Solid Mike Malone still the man to watch

There is a solid saying in African folklore, that when a young man is cleaned up, he becomes fit to wash his hands, sit up and eat with the elders. Well this may be remotely close to what Mike Malone has done with the Denver Nuggets in the last two years or so. It all didn’t start well for Malone after elevating from assistant coach. His brief spell at the Sacramento Kings had little to write home about. His sacking in December 2014 after starting the 2014/15 season with an 11-13 win-loss record said all about his time with the Kings. However, his experience after serving as an assistant coach for well over a decade before the Kings job was never to be overlooked, and Denver Nuggets saw the gem in him in 2015. Seven months after meeting his sack, he was back in the NBA as a head coach. Eight years later, Malone would lead the Nuggets to their first ever NBA title and with basketball experts on Wincomparator tipping him among favorites in the 2023-24 playoffs, there are all the indications the coach isn’t done yet.

From underdog to favorites for second title

The shift from leading the underdogs to winning the NBA title, and being a top contender for the second straight championship didn’t happen overnight for Malone and the Nuggets. Malone’s first ever NBA title came alongside the team’s first championship win. Before that though, he had shown glimpses, in leading the team to finish as the second seed in the Western Conference in 2018-19, behind the Golden State Warriors. That, he did after leading the team to a 54-28 record and the Nuggets had their first playoff berth in six seasons, going all the way to the semi finals. There are reports of his father trying to persuade him to take another career path after early failings but the determined Malone we’ve come to interact with never gave an ear to such counsel. He knew he would reach the NBA pinnacle and here we are.

Pundits also betting on Daigneault for the title

Whether he will bag a second title is a matter of time. There are many other determining factors, among them being the amount of experience in the coaches he’s competing with. Top on this list has to be Mike Daigneault, the Oklahoma City Thunder coach. Daigneault is a nominee for Coach of the Year after his heroics with the Thunder this term. He has been a top figure on the touchline, leading the youngest ever team to clinch number one seed for the playoffs. Daigneault has Orlando Magic’s Jamahl Mosley and Minnesota Timberwolves coach Chris Finch as opponents for the Coach of the Year gong. It says a lot about the Thunder coach, who also has in his team an MVP nominee in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. OKC, having last been in the playoffs five seasons ago, is the motivation Daigneault needs to counter the best coaches this year. Pundits also place him among favorites to win the title, and he will definitely want to overshadow Mike Malone’s exploits.