teams.
Daigneault is known for frequently experimenting up and down the roster and could end up with a “Pioneer” type narrative around his team.
Last season’s lineups with Kenrich Williams at the center spot had that air of innovation around them. But predicting that a coach is going to shift the paradigm of basketball dramatically is foolhardy.
So what will Coach Daigneault need to do to bring home the Red Auerbach trophy this season?
- The Thunder will need to win many games—fifty at the very least. Only four coaches in the past twenty years have won COTY with 50 or fewer wins.
- Finishing the season top five in either Offensive or Defensive Rating OR finishing top ten in both Offensive and Defensive Rating. This goes hand in hand with winning a lot, but history shows that most COTY winners led an elite offense or defense.
- OKC must make the playoffs and be a top-four seed in the West. Eighteen of the past twenty teams with a COTY winner finished in the top four in their conference. If OKC wins fifty games but winds up as the sixth seed, it may not be enough to earn Coach of the Year.
It’s certainly possible that OKC will take the league by storm and accomplish these lofty ambitions, but it would require another massive leap.
Fortunately, the Thunder have a couple of additions in Holmgren and Micic, plus the continued growth of the young players on the roster.
If everything falls into place and the Thunder takes the league by storm on their way to 52 wins and a top-four seed, Daigneault would almost certainly be voted the 2023-24 NBA Coach of the Year.