As we get closer to the beginning of the NBA season, more season preview posts are being written. Over at CBS Sports, they began their season preparation with some rankings. Matt Moore wrote a post ranking head coaches based on a scale of most likely to get coach of the year (highest) to most likely to be fired (lowest), with explanations for the rankings. It's a great post that I highly suggest giving a look.
The obvious question for Hornets fans here is, "Where is Steve Clifford ranked?" and they'll be happy to see that he's very high up on the list. Given a number rating of 7.5, Clifford is right below the top tier of coaches that include Doc Rivers, Greg Popovich, etc.
Moore heaps praise on to what Clifford accomplished. His ability to create a top-tier defense despite the lack of a true rim protector, his ability to get everybody to buy in, and of course, the team's willingness to make the right play. It might feel silly to think a coach should be praised for that, but it's rarer than one would think.
What I personally praise Clifford for — and Moore mentions this too — is his ability to strike a balance between getting through to players and enforcing a system based on accountability. He's not a players coach. Players aren't going to walk all over him, but he's not going to grow weary on them with discipline. This is fairly rare and something we only see in guys like Doc Rivers. Even a coach Clifford worked under, Stan van Gundy, someone I think is one of the five best coaches in the NBA at bringing out talent, doesn't have that balance.
Where Moore puts Clifford is fair, and it's probably where I'd have him as well. That top tier is very difficult to reach without playoff success, but I don't think it will be long until Clifford is in the discussion as one of the best coaches in the NBA.