NBA Draft

NBA Coach of the Year watch: J.B. Bickerstaff and others who could be in contention

CLEVELAND, Ohio — We’re about halfway through the 2021-22 NBA season, and its safe to say at this point that the Cavaliers have continued to defy expectations.

As of Friday afternoon, the Cavs are at sixth place in the tight Eastern Conference race with a 27-19 record. No team in the East has more than 28 wins.

Cleveland is seen as being ahead of schedule, so it’s no surprise that according to Las Vegas oddsmakers, J.B. Bickerstaff is right in the thick of the Coach of the Year award conversation. There’s also four other top contenders, regardless of which oddsmakers you consult.

Here’s a look at the top five:

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams’ team won 18 straight games earlier this season, a franchise record. AP

Monty Williams, Suns

Williams may be the favorite given the Suns’ 35-9 record, which is not only the best in the Western Conference, but the best in the league. They also have the league’s best winning percentage at .795.

After losing three of their first four , the Suns went on a franchise-record 18-game winning streak. Even after that winning streak ended, they won seven of their next nine.

Considering the Suns made it to the Finals last year, there was also plenty of buzz for Williams getting Coach of the Year for the 2020-21 season. The honor went to Tom Thibodeau of the Knicks.

Cleveland Cavaliers vs.Toronto Raptors, December 26, 2021

J.B. Bickerstaff has helped the Cavaliers become one of the surprises of the NBA this season.Joshua Gunter,

J.B. Bickerstaff, Cavaliers

The Cavs’ standing in the Eastern Conference aside, Bickerstaff has found a way to get the most out of his team. He’s perfectly blended youth and veteran presence. Evan Mobley is having a Rookie of the Year caliber season and has lived up to his pre-draft hype. Darius Garland is playing the best basketball of his career in Year 3. Veterans Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio have accepted bench roles to provide a spark.

Bickerstaff has really developed his own style this year, and isn’t afraid to go big-man heavy with Mobley, Jarrett Allen and Lauri Markkanen. Instead of letting other teams dictate his lineups, Bickerstaff goes with the strengths of his team.

After three down years for the Cavs post-LeBron James’ exit, maybe most importantly, Bickerstaff has gotten the whole team to buy into an underdog mentality. Players are focused on playing for each other and as a result, the Cavs already surpassed their win total from last season (22) in about half the games.

Trail Blazers at Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan has guided his team to the top of the Eastern Conference.AP

Billy Donovan, Bulls

The Bulls sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 28-15 record. This is an impressive feat considering they dealt with a slew of players in the league’s health and safety protocols last month and a number of key players — including Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso — have all had injuries and missed time in recent weeks.

After the Bulls went 9-7 in November, Donovan was named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month. In Donovan’s first year in Chicago last season, the Bulls won just 31 games.

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors, November 18, 2021

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has the Warriors playing playoff-caliber basketball. Joshua Gunter,

Steve Kerr, Warriors

The Warriors are second in the Western Conference with a 32-13 record. They appear headed for a top seed after missing out on the playoffs in 2019-20 and falling to the Lakers in a play-in game last season.

Golden State is just behind the Suns with a .711 winning percentage. They have the best defensive rating (102.4) in the league.

Kerr last won coach of the year in 2016, after the Warriors went 73-9 in the regular season.

Trail Blazers vs. Grizzlies

Memphis Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins was the Western Conference Coach of the Month in December. AP

Taylor Jenkins, Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have once again proven to be a formidable Western Conference presence, currently third at 31-16.

Jenkins has already been named Western Conference Coach of the Month once this season after guiding Memphis to a 12-4 record in December. It was the team’s most wins in a single month since January 2015.

Cavaliers Fanatics Revenue 2021

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