While MVP and Rookie of the Year are the most popular NBA awards futures to bet on, wagering on Coach of the Year pays out just the same. DraftKings is among the books that carries odds on the hardware, and it’s important to clarify that the sportsbook pays on the award handed out by the media, not the one the National Basketball Coaches Association has voted on since 2017.
Phoenix’s Monty Williams was honored by the union last year but finished second to New York’s Tom Thibodeau for Coach of the Year as voted by the writers. The writers’ honor has been handed out since 1962-63, won first by Harry “The Horse” Gallatin of the St. Louis Hawks before fellow Hall of Famers like Alex Hannum, Red Auerbach, and Dolph Schayes were recognized.
In all, 40 men have been named the NBA’s Coach of the Year, and Williams is the odds-on favorite to join that fraternity this season, entering the week as 1-to-3 (-300) ‘chalk’ at DraftKings. Williams’ Suns lost to the Bucks in an NBA Finals rematch Sunday, even with Devin Booker not available due to COVID protocols and Chris Paul sidelined with a broken thumb. Sixth man Cam Johnson, who scored a career-high 38 points and hit nine 3-pointers, including a buzzer-beater to defeat the Knicks last Friday, was also absent in Milwaukee due to a quad injury, but that didn’t stop the Suns from leading Milwaukee for most of a nationally-televised matinee before ultimately running out of gas.
With Golden State continuing to struggle, the Suns look like they’ll finish with the Western Conference’s top record despite the issues facing their All-Star backcourt. DraftKings (+380), BetRivers (+380), FanDuel (+430), Circa (+437), Westgate (+450), and BetMGM (+450) all favor the Suns to win their first-ever NBA championship after falling short last July. That success has made Williams the favorite to earn Coach of the Year accolades after finishing 11 points behind Thibodeau in taking second in last year’s voting despite earning two more first-place votes.
Between Phoenix’s success and the sentiment that he’s owed this honor, it’s not surprising to see Williams in a favorite’s role. However, if you’re a loyal reader of this column, you know we’re not going to recommend laying -300 on a futures bet. While there’s no question Williams is in pole position with a month-plus remaining in the regular season, there are five other candidates listed at plus-money at DraftKings who have a realistic chance to finish strong and ultimately emerge as Coach of the Year.
J.B. Bickerstaff, Cavs (+350 odds)
Bickerstaff’s Cavs had their season win total set at 27.5 by numerous sportsbooks back in October. Following Sunday night’s home victory over Toronto, Cleveland improved to 37-27 to strengthen its hold on the No. 6 seed in the East, which would keep it out of the play-in tournament as they seek their first playoff appearance since LeBron James left.
The Cavs are only 2.5 games back of the Bucks and two behind the Bulls in the Central Division, and stunning the basketball world by finishing ahead of those teams would absolutely swing some voters currently riding with Williams. Unfortunately for the Cavs, that win over the Raptors came with a cost, as All-Star center Jarrett Allen fractured a finger and will be sidelined indefinitely. His absence puts additional pressure on Rookie of the Year favorite Evan Mobley and veteran Kevin Love to step up, but may actually benefit Bickerstaff’s Coach of the Year hopes. If he’s able to overcome Allen’s absence and ultimately leapfrog the Bucks and Bulls, it’s going to be hard to deny the sixth-year head coach who had only one previous winning season (2015-16) in stints as head coach of the Rockets, Grizzlies, and Cavs.
Following this weekend’s challenging road back-to-back against Miami and Chicago, Cleveland will be home for eight of its next nine games between March 14-30. If Allen is able to return from his injury sooner than later, and Darius Garland continues his fantastic play, there’s no question the Cavs can make noise, considering they’re also getting key veterans Caris LeVert and Rajon Rondo back to help fortify the second unit.
Taylor Jenkins, Grizzlies (+650 odds)
Memphis suffered a puzzling 123-112 loss to the Rockets on Sunday night despite leading by double-digits at the halftime break. They’ll be looking to get back on track as they open a light week Tuesday against the resurgent Pelicans before welcoming the Knicks on Friday night. Although there are still a number of challenging games ahead, Memphis has a four-game cushion on Dallas as it looks to pick up an unlikely Southwest Division title that would be the first in franchise history.
The Spurs were always in the way when the Grizzlies had their best runs with teams led by Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Tony Allen early last decade. This year’s group will have to climb past Luka Doncic and the Mavs, who have been tremendous since shipping out Kristaps Porzingis for new sixth man Spencer Dinwiddie at the trade deadline. Jenkins will have to be at his best in providing a guiding hand for his young roster down the stretch. Memphis’ last six games come against the Bucks, Warriors, Spurs, Suns, Jazz, and Nuggets, closing out the 82-game marathon on the road in the altitude of Utah and Denver.
