Tom Thibodeau is the recipient of the 2020-21 NBA Coach of the Year award, the league announced Monday, serving to remind that the Knicks are in good hands going forward, even though their remarkable season petered out come playoff time.
Like a mask to his face, Thibs barely clung onto the award, beating out Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams by 11 total points, per the NBA’s press release (Thibs had 351 to Williams’ 340). Weirdly, Williams actually got more first-place votes (45) than Thibs (43). But total points is what matters, folks, so to Thibs go the spoils. The next closest candidate, Utah’s Quin Sydner, wasn’t even close, finishing with 161 total points.
Thibs coached a hell of a season, leading a ridiculous and remarkable turnaround for a franchise that needed it in the worst way following a catastrophic 2019-20 campaign that we’re mostly going to push past because this is a celebration, not a funeral. Before we move on from David Fizdale’s final fizzle, let the record show that, after last year’s Knicks finished 24 games under .500 (21-45), Thibs took the reins and the team finished 10 games above .500 (31-21). Oddly, Thibs only won one coach of the month award this year, in May.
Under Thibs, the Knicks improved from 23rd in defensive rating to 4th, and from 27th in offensive rating to 22nd. They went 16-4 in their final 20 games to nab home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the first time the franchise reached the postseason since 2012-13. He helped Julius Randle harness his skills, become an All-Star and win the Most Improved Player Award. He coached an adorable, and at times awe-inspiring, reunion of Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson. He inspired RJ Barrett to improve immeasurably. He barked so loud on the sidelines you could hear it over Mike Breen and Walt Clyde Frazier.
He has his faults, but so do you. We all wish the season ended differently, but Thibs did the best he felt he could do with the roster he had, and helped bring New York City back to life. Thibs being coach of the year isn’t a fluke, obviously, as he previously won the award once before when coaching the Chicago Bulls. And this was year one of a reported five-year contract.
He doesn’t seem like the sort of fellow who will flame out far before his contract is up, unlike some other recent coaches. So here’s to Thibs. May next season see even greater success for the Knicks. And perhaps an appearance in at least the second round of the playoffs.