Updated: Jul 24
The egregious snub robbed Williams of being the first NBA coach to win back-to-back NBA Coach of the Year
Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams should be making history as the first coach to win back-to-back NBA Coach of the Year awards this season, but last season, voters robbed him of this exclusive accolade.
After showing signs of the Suns clicking when they went undefeated in the eight games played in the Orlando bubble, Williams took the 34-win team, which was 10th in the western conference, to 51 wins, which won their division and landed them at the No. 2 seed. Not to mention, he led Phoenix to its first NBA Finals appearance since 1993.
“Monty came in here and shifted the culture tremendously,” Suns NBA-All Star Devin Booker said to FOX Sports. “I've seen the bottom. And once he got here, that energy changed, the gym changed, the personnel changed. He developed a culture that we all bought into and love. I always say it: Every day, the culture is something that makes coming to work every day fun. And that started with coach Monty. He's definitely deserving of it.”
In the offseason, Phoenix traded for future NBA Hall of Famer Chris Paul and added veterans to the team, but the Suns coached and developed its young players, which led to the impressive 17-win turnaround in the 2020 season.
Phoenix finished fourth in point differential with +5.8, a 5.6 increase from a season prior where it was 14th. The Suns also averaged 115.3 points per game (7th), which was a 1.7 point increase where they were 10th, and they were seventh in average points allowed with 109.5, which was a 3.9 decrease from the year prior where they were ranked 20th.
Williams’ ability to connect with players and instill confidence in them allowed the team to be their best selves. An example of this is when he encouraged Suns center Deandre Ayton to impact the game during Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
“Man, that guy, coach, he doesn't approach you as an NBA coach,” Ayton said to FOX Sports. “Coach is more like a friend. Some say father figure. He teaches you so many things away from basketball, and he creates this bond and chemistry where you catch yourself coming to him for advice about anything. That type of stuff builds on the court, and now you want to play as hard as you can for this dude and this organization.”
His selflessness in coaching allowed Phoenix’s young core of Booker, Ayton and Mikal Bridges to explode in the 2020 season. Booker, who has averaged at least 20 points a season excluding his rookie year, had never played in the NBA Playoffs despite his incredible scoring prowess. In his second year with Williams, he reached the postseason with a talented team around him.
Ayton, who was the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, developed into an efficient shooting center. In 2020, he shot a career high 62.6% from the field, a 14.7% increase from last season, and 76.9% from the field, a 2.1% increase from 2019. Already a prolific rebounder, Williams’ system has allowed Ayton to flourish on the offensive end of the ball.
Williams also helped develop Bridges to an elite “3 and D” player. In 2020, Bridges had a career high in points with 13.5, a 4.4 increase from last season, blocks with 0.9 and three-point percentage with 42.5%, a 17.7% increase from 2019. Williams’ culture-shifting presence forced this team to reach its best.
New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau won the award after leading a 21-win team to 41 wins that landed them the No. 4 seed in the eastern conference. While the turnaround was stunning, it pales compared to what Williams did with the Suns. Even in the postseason, the Knicks lost in the first round in five games, whereas the Suns made it to the NBA Finals and lost in six games.
The voters should have awarded Williams for his brilliance, but they failed like they often do. Their error in judgment hasn’t dimmed Williams’ light as he continues to excel with his team and is in the driver's seat to win this year’s NBA Coach of the Year.
Derrian Carter is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in sports journalism, who is enrolled in MCO 510 – Data Journalism at Arizona State University. Email Derrian at: firstname.lastname@example.org.