Suns guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker were rightfully rewarded for their efforts with NBA All-Star reserve nods on Thursday night.
Defending Western Conference champ Phoenix was the first team to 40 wins, doing so inside 50 games. Despite frontcourt standouts Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder missing time and reserves like Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric being out most of the season, the Suns have thrived.
Paul and Booker aren’t going to win MVP. Mikal Bridges will get some Defensive Player of the Year love but Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green and Jaren Jackson Jr. are likely to finish ahead of him.
That leaves Monty Williams in line to benefit from the respect Phoenix has earned courtesy of Coach of the Year honors. The NBCA named him Coach of the Year last season, but media members went with New York’s Tom Thibodeau. Williams finished second. There’s no question that falling just short in 2020-21 puts him in the driver’s seat this season and his team’s on-court performance has him way ahead of the race, but it’s never fun to pay juice on a future when there’s still over one-third of the regular season remaining.
Oddsmakers have pegged Williams as a -140 favorite at DraftKings, and he will be chalk anywhere else you look that posts Coach of the Year odds, so we’re going to give you six names that would pan out far more lucratively if you’re interested in investing on a longshot or two.
Always shop around the betting market for the best odds for your plays.
Taylor Jenkins, Grizzlies (+650)
Few expected the Grizzlies to do anything more than compete for a playoff spot again this season. They famously got out of the play-in round last season by eliminating Stephen Curry and the Warriors, but emerging as the Southwest Division champion and ranking third in the West behind Phoenix and Golden State means they’re overachieving at such a high level that Jenkins has to be considered.
Remember, Dallas was a heavy favorite to win the Southwest. If Memphis is successful in holding off the Mavs, getting this level of return on Jenkins would be a fantastic buy. The media has taken notice of the strides Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. have made under his watch. Jenkins relies on his bench, utilizing guys like DeAnthony Melton and Kyle Anderson to change the flow of games. Memphis has excelled despite the absence of one of its top performers in guard Dillon Brooks, so Jenkins is certainly worthy of the honors.
J.B. Bickerstaff, Cavs (+320)
While the Grizzlies are the West’s surprise team, Cleveland owns that distinction in the East. The Cavaliers beat teams like the Nets, Celtics, and Hawks to 30 wins and were within two games of the top record in the conference with 30 games remaining.
Bickerstaff is presiding over the rise of Darius Garland, now a newly minted All-Star, in addition to supervising the emergence of Rookie of the Year favorite Evan Mobley. Even if there’s some regression over the final third of the season, no one saw the Cavs coming. They’re in the mix for a Central Division title and are in position to lock up a top-six seed, keeping them out of the play-in round. DraftKings views him as the most likely choice to overtake Williams, and there’s no question that finishing ahead of the Bucks and Bulls would garner him plenty of first-place votes.
Cleveland has four games remaining against the 76ers and two more against the Bulls, so they’ll have plenty of statement games ahead.
Erik Spoelstra, Heat (+850)
Miami blew out depleted San Antonio on Thursday night to become the first Eastern Conference team to reach 33 wins. After suffering through a down season following their run to the NBA Finals in the bubble, the Heat came into the season intending to prove that they were indeed part of the league’s elite.
Despite Bam Adebayo missing over a month and both Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry missing time, Spoelstra has plugged guys into the lineup and secured success. Omer Yurtseven came out of nowhere and flourished around the rim. Gabe Vincent was plugged into the starting lineup in place of Lowry at the point and performed solidly. P.J. Tucker is having arguably his most productive season as a pro. Tyler Herro is the Sixth Man of the Year favorite.
As February begins, it’s clear that there’s substance to “Heat Culture,” embracing guys who scrap and fight for every inch and simply out-work you on the floor. Butler’s grit is the face of it, but Spoelstra seems to push all the right buttons and is widely respected as one of the league’s top tacticians. If Miami emerges as the top seed in the East, he’ll be in the running for Coach of the Year. The media never picked him while he was presiding over the LeBron James-led version that won two titles, but a solid next two months could sway sentiment his way.
Billy Donovan, Bulls (+650)
The Bulls were on the cover of Sports Illustrated prior to the season getting underway, so the fact they’re living up to the hype is a credit to their second-year head coach. After wildly successful stints with the University of Florida and the OKC Thunder, Donovan looks rejuvenated by his new gig and has managed to mesh the talents of Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, and offseason arrivals DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball into a consistent winner.
Although DeRozan’s heroics late in games have gotten the most attention since he’s in the midst of a career renaissance, Donovan has done a really nice job keeping his team afloat despite the absence of key guys like LaVine, Ball, and Alex Caruso. Second-year small forward Patrick Williams has been out most of the way after breaking his wrist, so Donovan has had to be creative to overcome a lack of depth in the frontcourt. Chicago entered the first weekend in February with the East’s top winning percentage and a slight lead over the Bucks and Cavs in the Central Division. There’s plenty of work to be done, but Donovan has an opportunity to earn his first media-bestowed Coach of the Year award. The Coaches Association honored him for his work with Oklahoma City back in 2020, naming him co-Coach of the Year alongside Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer.
James Borrego, Hornets (+4000)
Charlotte is one of the most fun teams in the NBA to watch and will have every opportunity to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Borrego has yet to record a winning record but had the Hornets at 28-24 with 30 games remaining. The Bees remain within striking distance of Miami for first place in the Southeast and are still ahead of suddenly hot Atlanta, so the opportunity to compete for Coach of the Year honors exists.
If the Bees can get hot and overcome Miami, that will land Borrego significant support and make 40-to-1 odds available at DraftKings a brilliant price to buy in at. It also doesn’t hurt that Borrego is having success with one of the NBA’s youngest rosters since star guard LaMelo Ball is only 20 years old and key contributors like Miles Bridges, Kelly Oubre, and P.J. Washington are still learning as they go. Borrego has earned the reputation of a players coach with an excellent offensive acumen, so if he can get this young squad to buy in on the defensive end of the floor, inroads are there to be had.
Tyronn Lue, Clippers (+5000)
The longest of longshots who has an opportunity to cash in a big way is L.A.’s Lue, who is looking to take the Clip Show into the postseason with Paul George on the mend and Kawhi Leonard likely taking the entire season off. The Clippers are overshadowed by the Warriors, Suns and Lakers in their own division, so finding a way to qualify for the postseason with all those obstacles in play would be eye-opening.
Following Friday night’s victory over the Lakers at Crypto.com Arena, the Clippers are 27-27 and ahead of their neighbors for the No. 8 seed in the West. If they can climb up to the top-six and stay out of the play-in round without their two big guns available, Lue will rightfully be in the Coach of the Year conversation. He’s worth the wager on 50-to-1 odds on principle alone.