Tom Thibodeau is the 2020-21 NBA Coach of the Year, the league announced on Monday. Thibodeau received 43 first-place votes and a total of 351 points, narrowly edging out Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams who received 340 total points. This is Thibodeau's second Coach of the Year award, and it was won under eerily similar circumstances to his first. In 2011, Thibodeau took over an underperforming big-market team in the Chicago Bulls and led them into the playoffs based on an elite defense. A decade later, he's done the same thing with the New York Knicks. Some of the players are even the same, as Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson were on both rosters.
They were in their 20s then. Now, they're in their 30s, and that underscores just how much more impressive this turnaround was for Thibodeau than his last one. The Bulls were a young team brimming with young talent and roster flexibility. This Knicks team 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.
The Knicks are not serious championship contenders, unlike the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz, who are coached by fellow finalists Monty Williams and Quin Snyder, respectively. But those teams had multiple All-Stars and were widely expected to have strong seasons. The Knicks were a laughingstock, and they've been one for nearly two decades. There aren't enough trophies in basketball to properly honor Thibodeau's performance in just making them respectable. He's saved the NBA's marquee franchise.