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Thunder's Mark Daigneault named 2023-24 Coach of the Year

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Ernie, Charles, Kenny & Shaq reveal the 2023-24 Coach of the Year live on Inside the NBA.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander joked at first when asked what makes Oklahoma City Thunder coach Mark Daigneault good at his job.

“He’s annoying. Always nagging,” the All-Star guard said with a chuckle.

He continued with a more serious tone.

“The best thing about him is no matter who you are, he has a standard,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “And it doesn’t matter if you’ve been here five years, if you’re the best player on the team, if you’re the worst player on the team, if you just got here last week — there’s a standard, and you’ve got to play to it and live up to it on and off the court. I think that’s what’s allowed our culture to be what it is as a group. And it starts with him.”

Those qualities have been rewarded. Daigneault, 39, was named NBA Coach of the Year on Sunday after leading one of the league’s youngest teams to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. He joins Scott Brooks (2010) as the only Thunder coaches to win the award.

The complete voting results for the 2023-24 NBA Coach of the Year. pic.twitter.com/QatGZpJjYj

— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) April 28, 2024

The other finalists were Minnesota’s Chris Finch and Orlando’s Jamahl Mosley. Finch led the Timberwolves to a 56-26 record and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs after they had to go through the play-in tournament to make the playoffs the previous year. Mosley led the Magic to a 47-35 record this season after the team went 34-48 last season.

Milwaukee coach Doc Rivers, who was Coach of the Year with Orlando in 2001, said Daigneault was clearly ahead of the pack this season.

“Working with a bunch of young guys and getting all these young guys to buy in on a championship level — I don’t think people understand how hard that is to do,” Rivers said before the Thunder beat the Bucks late in the regular season. “And the proof is you don’t see a lot of young teams in their position. … It’s easy for me on that one.”

Daigneault spent five years as head coach of the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. He had a .572 winning percentage with four playoff appearances and three division titles. He took over as Thunder coach in 2020 after Billy Donovan left to become the Chicago Bulls coach.

Oklahoma City went 22-50 in Daigneault’s first year as Thunder head coach, and then 24-58 in his second before signs of a turnaround surfaced. Last season, Oklahoma City went 40-42 and reached the play-in tournament, and Daigneault finished second in the Coach of the Year voting.

The Thunder went 57-25 this season and clinched a tie for the best record in the West on the dramatic final day of the regular season.

Daigneault has benefited from having exceptional young talent to develop. Gilgeous-Alexander, 25, finished third in the league with 30.1 points per game this season and is a finalist for Most Valuable Player. Jalen Williams, a first-round pick in 2022, averaged 19.1 points this season after being runner-up for Rookie of the Year last season. Josh Giddey, the sixth overall pick in 2021, averaged 12.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists this season.

But the key addition has been Chet Holmgren. The No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft missed all of last season with a foot injury. This season, the 7-foot-1 center averaged 16.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while creating mismatches on both ends with his versatility. He is a finalist for Rookie of the Year.

Sacramento’s Mike Brown, the unanimous Coach of the Year last season and the winner with Cleveland in 2009, was impressed with how Daigneault created a strong team so quickly with the talent general manager Sam Presti stockpiled.

“To have the type of patience to go through the process, not panic and all be on the same page knowing that it’s a process — it’s just a beautiful sight to see from the outside looking in,” Brown said. “Not many NBA organizations, starting from ownership on down, are like this.”

But it goes beyond having talent to work with. Williams is one of several players who has raved about Daigneault’s communication skills.

“I think any time you can relate to the people you’re teaching, you’re able to get a lot further. … It makes us willing to listen,” Williams said. “He also loves the game, and we can sense that just on how he’s — kind of his approach and how much film and statistics and analytics that he goes through on a daily basis to give us prep for each game. I think when you can see that as a player, I think that makes us want to play hard for him.”

Daigneault said he listens because he knows he can’t do it all alone.

“Ultimately, we’re in it together,” he said. “We’re all working together to try to get to the best thing and we don’t care where that idea comes from. If it comes from a player, comes from a video assistant, it doesn’t matter. We’re just trying to get to the best thing and move in the same direction.”

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