In my official awards prediction for the 2022-23 season, I put down Michael Malone as the Coach of the Year. After years of succeeding with the Denver Nuggets, I think this season will see him finally take home the highest honor for a coach.
Malone has been in the conversation for a few seasons now, either by leading the Nuggets to a top seed in the Western Conference, keeping an injury-riddled roster in the playoff picture, or finding value on the edges with veterans or rookies.
Entering the 2022-23 season, the Denver Nuggets are at full strength and it’s the first season that Malone will find himself under championship pressure. I have complete faith that the regular season machine, headed by Nikola Jokic, will once again have home-court advantage in the playoffs and Michael Malone will garner some of the praise.
One cause for concern with the Nuggets is that two of the team’s best players, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray, are major injury concerns this season. Even if they’re both at full strength, the pair will be resting games throughout the regular season which could hurt the team’s win total.
On the other hand, if Malone can keep a top-four-seeded pace with this roster while substituting the stars with less-proven, younger players, Malone will receive some credit (as he has for the past two seasons). The coach is traditionally tough on young players, opting to lean on veterans to win games, but he has found diamonds in the rough and turned a lot of questionable rookies into stable rotation pieces.
Additionally, this team finds itself struggling on the defensive end in the preseason. Still, the defensive-minded Malone will get some of the credit for making this unit stingy enough on that end.
Jokic is a much-improved defensive big man but the defensive holes in Jamal and MPJ will make this a tall task for any coach. A top-five offense paired with a top-half defense will put Denver solidly in the league’s elite.
Malone will also see a boost for the past few seasons with the Denver Nuggets. Whether it’s fair or not, the Coach of the Year award is typically given to coaches with a few successful seasons behind them and a storyline to follow.
Monty Williams won the award last season after multiple years of being in the conversation and making the Phoenix Suns one of the West’s premier forces. Tom Thibodeau won the award the season prior after turning around a struggling New York Knicks team. Dwane Casey won the award after several seasons of excellence with the Toronto Raptors.
That’s not to say that first-year coaches that breathe new life into an organization aren’t awarded (Steve Kerr, Mike Budenholzer, Nick Nurse, etc.) but it’s Michael Malone’s turn to win.