With the 2020-21 NBA regular season officially over, fans are beginning to speculate on who will win the NBA year-end awards.
As heated debates over most improved and most valuable players are on the rise, there’s one race in particular that not enough people are talking about: the NBA Coach of the Year award. On Thursday, Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams, Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder and New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau were named as the three finalists for the honor. All three coaches have shined in the unprecedented season, leading their teams to a solid record and contenders to win the Larry O’Brien championship trophy.
Presenting your 2020-21 Coach of the Year finalists…
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 20, 2021
Here’s the case for each of the three finalists this season.
Williams, who was named the National Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year on Tuesday, led the Phoenix Suns to a steller 51-21 record, which is the NBA’s second-best regular-season mark this year.
@Suns Head Coach Monty Williams has been named the 2021 recipient of the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award.
— NBA Coaches Assoc. (@NBA_Coaches) May 18, 2021
No team had a worse four-year record from 2015-2019 than Phoenix, who went just 87-241(.265) during that span. In the 2018-19 season, the year before Coach Williams inherited the Suns, the team finished 19-63 and tied for the second worst record in the league. Under Williams’ wing, the Suns won 34 games last season, an improvement of 15 games. This year’s team improved by 17 wins, making the Suns just the fifth team in NBA history to improve by 15 games or more in successive seasons. It is also just the third time in 45 years that a team has jumped in the standings from the bottom two to the top two in two seasons or less.
Utah earned its best regular-season winning percentage since John Stockton and Karl Malone’s Jazz in 1998-99. Under Snyder this year, the Jazz ended with the best record in the league at 52-20, while finishing at fourth in offensive rating, third in defensive rating and first in net rating, per Basketball Reference. Additionally, they have been the best team at home this season, winning an impressive 31 of 35 games. Especially considering the team was able to withstand and persevere against competition of a stacked Western Conference, the case for Synder to win the COY award deepens.
However, despite the team’s great success, several fans overlook the Utah coach due to the fact that the Jazz have great assets. Given the talent Synder has at his disposal, a percentage of NBA fans believe this partly diminishes his contributions to the team’s accomplishments. The team has a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Rudy Gobert, three All-Stars and two Sixth Man of the Year nominees.
The 2020-21 Knick’s season was supposed to be a year of rebuilding and gaining experience, said most NBA analysts. Placed at the bottom of the league rankings in most preseason polls, this year’s Knicks were seen as a team with low expectations. They’ve been that team for a long time. In fact, they haven’t been in the playoffs in 8 years, since the 2012-13 season with Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. Now possibly a championship contender team, head coach Tom Thibodeau proved doubters wrong this season as he transformed what was a 21-win team last year.
Thibodeau guided the 41-31 Knicks to a No. 4 seed in the NBA playoffs. This year’s team has drastically improved on defense under Thibodeau, becoming one of the hardest teams to score on this season. They allowed the fewest points and field goals and finished third in defensive rating. Ending the year, the Knicks were the most dominant NBA team in the league, going 16-4 in their last 20 games.
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