By Jeff Wong
Toronto Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell has been called a coach-in-training, a lame duck, the worst coach in the NBA, and just plain bad.
Now you can add “Coach of the Month.” One of these things is not like the other…
Yes, it’s time to stop the outdated jokes. Perhaps the Globe and Mail’s Michael Grange put it best, noting the following positives in Mitchell’s third and best season (so far) as the Raptors’ bench boss:
There’s little doubt Mitchell has been more than a handsome suit stalking the sidelines this season.
Not only are the Raptors better defensively than last season — currently ranked 13th in the NBA in defensive efficiency — but they’ve also improved dramatically through the season, suggesting it’s not just the new faces that have made the difference. The club’s offensive efficiency — 17th in the 30-team league — has also improved steadily…
Also, past rosters offer several examples of former Raptors — Matt Bonner, Mike James and even Rafer Alston — whose best years came playing for Mitchell and no obvious cases of players who have thrived after leaving. Prize rookie Charlie Villanueva (now with the Milwaukee Bucks) improved over the course of last season, as Bargnani has this season.
Sure, Mitchell is by no means the perfect Raptors coach. As The Star’s Dave Feschuk points out, he has been outdueled at times, and his team could have won a few more of those close games early on had he managed his personnel better. Besides, GM Bryan Colangelo may still opt to replace Mitchell with whomever he deems to be a better candidate, whether it’s Marc Iavaroni or someone else.
But let’s not pretend that he’s a bad coach anymore. At worst, call him “mediocre coach,” but no longer “Smitch, the Butt of Jokes.”