Billy Donovan is unlike any other coach making the college-to-NBA jump in the last 20 years.
But Donovan has already proven his uniqueness – by getting himself hired by a good team.
Here are the 10 NCAA-to-NBA coaches in the last 20 years with their NBA team’s wins the season before their arrival (normalized to an 82-game schedule):
Tim Floyd took over the threepeating Bulls – minus Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. Obviously, Floyd did not inherit a team that at all resembled what the chart indicates.
Stevens, the only other coach besides Floyd and Donovan to take over a winner, also didn’t have the players his predecessor did. Before hiring Stevens, the Celtics – who were barely a winning team at 41-40 – traded their two best players (Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets).
Donovan, of course, isn’t getting a dismantled roster. Quite the opposite.
The Thunder’s 45-37 record masks their true ability. Many key players – most notably Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka – missed significant time last season due to injury. If those three are healthy as expected, Donovan has a championship contender on his hands.
He also has a team unlike any of his college-to-pro peers.
Here are the three win-share leaders on each coach’s new NBA team. Because we don’t know how the 2015-16 Thunder will perform, I use the average for Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka the last three years.
Ibaka is running neck-and-neck with Kevin Martin for the third-best player in this group. Durant and Westbrook soar well above everyone else.
Of course, Donovan will be held to a higher standard because of his roster, but it’s often difficult to parse where the contributions of coaches end and players begin. It’s not Floyd’s fault he had to rely on Dickey Simpkins, Toni Kukoc and Kornel David. But it sure made it more likely the Bulls would fire him.
NBA coaches from college usually lose. NBA coaches with good players usually win.
It will be up to Donovan to show which of those factors is more important.