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The 2023-2024 Nine NBA Coaching Tiers: Part Four

Nick Nurse Coaching Tiers
Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports

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 3: Better Than Average, But Slightly Overrated 

Jacque Vaughn 

No coach had a tougher job last season than Jacque Vaughn. After serving as an assistant coach for Steve Nash in seven games, Vaughn was elevated to head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. At that point, the Nets were a team with Ben Simmons, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant, and their record was 2-5. Vaughn turned them into a 45-win team and a six-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Oh, and I forgot to add that Simmons only played in 42 games, and both Durant and Irving were traded? Truly a remarkable job by Vaughn. 

What caused the Nets turnaround? Well, Vaughn empowered new additions Cameron Johnson and Mikal Bridges to be scorers. He also emphasized the defensive capabilities of their team, pushing them into the top 15 in Defensive Rating at the end of the year. 

While not much happened in the playoffs for the Nets, making it there after all the dysfunction and unhappiness during the first part of the year, Vaughn deserves a lot of credit and praise for that. That is why he lands here on the tiers list. Although, as we shift to this season, it’s not like the Nets can take a victory lap or anything. The East will be competitive, and being a six-seed is no guarantee. One thing to look out for is whether Vaughn pushes the pace like he did last season with Ben Simmons this year.  


Chris Finch

Look at the situation Chris Finch is in, and you’d see a potential for a scapegoat at the end of the year. The Minnesota Timberwolves enter the 2023-2024 season with a lot to prove. After a campaign filled with injuries, animosity, and failed expectations, a lot is riding on the T-Wolves bouncing back this season. Not to mention that the Timberwolves have a relatively new ownership group and general manager. Perhaps, indicating that they wouldn’t be afraid to move on. 

In large part, using Finch as a scapegoat would be counterintuitive. For all the reasons listed above, injuries, animosity, etc., could be used in the opposite way to defend Finch from that end. Entering his third full season, Finch has led the T-Wolves to back-to-back playoff appearances. In 2021-2022 ,he helped max out a roster, and with the addition of Rudy Gobert in the offseason, it looked like they were at the very least going to be on the same schedule. What happened was a season of floundering in Minnesota. 

Pretty much the same roster is coming back this year. Finch had his team operating well defensively, as they finished with a top-10 defensive rating. However, even that could be justification for moving on, as the inclination from most is to look at their roster and expect more. That goes for the coach, too. 


Quin Snyder 

When Quin Snyder was let go by the Utah Jazz after the 2021-2022 season, many predicted he wouldn’t be without a job for long. Those people were correct. Snyder wasted no time taking a new gig after the Atlanta Hawks coaching position opened up. Not only did he take the job, but he committed to Atlanta for the long term with a five-year deal. 

Snyder went from relative unknown to being considered one of the best young coaches in the league with the Utah Jazz. That has faded after some bad playoff results, but the type of coach Snyder was in Utah is the prototypical coach for this Atlanta Hawks team. What the Hawks could become in the regular season is tantalizing. Potentially a 50-win team. With the highs come the lows, and on the opposite side of things, there are some problematic similarities between them and those former Hawks teams. 

Snyder wasn’t able to solve those problems then, ;ould a second attempt turn out any better? WhTheawks’ chances hinge on ishow Snyder canncorporate the guys around Young into the offense. Remember, back in Utah, Snyder was able to get Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder to be effective playoff performers. Can the same happen in A-Town with Saddiq Bey, Onyeka Okongwu, and AJ Griffin?


Darvin Ham

Risking my safety by including Darvin Ham in this tier because of Los Angeles Lakers fans. The “But Slightly Overrated” is meant to be endearing, like, “Sure, these coaches are good, but slow down a second on the whole great thing.” That would appropriately define Ham. 

Considering that the Lakers missed the playoffs before Ham took over, and his success last season looks even better. Narrow it even further and focus just on the second half of the year, and Ham was incredible in his role. The cherry on top of it all was a first-round win over the Memphis Grizzlies. What makes it so impressive is that the Lakers also had a tremendous amount of roster fluctuation, and Ham had to make it all work. He was able to deploy Rui Hachimura and Jared Vanderbilt expertly while empowering Austin Reeves to be a playmaker. 

Many coaches have had good first seasons with their teams and struggle in the next one. In what ways can Ham prevent a step-back? Having Anthony Davis and LeBron James will help, but the more Ham can orchestrate them on both sides of the ball, the better they will be. It’ll be interesting to see how Ham integrates more new faces into the rotation. If it goes like last year, he will get bumped up on the tiers list sooner rather than later. 


Taylor Jenkins

Where would the Memphis Grizzlies be without Taylor Jenkins? That’s not one of those complimentary rhetoricals spoken frequently on talk shows. No, it’s a legitimate question. Would the Grizzlies be worse off without Taylor Jenkins? Better even? Perhaps they would stay the same? This is the question facing the fifth-year coach as he enters an important season. 

It would be a mistake to look at Ja Morant’s suspension and think one, the Grizzlies will punt on the season, and second, the Grizzlies can’t win the West. They have a unit of versatile players, including Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, Luke Kennard, Steven Adams, and now Marcus Smart. Those guys are all hungry and motivated, especially when their stars are out. Don’t believe me? Well, believe the record of the Grizzlies when Morant has been out (37-24 all-time). 

That brings us back to Jenkins and his spot on the tiers list, who has been at the helm of this team since the 2019-2020 season. As a thought experiment, re-run last year’s playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers, but Jenkins isn’t coaching. Injuries aside, would another coach have been able to maximize the Grizzlies a little more? Adjustments were needed, and they either happened too late or not at all. Some of this criticism might be too nitpicky, considering Jenkins has not had the full deck in terms of roster availability over recent seasons (they still earned a two-seed). However, it just seems clear that the Grizzlies have more potential, and I’m not sure Jenkins can extract it.


Nick Nurse

In an upcoming tiers article titled “Solid Championship Caliber Coaches,” a notable omission is Nick Nurse. The snub is noticeable because out of the current coaches who have won championships, Nurse isn’t included. To be clear, Nurse is a good coach. Arguably, he is one of the more aggressive coaches who consistently bucks conventional basketball wisdom. That being said, since the 2019 NBA Finals, he hasn’t come close to reaching those heights again. 

No longer the lead man for the Toronto Raptors, Nurse stays in the Atlantic Division but moves to the Philadelphia 76ers to coach. If the job description was just, “Come be the coach of our team that was one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals and that has the reigning MVP,” that would be a sweet gig. However, we all know another job requirement is being thrust into a destructive breakup between Daryl Morey and James Harden. As of now, the stalemate continues in Philadelphia while Nurse tries to conjure up some sort of basketball team. Once again, tactics are Nurse’s bread and butter, but with the anonymity boiling under the surface in Philly, he could be spreading it with a dull knife.

His last season in Toronto did not conclude with a happy ending, and he won a championship with those players. Imagine what the worst version could look like with the 76ers.


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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