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The 2023-2024 Nine NBA Coaching Tiers: Part Three

Mike Brown Coaching Tiers
(Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

As a fresh NBA campaign rapidly approaches, it is predictions, tiers, and rankings season across basketball media. Back Sports Page has already dipped our toes in the preview game so far, as we have already published our previews for all of the divisions. Additionally, last month, our team collaborated on picking the best games to watch during the first half of the year.

With all rosters decidedly set, a complete and clear examination of teams can begin. What better place to start than with the stewards of the group, the head coaches?

Introducing the 2023-24 Head Coach Tiers List! The tiers are not strictly based on who is good and who is terrible at their job. That would be too simple. Ordering them in tiers adds important context and filters coaches based on their situation.

The tiers can and will change this season. So, these rankings are just the first and are not final. Updates will be published at various points during the season.


Tier 4: Good Coaches of Young Teams… And Mike Brown

Will Hardy Coaching Tier

(Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune)

Will Hardy

Introducing my favorite spot on the rankings, Tier 4; starting off is Will Hardy. A wunderkind of sorts for NBA coaches, teams have had their eyes on him as a head coach for years. In his first year as Utah Jazz head coach, Hardy helped the team exceed expectations in exceptional fashion. Utah’s win total last year was projected to be around 25 wins. In reality, the Jazz won 37. Moreover, another reason Hardy was looked at so fondly was how much his presence was missed by his former team, the Boston Celtics. The step back the Celtics took on defense hails back to losing their lead defensive assistant. 

Having a similar season to last year will be an uphill climb for a team in the packed Western Conference. The Jazz bring back a lot of the same unit that was responsible for last year, including second-year center Walker Kessler who is already one of the best rim protectors. Building the defense around him will make Utah a serviceable defensive team. On the offensive end, it’ll be a mix of a lot of different players who are playmakers, and that’s the point. Utah doesn’t have an alpha yet (sorry, Lauri Markannen), so distributing the touches around will give defenses a lot of different looks. 

Hardy’s career through one season was similar to Brad Stevens’ as a coach. In year two, Stevens brought the Celtics to the playoffs. Oh no, his general manager is Danny Ainge, too! Okay, it’s a lock. Hardy is going to be really good. 


Mark Daigenault 

The team that everyone expects to be the team to make a Sacramento-like leap this season is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Led by Shai-Gilgeous Alexander and a cast of young players, the Thunder have of us all eager to watch. One of the reasons the Thunder are in this position is because of their coach, Mark Daigenault

Hired to not much fanfare two seasons ago, Daigenault has made his imprint on the team just as much as anyone else involved. What is that imprint? Look at how the core has developed under him. Shai Gilgeous Alexander has gone from 23.7 points per game to 31.7 in 2022-2023. It’s not just statistics, either. SGA has been empowered by Daigenault’s offensive scheme to work at his pace. Go down the line of the roster, Josh Giddey, Lougentz Dort, Jalen Williams, etc., all those guys have shown improvement year over year or throughout a singular season.

The biggest reason to get behind Daigenault is the results he achieved last season. Beyond the 40-42 record, a 16-win improvement, the Thunder were also top-15 in both offensive and defensive ratings. It was all done without playing an actual center. Add Chet Holmgren’s versatility to this unit, and Daigenault will have an embarrassment of riches with which he crafts rotations. 


Monty Williams

Out of all of the new head coach signings in the offseason, Monty Williams’ deal with the Detroit Pistons prompted a lot of head turns. That might have something to do with the size of his contract (six-year $78.6 million). Williams might also have acted so quickly in finding a new squad to lead after being fired by the Phoenix Suns. Similarly, the exploration process on the outside looked rushed. 

From a contender’s perspective, Williams would be the type of coach to run a team that is close to winning a championship. His resume includes loads of playoff appearances and an NBA Finals appearance. The teams that came to mind then were the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers. Williams said, “No, thank you,” and if you take a deeper look at the Pistons, you’ll see why that makes sense. 

Williams has always done his best when he can mold a culture with young players. He started as a coach with the New Orleans Pelicans and built those teams up with Anthony Davis to become a playoff team. When he moved to Phoenix, he had a similar effect. He now hopes to do the same with the Pistons, who have been stuck in the same spot for about a decade. Williams is attracted to working with young players, and Detroit fits him. No one should be shocked to see improvement right away from the Pistons. 


Ime Udoka

It’s weird talking about Ime Udoka because ask any basketball mind, and they will go on and on about how good a coach Udoka is. Take his former players’ word for it too. Many of them have waxed poetic about how he is able to connect with players like very few coaches can. That’s why, if you were paying attention last year, the Celtics had a hard time getting past Udoka’s suspension. A what-if that a lot of fans wanted to see was how he would have handled year two with the Celtics. 

The weirdness comes into play for the Houston Rockets because of how Udoka was suspended. Trying to compartmentalize the excitement of Udoka’s coaching with the unease of his dismissal is tricky to navigate. Couple it with the fact that he hasn’t coached in a year, and there certainly is some suspicion to consider. (Even harder to evaluate if you’re trying to create a coaching tiers list!)

What has been encouraging through preseason is the attitude of this Rockets team. There has been a stark contrast between the Stephen Silas and Udoka regimes. With the emphasis on accountability, all the Rockets are doing and saying the right things. How all those ingredients mix together will be fascinating because of the individual personalities (Dillon Brooks, Fred VanVleet, Jalen Green). Still, if one thing is for sure, Udoka will be there to call them out. That could be all that’s needed.


Mike Brown

Who doesn’t love Mike Brown? Seriously, how can you not like this guy? A personable coach, first and foremost, Brown likes to make sure his teams are having fun. And how much fun were the Sacramento Kings last season? They earned their first playoff berth in 16 seasons. They set the record for the best offensive rating in NBA history (119.4). Did I forget to mention the beam? LIGHT THE BEAM! 

Honestly, Brown should be higher on the tiers list for all the good that he did in Sacramento last season. Not to mention, Brown is a veteran coach who has coached in multiple NBA Finals as both an assistant and head coach. His stature and pedigree is unquestioned. The worry is that the Kings won’t reach the heights of last season. That will not necessarily be Brown’s fault. 

Simply, it’s hard to reproduce a season where you break records. The Kings probably won’t be near the 119.4 offensive rating last year for two reasons. First is statistical and shooting regression, which will likely hit the Kings. Secondly, teams now have a year’s worth of tape on the Kings, and scouting departments are good at taking away the best part of teams. It feels like a hard battle to win, so in preparation for a Kings season that could regress, Brown is being placed lower on the tiers first.



Matt Strout is a contributor to Back Sports Page. Matt studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May of 2022. While there, Matt wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. You can catch Matt frequently as a guest on the “Cut The Nets” podcast featured on the Back Sports Page network. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96. 

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