Another day, another member of the Cleveland Cavaliers missing out on individual awards.
This time, it wasn’t a player, but a coach.
On Monday, the NBA announced that Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams had won Coach of the Year.
This is the first NBA Coach of the Year Award for Monty Williams, who joins Cotton Fitzsimmons (1988-89) and Mike D’Antoni (2004-05) as head coaches to earn the honor with the Phoenix Suns.
More ➡️ https://t.co/obiypxju1g
Voting results ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/EcZNzURSOc
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) May 9, 2022
At 458 total points, he blew out second place Taylor Jenkins (Memphis; 270 points) and third place Erik Spoelstra (Miami; 72 points).
And way off, far in the distance, was Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who finished in fifth place with 28 points.
Did Bickerstaff have an argument for landing higher?
Let’s take a look.
Ghosts of Coaches Past
How does Bickerstaff stack up against previous winners?
This year’s Cavs team finished 44-38, good enough for 9th place in the East.
That’s good enough for a .537 winning clip.
Not bad, but probably not good enough.
The Coach of the Year Award appears to be built on two factors: a) wins/success and b) surprise factor.
There are other considerations (legacy, do-overs, narratives, etc.), but those two seem to dominate the criteria.
For example, of the last ten winners, all but one coach navigated a team to a winning percentage higher than .670.
That usually means a coach’s team also secured a relatively high playoff seed (Williams’ Suns were no. 1 in the West).
The lone coach not to achieve that record?
Tom Thibodeau, last season.
What Thibs’ Knicks team lacked in wins, they made up for in shock and awe.
The Knicks were a four seed, guided by an excellent (and unusual) season in Julius Randle.
The Cavs certainly had that going for them this season.
Cleveland came out of nowhere and crushed the preseason over/under odds before the All-Star Break.
Had the Cavs not sputtered down the stretch due to injury, Bickerstaff likely would have had a much stronger case in the surprise factor.
One more thing that Bickerstaff had going for him: team defensive rating.
It seems like voters love a great defensive team.
Of the last eight coaches selected (Williams included), each has crafted a squad that ranks in the top five in defensive rating.
Williams’ Suns finished third (106.8).
Heat’s Spoelstra and Boston’s Ime Udoka, both top-four finishers, finished 4th and 1st, respectively in their teams’ defensive ratings this season.
Bickerstaff’s defense ranked 5th.
I love Monty Williams but he should not have won Coach of the Year. Start factoring pre-season expectations into Coach of the Year. JB from Cleveland and Finch from Minnesota should’ve been in the Top 3 or won it #NBA
— Mike James (@RawCut_Vibe) May 10, 2022
Here’s the real reason that Bickerstaff didn’t win: the coaches this season were outstanding.
There’s a case to be made that this season featured some of the highest quality basketball across the Association in some time.
Monty Williams’ Suns posted a historically great season, losing only 14 games.
Plus, his win is also a quasi-makeup for last season’s Thibodeau selection.
Williams had a strong case last year, but he ultimately couldn’t overcome the surprise-plus-wins factors that propelled Thibs.
Grizzlies’ Taylor Jenkins combined both surprise and win factors, leading Memphis to the no. 2 seed out West in a season that most didn’t see coming.
Of course, it helps to have a player like Ja Morant.
Udoka’s Celtics boasted the league’s best defensive rating, a leap from Jayson Tatum, and point guard Marcus Smart earning Defensive Player of the Year honors.
And for the Heat, Spoelstra worked his wizardry yet again, guiding Miami to a solid defensive season and the no. 1 overall seed in the East.
J.B.’s the Future
But while Jenkins and Williams were always going to be at the top, Bickerstaff probably has a case for higher than fifth.
Between how surprising this Cavs team was, combined with its early success, Bickerstaff might be wondering how different things would be if everyone was healthy.
Fortunately, he’ll get that chance next season.
Don’t think this will be the last time J.B.’s name is on the shortlist.
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