NY Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau – who could teach a Master Class on doing more with less – turned a rebuilding roster into the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed, and was rewarded Monday with the NBA’s Coach of the Year, for his efforts. Thibodeau’s defense-first mentality helped New York develop an identity and a winning season for the first time in years and first playoff berth since 2013.
This is the second NBA Coach of the Year Award for Thibodeau, who earned the honor in the 2010-11 season with the Chicago Bulls in his first season as an NBA head coach. Now honored in his first season as the Knicks’ head coach, Thibodeau has become the first person to be named NBA Coach of the Year in his first season as head coach with two different franchises, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson were on both rosters. (Cotton Fitzsimmons won the award in his first season as the Kansas City Kings’ head coach, 1978-79, and again in the first season of his second tenure as the Phoenix Suns’ head coach, 1988-89.)
The New York Knicks coach, who led the team he grew up watching to a 20-win improvement this season, edged out Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams by a total of 11 points, while Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder finished third. The Knicks hadn’t reached the playoffs since the 2012-13 season, and last season, they weren’t even invited to the Orlando bubble with their 21-45 record. They once again failed to add any big-name superstars during the offseason, and the basketball world expected another trip to the lottery for the Knicks.
But Thibodeau’s defense-first culture meshed well with the incumbent roster, which was filled with players that other teams had discarded. Chief among them is the recently-crowned Most Improved Player, Julius Randle. Thibodeau not only got the best defensive performance of his career out of Randle but turned him into a playmaking point forward that spearheaded their offense as well. The Knicks ranked only 22nd in offense this season, but with their fourth-ranked defense, they didn’t need to score particularly efficiently.
Despite the Knicks were not serious championship contenders, unlike the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz, who are coached by fellow finalists Monty Williams and Quin Snyder, respectively. But Thibodeau’s performance didn’t just make them respectable. He’s saved the NBA’s marquee franchise.
New York hired Thibodeau as its head coach on July 30, 2020. He has a career regular-season record of 393-277 (.587) in nine seasons as an NBA head coach, guiding teams to the playoffs seven times. Before joining the Knicks, he served as head coach of the Bulls for five seasons (2010-15) and the Minnesota Timberwolves over three seasons (2016-19).
The NBA Coach of the Year Award trophy is named in honor of Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Red Auerbach. The legendary head coach guided the Celtics to nine NBA championships, including eight in a row from 1959-66.
The voting results for the 2020-21 NBA Coach of the Year Award are below. The balloting was tabulated by the independent accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP. Complete ballots for each voter will be posted at PR.NBA.com after the announcement of all end-of-season awards.