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The 25 Best NBA Coaches By Highest Winning Percentages in NBA History

The NBA has arguably been blessed with more great head coaches in this era than any other. From Chuck Daly and Lenny Wilkins to Gregg Popovich to Doc Rivers and Erik Spoelstra, the current set of coaches has done an exceptional amount of winning. But who are the select few at the top of this prestigious pile? Let’s unpack the histories of the coaches with the highest win percentages in the NBA.

The 25 Best NBA Coaches of All-Time

While total wins are a common metric to gauge the success of NBA coaches, winning percentage offers a more precise indicator of a coach’s effectiveness and consistency. This analysis of the best NBA coaches of all time, ranked by winning percentage, reveals those who have not only accumulated victories but have done so with remarkable regularity, truly defining what it means to be the “best” in NBA coaching. In order to make this list, the NBA coach must have coached at least 5 NBA seasons (minimum 400 games).

Phil Jackson | .704 Winning Percentage

It is impossible to build a list of the greatest coaches and not include The Zen Master. After playing in over 800 games as an eccentric power forward and winning two championships with the Knicks, Phil started coaching with the Continental Basketball Association. He was hired by the Chicago Bulls in 1987 as an assistant to Doug Collins, and he began mastering and promoting the Triangle Offense within the organization. 

After the Bulls fell to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1989, Chicago fired Collins and hired Jackson to take Michael Jordan’s squad to the next level. What followed was arguably the longest stretch of prolonged championship success in NBA history. In just his second season, Jackson led the Bulls to the franchise’s first-ever championship. They won two more after that to complete the NBA’s first-ever three-peat —  and that was just the beginning. 

Jackson led another threepeat between 1995 and 1998 which included that 1995–96 team that went 72-10 and is widely regarded as the best team in NBA history. Jackson would move on to the Lakers after Jordan’s retirement and leading yet another superstar-laden team to championships. From 1991-2003, Jackson won nine NBA championships in twelve seasons as Head Coach of the Bulls and Lakers. For six straight seasons, Jackson-led teams were NBA betting odds favorites to win the championship. He added two more championships in 2008–10 to give him 11 total, the most all time.

K.C. Jones | .674 Winning Percentage

K.C. Jones is remembered in Boston with deep nostalgia for his extraordinary coaching tenure from 1983 to 1988. Steering a Celtics team during a golden era of basketball, he led Boston to two NBA championships in 1984 and 1986 with a coaching style that was characterized by a calm demeanor and an ability to bring the best out of his players, including legends like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, and Robert Parish. Under Jones’ guidance, the Celtics embodied teamwork and excellence, leaving an indelible mark in the hearts of fans and in NBA history. His legacy and .674 winning percentage is cherished for its embodiment of both skill and sportsmanship.

Red Auerbach | .661 Winning Percentage

Before Phil, Red Auerbach was widely regarded as the greatest NBA coach of all time and is still viewed as such by many fans. The 1965 NBA Coach of the Year started coaching Roosevelt High School in 1940, moving to the Basketball Association of America and eventually getting his shot with the Boston Celtics. Between 1950 and 1966, Auerbach led the Celtics to nine NBA championships, including eight straight from 1959–1966. 

After retiring in 1966, he became Boston’s general manager, rebuilding his aging team quickly. As an executive, Auerbach found equal success, winning seven championships with Boston.  In 1980, he did his best work, trading for Robert Parish and the 3rd overall pick, which he used to draft Robert Parish. Two years earlier, he had drafted Larry Bird, constructing arguably the most extraordinary homegrown roster ever. 

Winningest Coaches in NBA History (Minimum 400 gms)
1 Phil Jackson 1,640 0.704
2 Billy Cunningham 650 0.698
3 K.C. Jones 774 0.674
4 Red Auerbach 1,419 0.661
5 Steve Kerr 778 0.653
6 Pat Riley 1,904 0.636
7 Gregg Popovich 2,196 0.629
8 Les Harrison 476 0.62
9 Tom Heinsohn 690 0.619
10 Mike Brown 712 0.61
11 Mike Budenholzer 801 0.604
12 Jerry Sloan 2,024 0.603
13 Chuck Daly 1,075 0.593
14 Erik Spoelstra 1,263 0.592
15 Doc Rivers 1,882 0.589
16 George Karl 1,999 0.588
17 Rick Adelman 1,791 0.582
18 Tom Thibodeau 902 0.574
19 Larry Brown 2,338 0.568
## Mike D'Antoni 1,199 0.560
## Don Nelson 2,398 0.557
## Mike Fratello 1,215 0.549
## Lenny Wilkins 2,487 0.536
## Nate McMillan 1,428 0.532
## Rick Carlisle 1,758 0.531

Remember the above list only includes NBA head coaches that have coached at least 400 games.

Pat Riley | .636 Winning Percentage

We all know Pat Riley now as one of the league’s greatest coaches and executives, but he got his start in a much different way than most. After a nine-year playing career, Riley returned to the Los Angeles Lakers, his former team, as a broadcaster. 

After head coach Jack McKinney was injured in a nearly fatal bike accident, Paul Westhead took over as head coach and made Riley an assistant. When Magic Johnson became unhappy playing for Westhead, Lakers owner Jerry Buss fired him and named Riley his successor.  In his nine years at the helm with Los Angeles, Riley led the team to four NBA Championships and reached the NBA Finals three more times. 

He reached another NBA Finals as the Knicks head coach before spending his final 11 seasons in Miami with the Heat, his longest stint as a coach. In 2005–06, he won his final championship with a team led by Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal.

Greg Popovich | .629 Winning Percentage

Typically, the career arc for legendary head coaches is spending their early years coaching and retirement years in the front office. Gregg Popovich went the other way around.

In 1994, Popovich was hired as the general manager and vice president of basketball operations for the San Antonio Spurs. He had just seven seasons of head coaching experience for the Division III Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens. After his team started 3–15 in 1996–97, Popovich fired head coach Bob Hill and hired himself as the replacement, a controversial move at the time. 

His best player, David Robinson, broke his foot after just six games after returning from a back injury, sidelining him for the season. This caused the Spurs to go just 20–62 on the season, awarding them the #1 overall pick in the 1997 draft, taking Tim Duncan. The combination of Robinson and Duncan immediately paid off, with the Spurs reaching the Western Conference Semifinals in their first year together and winning the championship in 1998–99. San Antonio added Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, winning four more championships with Popovich. He is still coaching today, leading rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama and a rebuilding Spurs squad.

Jerry Sloan | .603 Winning Percentage

As the longtime head coach of the Utah Jazz, Sloan has the dubious honor of being the winningest coach in NBA history without a championship.  After a brief stint with Chicago, Sloan landed in Utah, where he coached for 23 years. Led by John Stockton and Karl Malone, the 1990s Jazz were a force in the West, culminating in back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals in 1996–1998.  However, they were defeated both times by Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Sloan missed the playoffs just three times with the Jazz before suddenly and shockingly resigning in the middle of the 2010–11 season.

Which Coaches Are Moving Up the Ranks?

Coaches like Joe Mazzulla, Mike Brown, Spoelstra and Rivers continue to move up this list, while Popovich could be on the way down thanks to a struggling Spurs franchise. However, coaches to watch out for in the coming years should also include Steve Kerr, who has four championships in only ten seasons as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. 

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