NBA

2020-21 NBA Coach of the Year: Presenting the worthy candidates for this season's award

The Coach of the Year race is heating up with a handful of truly worthy candidates.

While there's no rule against co-winners being named for the award, it's never happened in NBA history. Right now, you can probably split the award between two or three coaches and no one would be upset, but the likelihood of that happening is small. NBA award voters usually pick a clear winner.

So with that in mind, let's take a look at the field of coaches who have a case for this year's top honour - in no particular order.

Steve Nash

Having Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant on the same team healthy at the beginning of the season meant that expectations were high on the Nets. They went even higher when disgruntled scoring machine James Harden arrived from Houston in mid-January.

No one will feel bad for Nash - he has more talent than he knows what to do with - but let's face it, the job hasn't been a cakewalk.

His big three superstars (Irving, Durant, Harden) have played a grand total of seven games together. And it hasn't just been the big three missing time. Nash has had to deal with 16 players missing a combined 225 games, which is the fourth-most man games lost to injury or health and safety protocols in the league. As a result, the Nets have used 32 different starting lineups this year, according to Basketball-Reference. (Brooklyn has played 61 total games as of this writing).

For a team that needed the regular season to figure out their chemistry, that could have been debilitating. It hasn't been, and Nash deserves credit for that.

The Nets are in first place in the East Conference and while that may have been where everyone expected them to be at the start of the season, Nash has held them together and ensured they have gotten here despite the unsureness of the lineup on a nightly basis.

He's also had to deal with the pressure of the New York market, all the off-court, non-basketball related headlines that swirled around Irving and Durant, the addition of Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge (and the eventual departure of Aldridge) late in the season and still find ways to win games and somehow build chemistry.

Nash has faced all of this in his first year as a head coach without any prior coaching experience. Despite all of this, the Nets might still earn the No. 1 in the East.

Credit the Canadian for what he's done in Brooklyn this year.

Monty Williams

Expectations on the Suns may not have been as high as the Nets but they were certainly there. After their 8-0 performance in the bubble, Phoenix was the team many predicted before the season to breakout.

With Chris Paul on the roster, Phoenix was destined to be a playoff team, but to be in the running for the best record overall in the league is something few may have seen coming.

Williams has the Suns playing inspiring basketball. He's turned the franchise from a doormat in the Western Conference to a potential title contender. The Suns have made tangible improvements on both ends of the court this year compared to a season ago. Phoenix ranks seventh in offensive rating and fifth in defensive rating this season. Utah is the only other team that ranks in the top seven in both categories.

At 19-9, the Suns have the best road record in the NBA. That's impressive in a regular year, but in a year where travelling for NBA teams has so much more going into it than it would've before, it's even more impressive. And when you consider how poor Phoenix was on the road prior to Williams' arrival, it's even more impressive. The Suns went 7-34 on the road in 2018-19. In just two years, they've gone from the worst road record to the best. Credit Williams' culture change for that.

It's easy to point to CP3's impact on the Suns this season, but without Williams laying the groundwork there is no CP3 in Phoenix. Williams is maximizing the Suns' potential and he deserves all the credit in the world for that.

Quin Snyder

After the Jazz blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the bubble, no one had Utah on the radar as a potential title contender coming into this season.

The Jazz came out the gate rolling, going 15-5 in their first 20 games and haven't looked back since, owning the league's best record at 44-16 as of this writing.

Utah has a top-five offensive and defensive rating, ranking fourth and second respectively. They're outscoring opposing teams by 8.9 points per 100 possessions, giving them the best net rating in the NBA by a mile. No team has a better home record than the Jazz at 26-4.

After the first-round flame out and the rumoured rift between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, it's pretty remarkable to see what the Jazz have done this season.

Snyder has done a heck of a job in Utah and deserves recognition for it.

Tom Thibodeau

Speaking of surprises, how about the biggest one of them all?

No one saw this season coming from the Knicks. At best, maybe you thought they might be in the Play-In Tournament range, but a chance at homecourt advantage in the first round? No one saw this coming.

Thibodeau deserves a ton of praise for what he's doing with this Knicks team. He's found an identity, he's got them trusting it works and he has them believing they can compete with anyone on a nightly basis. That's a far cry from where New York has been for the better part of the past 10 years.

The Knicks have been suffocating teams with the fourth-ranked defensive rating in the league and despite their shortcomings on offence, they're still outscoring teams by 2.3 points per 100 possessions.

If New York can hold onto the No. 4 seed in the East, it will be hard not to give Thibodeau Coach of the Year votes.

Honourable Mention

Nate McMillian

After all the offseason acquisitions, the Hawks were a bit of a disappointment when McMillian took over at 14-20. Since then: 20-7, catapulting them into fifth place in the East.

McMillian has unlocked the Hawks offence since he's taken. Prior to him taking the helm, the Hawks had an offensive rating of 112.7. Since then, the Hawks have the fourth-best offensive rating in the league at 116.6, according to NBA Stats.

No coach in NBA history has taken over in the middle of the season and won Coach of the Year. McMillian has been good enough to be in the conversation.

Taylor Jenkins

Give Jenkins lemons and he'll give you lemonade. The Grizzlies have lost 189 games over 13 players to injury and health and safety protocol, and somehow they've found a way to stay above .500 and in the Play-In mix out West.

With Jaren Jackson Jr. finally back in the lineup, the Grizzlies might be able to make some noise down the stretch.

Memphis has had the best offensive rating in the month of April, according to NBA Stats. A healthy Grizzlies team could be scaring for an opponent in the first round.

Credit Jenkins for keeping that young bunch together.

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