In his latest piece for The Athletic, Joe Vardon makes the case that the NBA’s Coach of the Year race for the 2020/21 season should focus on New York City. In Vardon’s view, the choice for the winner ought to come down to Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau and Nets coach Steve Nash.
As Vardon writes, Thibodeau has exceeded expectations in his first year at the helm with the Knicks, taking a roster that doesn’t look drastically different from last year’s 21-45 squad and turning it into a legit playoff team (35-28 so far). Prior to the season, oddsmakers put the Knicks’ over/under at 22.5 wins — and Hoops Rumors voters took the under.
Thibodeau has Julius Randle playing the best basketball of his career and has succeeded this season despite missing Mitchell Robinson for a significant chunk of the year and not getting much from several of the Knicks’ recent lottery picks, including Obi Toppin, Frank Ntilikina, and Kevin Knox.
Nash, meanwhile, has way more talent on his roster than Thibodeau does, but superstars Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving have rarely all been healthy at the same time, appearing in just seven games together. Nash has often had to cobble together a rotation that’s missing several players – including one or two of those stars and veteran guard Spencer Dinwiddie – but Brooklyn still holds the top seed in the Eastern Conference at 43-20.
Although Thibodeau and Nash are legit candidates for Coach of the Year recognition, neither one cracked the top two of Zach Harper’s most recent ballot at The Athletic. Harper’s current pick for the award is Suns head coach Monty Williams.
Williams’ Suns were 26-39 entering bubble play last summer, but went 8-0 at Walt Disney World and parlayed that late-season success into an impressive 2020/21 showing — the club currently has the NBA’s second-best record at 44-18. While Devin Booker and Chris Paul have had great seasons, Phoenix lacks a traditional, Finals-tested superstar like LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard, making the team’s performance in a tough Western Conference all the more impressive.
Second on Harper’s ballot is Quin Snyder, the one head coach whose team has a better record than Williams’ Suns. The Jazz hold the No. 1 seed in the West with a 45-17 mark and have already exceeded their 2019/20 win total in 10 fewer games.
No team has had a stronger season from start to finish than Utah, which hasn’t relinquished that top seed in the conference for a single day since February 2, despite the fact that many of this year’s MVP ballots likely won’t include a single Jazz player.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers also deserves consideration for Coach of the Year honors. He may not be a frontrunner for the award, but Rivers will certainly receive some votes for leading Philadelphia to a 41-21 record and the No. 2 seed in the East so far, even with team MVP Joel Embiid unavailable for about a third of the club’s games.
Hawks coach Nate McMillan has earned a honorable mention as well, having led Atlanta to a 20-9 record since Lloyd Pierce‘s dismissal. He’ll only end up coaching 38 games though — as is the case with MVP and other awards, I wouldn’t expect voters to give serious consideration to a candidate who was only “active” for about half the season.
What do you think? With just over two weeks left in the 2020/21 regular season, who do you think should be the frontrunner for the Coach of the Year award?
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