As the NBA season comes to a close, fans are most focused on which team will raise that shiny Larry O'Brien trophy to the sky. But there are a few other items that we look forward to at the end of the season: NBA year-end awards.
With the NBA awards ballots rolling in shortly, some awards have clear-cut winners, but one race seems a little closer than usual. The NBA Coach of the Year award is usually one of the toughest awards to pick. Last year's winner was Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. This year's race is filled with many worthy opponents.
Here’s the case for five NBA coaches who shined in the 2020-21 season.
Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks
Nothing is stranger than seeing the Knicks up for an NBA award, but clinching a playoff berth for the first time in eight years definitely makes you award worthy.
After being a lottery team for seven straight seasons, it was clear that the Knicks just needed a push, and Tom Thibodeau was the perfect choice. Thibodeau changed the culture in his first year in NY, leading them to their first playoff run since their second-round exit in 2013. This isn't Thibs' first time breaking droughts. As head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Thiboudeau ended the franchise's 14-year playoff drought in 2018. He was also named Coach of the Year for the 2010-11 with the Chicago Bulls.
The Knicks haven’t won a Coach of the Year award since Pat Riley’s 1992-93 season. But could Tom Thiboudeau break another drought?
Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz has held the league's best record for almost the entire season. Sitting with a current 50-20 record, the Jazz have exuded dominance all year. With the league's fourth-best defense, Quin Snyder has made the Utah Jazz one of the toughest teams to defend.
After an 11-game win streak earlier this year, Snyder became the first Jazz coach in history to win consecutive Coach of the Month awards.
This is Snyder’s seventh season as the Jazz’ head coach and his fifth postseason appearance with the team. After a first-round exit last season, Snyder and the Jazz are looking to go the distance and add some hardware to his name.
Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns
The Suns finished the 2019-20 season with a 34-39 record and finished two spots outside of the NBA playoffs, and in 2021 they have been one of the most surprising teams in the league. While the addition of Chris Paul has catapulted them into a competitive spot in the Western Conference, Monty Williams is to be praised for this team's success.
The Suns have the fourth-best offense and the seventh-best defense in the league, and after missing the postseason for over a decade, Williams has turned a lottery team into a top contender.
From being the 15th seed in the Western Conference from 2017-2019, Williams has brought this Suns team into a new light: a winning one.
Doc Rivers, Philadelphia 76ers
Doc Rivers has been an NBA coach for over two decades and holds a 943-681 record. Being an NBA point guard for 13 seasons, Rivers knows what it takes to develop a team. Rivers started his coaching career in Orlando and won Coach of the Year in 2000 in his first year with the Magic. He went on to coach the Boston Celtics from 2004 to 2013 and led them to a championship in 2007-08. Rivers spent seven seasons with the L.A Clippers from 2013 to 2020 that weren’t as successful as expected based on his track record.
Rivers’ coaching career has landed him in Philadelphia, where he came in with a lot to prove but quickly united the team. The Sixers’ chemistry has solidified them as one of the top teams in the league.
Rivers not only strengthened the Sixers’ physicality, but he also focused on helping his players be mentally sharp because he knows how taxing an NBA season can be.
The Sixers currently have a 42-23 record and are the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed. But can Doc Rivers get his second COY award and second NBA Championship in the same season?
Steve Nash, Brooklyn Nets
When Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving decided to leave their respective teams and link up in Brooklyn, NBA observers knew that it would take a strong leader to deal with this duo, and adding James Harden was the cherry on top. Steve Nash has done a great job dealing with these personalities and leading the Brooklyn Nets to the postseason as they seek redemption from their first-round sweep last season.
Not a lot was expected from the 18-year NBA point guard in his first coaching job, but with the Nets leading the league with the best offense, the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and a current 46-24 record, it’s safe to say that the two-time NBA MVP winner is a strong candidate for the 2021 Coach of the Year in his rookie season
Marsha Green contributed to this story.