Budz or NN? For the second year in a row, the 2020 NBA Coach of the Year boils down to a two-man race between Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks) and Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors). Last season, Budenholzer edged out Nurse to win the 2019 Coach of the Year. According to a recent update, oddsmakers in Costa Rica list Nurse as a +125 favorite to beat out Budenholzer at +300.

NBA Coach Year Mike Budenholzer Nick Nurse Milwaukee Bucks Toronto Raptors
Mike Budenholzer, head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, during a game at Fiserv Arena. (Image: Michael Conroy/AP).

Last season, Nurse won a championship with the Raptors in his first year as an NBA head coach, but Budenholzer won his second Coach of the Year title. He previously won in 2015 with the Atlanta Hawks. He’s trying to lock up his third Coach of the Year trophy in the last six seasons.

Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors) +125
Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks) +300
Billy Donovan (Oklahoma City Thunder) +750
Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics) +800
Frank Vogel (Los Angeles Lakers) +1200
Erik Spoelstra (Miami Heat) +1300

Nurse hopes he can join Dwane Casey (2018) and Sam Mitchell (2007) as the other two coaches from the Raptors to earn the distinguished honor by their peers in the NBA.

Billy Donovan became a late dark horse entry into the Coach of the Year race. In what should have been a rebuilding year, Donovan led the Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24) to the fifth-best record in the stacked Western Conference. He generated 40 wins without Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Thanks to a three-guard offense (Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Sixth Man of Year favorite Dennis Schroder), the Thunder went on a 29-10 tear before the shutdown.

The Year of the Nurse

Nurse, a second-year NBA head coach, won the championship with the Raptors in his rookie season on the sidelines. Without Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors still look good this season, which is a testament to Nurse’s coaching ability.

Leonard got most of the credit for leading the Raptors to their first NBA title, and deservedly so. Leonard became a one-man wrecking crew in the postseason, including his series-winning shot against the Philadelphia Sixers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

After Leonard departed for sunny Los Angeles to sign with the Clippers, Nurse cobbled together the second-best squad in the east. The Raptors (46-18) had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at the time of the shutdown on March 11. Only the Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) and the LA Lakers (49-14) won more games.

Even without Leonard, the rest of the team stepped up to fill the gap. Pascal Siakam (23.6 ppg) emerged as the team’s best scorer and consensus MVP. Kyle Lowry (19.7 ppg) saw his scoring increase by 5.5 points per game. Meanwhile, sharpshooter Fred VanVleet (17.6 ppg) emerged as a potential recipient for the year’s Most Improved Player.

A Freak Grows in Milwaukee

Not every coach knows how to handle a budding superstar. In his early days with the Chicago Bulls, Doug Collins designed an offense around Michael Jordan. Jordan could score at will, but the Bulls couldn’t surpass the Detroit Pistons. Once the Bad Boys enacted the so-called “Jordan Rules,” it made it even more difficult to survive in the postseason.

The Bulls didn’t win a title until Phil Jackson took over as head coach. Jackson implemented Tex Winter’s Triangle Offense, which boosted the rest of the Bulls offense.

Budenholzer hopes to fade the ghost of Doug Collins. He’s a stellar coach, but he doesn’t want to become known as the guy who couldn’t win a title with the Greek Freak.

The Bucks (53-12) had the most to lose when the coronavirus-induced shutdown rocked North America. The team had been on pace to win 70 games, which only happened twice before in NBA history. If/when the NBA resumes, who knows the degree to which the layoff will hurt the top teams, like the Bucks.

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