There are a variety of paths one can take to becoming an NBA head coach. Erik Spoelstra was a video coordinator who worked his way up the ladder. Tom Thibodeau was a longtime assistant who proved his worth until he got his big chance. Brad Stevens and Billy Donovan came from the college ranks.
Yet one of the most popular paths into the ranks of the coaches is as a former player. 10 of the league’s 30 head coaches at the time of writing are former NBA players. From 2011 to 2021, ten seasons, 40 former players were a head coach for some amount of time.
That means looking at the current rosters around the league could yield a number of players who will one day be head coaches. Yet how do we predict which players fit the bill? A few players might be vocal about their desires to coach, but for most we need to connect the dots ourselves.
Looking back at those 40 former players, we see a few trends. The most obvious one is the position that they played while in the league. 26 of the 40 (65 percent) were point guards or combo guards, a logical connection from running things on the floor to running things from the bench.
Another trend is team success. 15 of the 30, 50 percent, won a title while a player. Another handful were on clear contenders who made it to the Finals but didn’t quite break through. Playing for a team that saw a high level of success perhaps taught these players how to lead a winner themselves, or proved that they knew how to overcome adversity and still accomplish the goal.
Individual player success didn’t seem to have much correlation; for every Steve Nash and Paul Westphal there was a Keith Smart, who became an NBA head coach after playing just two games in his career. Only 11 of the 40 (27.5 percent) made an All-Star Game as a player.
Using these trends as guideposts, as well as a few more logical ones (playing for a Hall of Fame coach, fighting through adversity, etc) we will seek to identify potential coaches from the field of active (and very recently retired) players. We’ll start with some journeyman players and work our way up to the top tier of perennial All-Stars. Here are the 30 players in the NBA who should be head coaches one day.