We have reached the mid-point of the NBA season and we know a few things: Which teams are good (Warriors, Suns, Bulls and a few more), which teams are disappointments, and which players have set themselves up in the postseason award races. All week long, we will make our picks for some of the NBA’s top awards (MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year).
Today: Coach of the Year.
Taylor Jenkins (Memphis Grizzlies)
The best evidence of Jenkins work in Memphis is not the 11-game win streak or the fact the Grizzlies sit third in the West, just 2.5 games out of first — although those things are unquestionably impressive — instead, it was the 10-2 run when Ja Morant was out that showed his ability to get the most out of his team. This is the third-youngest team in the NBA, yet they are playing like veterans. Jenkens should get some credit for the development of players like Desmond Bane, John Konchar, Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks, Tyus Jones, Jaren Jackson Jr., and of course Morant. Jenkins has built a strong culture but also adapted his style to the players he had.
Jenkins, however, is in a very crowded field for COY and one could make a nearly equally strong case for Billy Donovan, Steve Kerr, J.B. Bickerstaff, Monty Williams, Erik Spoelstra, and others. In a season with players in-and-out of the lineup due to COVID — and coaches, too — it’s been an especially hard field to judge. This is a case where if I had to pick someone now I would select Jenkins, but my list is more of a watch list for the second half of the season — this race is wide open.
J.B. Bickerstaff (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Bickerstaff has gotten a seemingly overly big frontcourt to fit together, optimized two-point guard lineups (at least before Ricky Rubio got hurt) and implemented a sound defense all while still giving the biggest roles to the young players Cleveland should prioritize. The Cavs are better this year – and should be better in the future – because of Bickerstaff’s work.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan has crafted well-fitting lineups by not being constrained by traditional positional roles. Amid numerous roster disruptions, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has prepared and positioned several deep reserves to flourish. Though he did a lot of his work in prior seasons and I take the “of the Year” part of this award literally – limiting Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s and Suns coach Monty Williams’ still-viable candidacies, too – Quin Snyder deserves some credit for the Jazz lapping the field in offensive rating.