Final B/R Staff NBA Coach of the Year Rankings for 2021-22 SeasonApril 6, 2022
Final B/R Staff NBA Coach of the Year Rankings for 2021-22 Season
This has been an amazing year for coaching, and there are several contenders for the 2022 NBA Coach of the Year award.
Usually the award goes to a coach who exceeds expectations or whose team has truly been dominant all year long. This year, there have been several surprise teams and one club that has sustained success all year long. There have also been two or three teams who have had miraculous turnarounds after terrible starts.
It is easy to make a legitimate case for several coaches—more than the five named below. That is just a sign of how good the coaching has been this season in the NBA and how competitive the race for this award really is.
Bleacher Report asked 11 NBA experts to vote for their top five candidates from this season.
Each first-place vote was worth five points. A second-place vote was worth four points; that pattern continued down to fifth place, which was worth one point.
At the end, we tallied the votes, calculated the points and established our definitive top-five ranking.
*Editor's Note: This is one part of a B/R Staff series ranking the top-five most-deserving award-winners this season. Special thanks to the following hoops heads for voting this season: A. Sherrod Blakely, Andy Bailey, Dan Favale, Eric Pincus, Grant Hughes, Greg Swartz, Jake Fischer, Jonathan Wasserman, Mo Dakhil, Sean Highkin, Zach Buckley.
5. Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
The Miami Heat are poised to win the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Erik Spoelstra has led them to their first 50-win season since the 2013-14 season.
Spoelstra got the Heat to the top of the conference by building one of the league's best defenses. They are fourth in defensive rating this season and second in the Eastern Conference in point differential. The Heat are second in points per possession on after-timeout plays with 0.989, according to Synergy Sports technology.
What has been most impressive about the Heat's success has been the way they have handled their injuries. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo played fewer than 60 games this season, while Kyle Lowry just barely eclipsed that mark. They survived with players like Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Omer Yurtseven all stepping forward. That is a credit to their development squad.
It is shocking to find that after 14 seasons in the NBA, Spoelstra has yet to win Coach of the Year. He is regularly considered one of the best coaches season after season. Finishing fifth this year in our voting has more to do with how great the next candidates have been instead of a commentary on the job he did in 2021-22.
4. J.B. Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been one of the biggest surprises this season. J.B. Bickerstaff deserves a ton of credit. He would have finished higher in the voting had the Cavs not been ravished with injuries.
With Bickerstaff at the helm, the Cavs zagged with their lineup. While everyone was playing small, they started big: Jarrett Allen at center, standout rookie Evan Mobley at power forward and Lauri Markkanen as the small forward. Their size took the league by surprise. They are in the top five in scoring defense in the NBA with two premier defensive big men.
Point guard Darius Garland also blossomed under Bickerstaff's tutelage. He gave Garland the free reign to make mistakes. With that freedom, Garland led the team in scoring and assists. But it wasn't just Garland who had a big season for the Cavs. Bickerstaff also revived Kevin Love, who has played a big role off the bench for Cleveland this season.
Bickerstaff had the Cavs 12 games above .500 at the All-Star break, and if it was not for some bad injury luck, the team would have made the playoffs instead of the play-in tournament.
Either way, this has been the Cavs' best season without Akron's favorite son on the roster.
3. Ime Udoka, Boston Celtics
It would have been ludicrous to think Ime Udoka would be anywhere near this list after the start the Celtics had. There were calls for Udoka to be removed early in the year, and now he has presided over one of the biggest turnarounds in history.
The C's were just treading water for the first 50 games of the season. They were 25-25, then went on a nine-game winning streak and have gone 24-5 in their last 29 games.
The biggest change in the Celtics was their offense. They had the joint-20th offensive rating before they flipped their switch. They now are eighth thanks to this massive stretch.
Udoka also is great coming out of timeouts. In fact, the Celtics have the best points per possession off after-timeout plays at 1.02, according to Synergy Sports.
The defense has been consistent all season, but it took a leap with how the Celtics began to use Robert Williams. Udoka's scheme used him more as a free safety instead of having him defending pick-and-rolls. With Williams roaming the paint, attacking players are often looking over their shoulders for where the Time Lord is.
Udoka also has not been afraid to challenge his players publicly. It felt early on that he was publicly blasting his team in the media after losses, but he never wavered in his process. His players all accepted the challenges he laid before him, and now the Celtics are one of the best teams in the NBA.
2. Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns
Monty Williams narrowly missed out on Coach of the Year in the voting. He accumulated 46 total points, trailing only the Memphis Grizzlies' Taylor Jenkins (60 points).
Williams should have won the award last season and could win it this season, too. The Suns will be the only 60-win team this season and have done so despite a myriad of challenges.
Phoenix did not bat an eye when DeAndre Ayton and the front office could not agree to an extension nor when team governor Robert Sarver was accused of using racist and misogynistic language and creating a toxic workplace. They have approached this season with machine-like precision and are dead set to get back to the Finals.
The Suns also had to deal with injury concerns. The team went 11-4 when Chris Paul was out with a broken thumb. Four of those games were also without Devin Booker, and they went 3-1 in those contests.
The Suns are the only team to be in the top five of offensive and defensive ratings, ranking top three in both categories. Williams is extremely creative in how he gets his team into sets like their Spain Action.
More importantly, Phoenix is the best clutch team in the NBA. In games with a five-point differential with five minutes left, the team is a whopping 32-7. The next team has 25 wins.
The Suns' execution down the stretch is unparalleled. If a team keeps it close against them, their odds of coming away with a win still aren't good.
1. Taylor Jenkins, Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies are young and exciting, and so is their coach. In Taylor Jenkins' third season on the sidelines, he has Memphis sitting comfortably with the second-best record in the league.
Memphis is joint-third in net rating and has the fourth-best offensive rating in the league. Its defense is not lightweight either, coming in at sixth. More impressive has been the 20-3 record when Ja Morant missed games.
Jenkins and his staff have done an amazing job empowering young players and have gotten leaps out of guys like Desmond Bane. Tyus Jones looks like the best backup point guard in the NBA. Jaren Jackson Jr. is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.
As the team has grown, Jenkins has grown as a coach. The Grizzlies just missed the playoffs in the 2020 bubble, losing to the Blazers in the play-in game. Then they won their play-in game in 2021 against Golden State to get to the playoffs, and they took a playoff game in Utah against the Jazz in his second season before losing the series 4-1. Now they are second seed in the West.
There were expectations for the Grizzlies this season, but they overachieved despite not having their best player for 20-plus games.
Jenkins has everyone bought in, and he has done the best coaching job in the NBA this season.
*Also receiving votes: Tyronn Lue (L.A. Clippers), Chris Finch (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men's national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA.