So many times in the NBA, it comes down to the name on the back of the jersey. Pro basketball is arguably one of the most star driven sports because if you have one of the best players in the game, you’re all but guaranteed success. Look at a sport like football or baseball where simply having a great player can mean almost nothing in the broader spectrum of things. So in sports like those, if the players aren’t making a huge difference it obviously has to be the coach. Coaching in the NBA however is vastly under rated and just because they coach a team that’s good doesn’t mean they’re responsible as much as their stat players are. It’s tricky I know but it’s also fun to analyze exactly who are truly elite in the coaching trees and who aren’t. So here’s a list of what I believe are the top coaches in the NBA.

5) Steve Clifford

Clifford is barely in his second season as a head coach but has already ascended himself to the elite ranks. Clifford has totally turned around a Charlotte team that just two years ago had only won 9 games in the lockout shortened season of 2011-2012. Last summer, after the signing of Al Jefferson, owner Michael Jordan hand selected Clifford to lead this new era and he has not disappointed. Despite injuries, Clifford led the then Bobcats to the playoffs last year while establishing his teams identity as an old fashioned hardnosed defensive hustler that also prefers post ups rather than three’s which led to Jefferson having a career year. Clifford simply thinks differently than most 3 point minded NBA coaches and he looks poised to be on the Charlotte sideline for the foreseeable future.

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4) Doc Rivers

Rivers resume speaks for itself. When he has good players to work with, he’s competing for championships and even when his teams have down years, they’re still making the playoffs. Rivers built his name as the coach of the Boston Celtics (winning the 2008 championship in the process) before being traded to the Clippers for a 1st round pick. Rivers is a player’s coach in every sense of the word, always adapting to his teams style instead of stubbornly doing things the other way around. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin as elite players on his roster, his team is viewed as strong contenders to come out of the West in June.

3) Rick Carlisle

The Mavericks coach is only one of four active coaches with a ring (Rivers, Erik Spoelstra and Popovich being the others) and it’s easy to see why. Carlisle has a lot of shades as the top guy on our list Popovich in that he is very quite and laid back and knows he doesn’t need to prove his worth to his players like many coaches in the league. Carlisle, a former champion with the Celtics as a player in 1986, is probably the best offensive coach in the league as his teams always share and shoot the ball well each season. Carlisle struggles a bit on defensive principles which have always been his teams Achilles heel. Nonetheless he continues to never over react in times of winning or losing and this season with the best roster he’s had since that 2011 championship, is also a strong contender to win the West.

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2) Tom Thibodeau

“Tibs” simply refuses to lose. He prepares his teams, regardless of the personnel to win. Thibodeau has had a rough past two seasons in which Derrick Rose missed virtually both of them. However, his teams still stayed the course and eventually both made the playoffs while keeping his famous defensive principles intact. The coach was also the head assistant on the 2008 champion Celtics that also was highlighted by their defense. Simply put: Thibodeau can really coach defense and motivate his players to play his defense and the success has certainly come.

1) Gregg Popovich

Who else can be number one? Popovich is one the greatest coaches of all time. Popovich is probably the best coach from a development standpoint ever, always turning no names into championship caliber contributors. Names such as Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and a slew of role players weren’t even considered that good entering the league and “Pop” has developed them. Winning 5 titles in a 15 year span is also pretty astonishing, considering he’s done it with the same core players. Popovich simply changes the thinking of his players and even his opponents and he’s always so witty in his words and his coaching philosophies. He may not be on the sideline for much longer, despite signing an extension recently, so appreciate one of the greatest while he’s still coaching.