Tom Thibodeau was fittingly named the 2020-21 NBA Coach of the Year on Monday after whipping long-time lottery team New York Knicks into a playoff contender right in his first year.
Thibodeau narrowly edged Phoenix Suns’ Monty Williams, 351-340, to win his second NBA Coach of the Year award becoming the 10th head coach in league history to win multiple times.
Interestingly, Thibodeau first won the award also during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 2010-11 thus making him the first coach in the NBA to achieve the feat in his first season as head coach with two different teams.
Williams had more first-place votes than Thibodeau, 45-43. But Thibodeau clinched the award with 10 more second-place votes.
It was the closest Coach of the Year race in history since the current voting format was introduced in the 2002-03 season.
Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder was a distant third with 161 points (10 first-place votes).
Coaches were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote, and one point for each third-place vote from a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters.
In what he described as a dream job during his introductory presser, Thibodeau laboriously worked his magic on basically the same core from the previous regime.
In what was expected to be a season of just laying the foundation of rebuilding, the Knicks overachieved and was tied with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference (41-31) at the end of the regular season.
The Knicks not only snapped a seven-year playoff drought. They hosted a first-round series, albeit losing 4-1 to the much talented Atlanta Hawks.
Thibodeau was also selected as the NBA Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for May after guiding the Knicks to a 6-3 record in the final month of the regular season.
The Knicks won 16 of their final 20 games to complete the magical turnaround from last season’s 21-45 record. Under Thibodeau’s watch, New York also enjoyed its winningest month since March 2014 (11-5).
The Knicks embraced Thibodeau’s hard coaching and mirrored their coach on the court. Thibodeau’s signature defense became their bread and butter, showing dramatic improvement in points allowed (104.7) and opponents’ field goal percentage (44.0) and ranking fourth in defensive rating (107.8). Last season, New York finished 17th or lower in all three categories.
Thibodeau was also able to develop Julius Randle into one of the league’s rising stars — a first-time NBA All-Star and the Most Improved Player of the Year.
Derrick Rose, a mid-season acquisition, also became a finalist for the NBA Sixth Man Award in his third reunion with Thibodeau.
RJ Barrett also hit his strides under his watch as the former third overall pick ranked as the fourth-leading scorer among second-year NBA players (17.6 ppg). Thibodeau also had an impact on rookie Immanuel Quickley who turned out to be a steal with the 25th overall pick after averaging 11.4 points.
Thibodeau has now his eyes set on building the momentum with hopefully more talent to work with next season. The Knicks have roughly $50 million in cap space and massive draft capital to upgrade the Randle-led roster this summer.
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