Orlando Magic's Stan Van Gundy Among NBA's Coaching Elite, Says New Study

Anyone paying attention to the NBA over the last four seasons ought to admit, regardless of what they make of Stan Van Gundy's three-point-happy offense, he's one of the league's better coaches. Indeed, the only teams with better records Van Gundy's Orlando Magic since he took over in the summer of 2007 are the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. While the talent available to Van Gundy certainly makes him look good, talent alone can't explain how a team with precisely one brilliant player can hang with the Los Angeleses, Bostons, San Antonios, and Dallases of the world.

Evaluating coaching performance analytically is tough work, but Ian Levy of Hickory High and Indy Cornrows has devised what I find to be a fairly solid way to do so. I'll let him explain his method, which he believes adequately evaluates a coach's ability to allocate minutes properly:

[W]e’re comparing the percentage of lineups which outscored the opposition, with the percentage of time those lineups were on the floor. For our purposes here, we’ll consider the difference between those two percentages, positive or negative, as a representation of a coach’s ability to manipulate their roster.

His findings? Van Gundy had the fifth-best single coaching season over the last four, the 2008/09 campaign in which he guided the Magic to the NBA Finals. Further, the only coach with a cumulative rating better than Van Gundy's is the Lakers' Phil Jackson. As Jackson retired after last season, Van Gundy ranks as the league's most effective active coach, according to Levy's measure.

That's not to say he's perfect; Van Gundy's most recent season ranks as the worst of his Magic tenure, according to this metric... and yet that's still the 15th-best of all coaches over the last four seasons.

Levy concedes his metric--which he hasn't yet named--has flaws. And no metric can account for off-the-court aspects of coaching, such as leadership, the ability to communicate with one's players, and so on.

Still, Levy's work here makes another strong case--one beyond simple wins and losses--for Van Gundy as one of the league's truly elite coaches.

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