Tom Thibodeau is Coach of the Month for the Eastern Conference after leading the Knicks to a 6-3 record in May, including three straight victories to finish the season, which secured the fourth seed and gave New York home court advantage in the first round.
Thibs could very well wind up winning coach of the year, but coach of the last month of the regular season is good enough for now. Seeing as Thibodeau piloted the Knicks to a smooth landing in a month that started with a six-game West Coast road trip, the award is well-deserved. It’s about time, as Thibs has not been honored with a coach of the month award all season, even though he’s been at the helm for the one of starkest single season turnarounds in recent NBA history.
Not that this necessarily needs to even be said, but by golly, Thibs has engineered a remarkable season, coaching a resilient Knicks’ squad that fought through some early season struggles and overcame injuries to become a truly respected, and in some cases, feared, opponent.
His leadership was readily apparent in May, when the Knicks traveled across the country for a difficult six-game road trip that featured strange start times (10 pm EST, anyone?) and matchups against some of the league’s top teams. They were overwhelmed by likely MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets and got battered by the Phoenix Suns, but otherwise the Knicks did exactly what they needed to do. The road trip featured impressive victories over the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies, and they lost a heartbreaker to the LeBron James-less Lakers.
Following their excursion out west, the Knicks came home and won three straight at Madison Square Garden to finish the season at 41-31. They got it done when it mattered most, and anyone who’s been watching the Knicks this season understands that the team’s success starts with Thibs. He’s constantly barking orders from the sideline, and it’s clear the players respect his voice, no matter how harsh it might sometimes sound.
And for all the gripes some may have about Thibodeau being a man stuck in his ways, he’s shown an ability to be nimble at times this year. Two quick examples: Elfrid Payton’s minutes have waned as the starting point’ guard’s struggles have become harder to ignore (Elf went from 28 minutes per game in the first month of the season to 15 minutes per game in May); sometimes, Frank Ntililkina is brought in for defensive purposes on random inbounds plays in the final minutes (hey, 18 seconds of playing time is better than zero seconds).
As you surely know by now, this was New York’s best season since 2012-13. But to get some real perspective, let’s look even further back. Besides 2012-13, this year’s .569 regular season winning percentage represents the franchise’s best winning percentage since 2000-01, when the team finished 48-34 (.585 winning percentage). That’s, uh, two decades.
So yeah, Thibs very much deserves this honor. And he also deserves to be coach of the year, although there are certainly other candidates who fit the bill (Monty Williams in Phoenix or Quin Snyder in Utah, for example). They say it’s important for teams to peak at the right time when it comes to the postseason. For coaches, there’s no monthly peak higher than a coach of the month award.