If Jenkins is able to finish the deal and lead the Grizzlies to a first-ever division title, he’ll merit serious consideration. Memphis was +440 at FanDuel to win the Southwest prior to the start of the season and has been one of the league’s best stories since Day 1. While Ja Morant is primarily responsible for the success, Jenkins’ ability to manage a talented, young, deep roster has been impressive. He’s generated success despite his second-best player, guard Dillon Brooks, participating in just 21 games, but that should change this week since the Canadian standout defender is set to return to action after being sidelined due to a severe ankle sprain.
Erik Spoelstra, Heat (+650 odds)
The Heat were a co-favorite with the Hawks to win the Southeast Division but have excelled to the point where finishing first is a foregone conclusion. Miami has bigger goals in mind, looking to earn homecourt advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs by holding on to the top seed. The 76ers and Bucks open the week three games back of the Heat, who are expected to get even stronger with Victor Oladipo cleared to make his season debut.
Spoelstra has been masterful in making sweet lemonade out of all the sour lemons that have faced his roster this season. Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, and Kyle Lowry have all missed significant time. Miami’s head coach has won a pair of championships and was honored as one of the NBA’s 15 top coaches in history during the 75th anniversary celebration at last month’s All-Star game, but he’s never won Coach of the Year. The NBCA honored him as co-Coach of the Year alongside Gregg Popovich in 2017, but Mike D’Antoni, then with Houston, ended up winning this award.
Also read: Is Bam Adebayo mispriced in DOPY odds?
Benefiting from the presence of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh was held against Spoelstra by the media, despite the challenge of managing egos necessary to make “super teams” work, but this season’s brilliance offers an opportunity for voters to make amends. If the Heat finish with the East’s best record, he’s got a chance to catch Williams. After all, expectations for Miami were much lower than for Phoenix, and Spo has dealt with much more attrition even with Paul and Booker currently out.
Given that odds haven’t been adjusted, betting on either of the coaches listed at +650 at DraftKings — Spoelstra or Jenkins — is highly recommended since it offers the most bang for your buck in situations that remain plausible with roughly six weeks remaining in the regular season.
Billy Donovan, Bulls (+1200 odds)
We’re closing out this column by discussing the two most realistic longshots with odds greater than 10-to-1. Donovan is certainly in the mix since his Bulls have lived up to the hype by emerging as a contender in the East. His first Chicago team finished 31-41 before adding DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso in the offseason, yet Sports Illustrated put the Bulls on the cover to try and jinx their meshing before the regular season even started.
Ball and Caruso have missed significant time due to injuries, but DeRozan has emerged as an MVP candidate under Donovan’s watch. Donovan has also presided over the maturity of Zach LaVine, who has willingly taken a step back to allow the veteran newcomer to shine. Second-year forward Patrick Williams, a starter in every one of his 76 career games, was lost to a dislocated wrist and is still trying to work his way back. Donovan has helped deliver success despite a thin, young bench and has had to go to Plan B and Plan C often due to the unpleasant surprises.
With his roster getting back to full strength this month, there might be one late push to finish ahead of Miami and Milwaukee in the East. If that happens, Donovan has a shot at winning his first Coach of the Year award. A two-time national championship head coach in the college ranks with Florida, Donovan earned co-Coach of the Year from the NBCA in his final year with Oklahoma City. He shared honors in 2020 with Mike Budenholzer.
Ime Udoka, Celtics (+3000 odds)
The last late entry into this field of top contenders is rookie Udoka, who went through significant growing pains in his first few months replacing Brad Stevens, who hired him as a successor after moving into a front office role as President of Basketball Operations. As recently as Jan. 6, the Celtics were three games under .500 (18-21) following losses to non-playoff teams San Antonio and New York. There’s been finger-pointing and locker-room issues in addition to a short rotation that has draw criticism, but Udoka nevertheless persisted and persevered.
Boston enters Wednesday’s game at Charlotte on a 16-3 run and is playing the NBA’s best defense over a sustained period. That’s not hyperbole. In his first season as a head coach, Udoka has his team rolling up its sleeves and displaying the toughness he brought to the table as a player, as the Celtics now own the top field goal percentage defense in the league. The Celtics trail the 76ers for by just 2.5 games for the Atlantic Division lead after a thrilling win over Brooklyn on Sunday behind Jayson Tatum’s 54 points, so they’re very much in the mix for a top-three seed in the East despite sporting a losing record as recently as Jan. 21.
It’s unlikely the media is going to give a first-year head coach the nod in a season where there are so many worthy candidates, but at 30-to-1 odds, Udoka’s candidacy has a lively pulse and is worth consideration.