The New York Knicks won just 31.8% of their games in a COVID-shortened season in 2019-20.
Then, they hired Tom Thibodeau as coach in the offseason, and the franchise’s fortunes began to change. Thibodeau established a defensive identity, extracted the most from Julius Randle offensively, helped younger players such as RJ Barrett improve and relied on veteran Derrick Rose.
The Knicks made a drastic improvement this season, finishing 41-31 (56.9% winning percentage) and in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
For the job he did, Thibodeau was named 2020-21 Coach of the Year.
Thibodeau had 43 of 100 first-place votes, 42 second-place votes and 10 third-place votes for 351 points, edging Phoenix’s Monty Williams who had 45 first-place votes, but 32 second-place and 19 third-place votes for 340 points.
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Utah’s Quin Snyder finished third, Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers fourth and Atlanta’s Nate McMillan, who took over as interim coach in March, was fifth.
Thibodeau, who also won the award with the Chicago Bulls in 2011, is the 10th coach to win the award more than once and the eighth to win it with multiple teams. He is also the first Knicks coach to win the award since Pat Riley did in 1992-93. Red Holzman won the award as New York’s coach in 1969-70.
The Knicks had the fourth-best defensive rating this season after finishing 23rd last season, and held opponents to a league-best 44% shooting from the field. Randle won Most Improved, Rose was a finalist for Sixth Man of the Year and Barrett made a leap from his rookie year to his second season.