Who will win Coach of the Year, 6th Man of the Year and Most Improved?

In this space Tuesday, we had our NBA Awards ballot reveal for Defensive Player of the Year. On Wednesday, it was the Rookie of the Year race. Our guy Michael C. Wright will be offering up Friday his final verdict on the hotly contested Most Valuable Player stakes.

Today our insiders reveal their choices for the All-NBA 1st, 2nd and 3rd teams. That leaves a fistful of other annual awards to be dealt with here through one voter’s eyes:


Coach of the Year

Coach Monty Williams helped lead Phoenix to the best record in the NBA this season.

1. Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns

2. Taylor Jenkins, Memphis Grizzlies

3. JB Bickerstaff, Cleveland Cavaliers

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it, well, a bunch of times: Occasionally you have to go with the coach of the league’s best team for this award. That sounds simple, right? Except that a lot of voters try to handicap the candidates, valuing a mediocre or bad team’s rise in the standings – a hybrid “Coach of the Most Improved Team” award – more than sustained excellence.

Williams earns this for the maturity of the Suns and getting them to accept as professionals the lofty expectations of an NBA championship. Nothing has gotten in the way of that since they overachieved last postseason, then dropped the last four Finals games to Milwaukee. They have fun yet are unflappable when stressed, and that flows from Williams.

Jenkins, 37, is one of the best young coaches in the NBA, and there’s no attributing the Grizzlies’ success solely to dynamic All-NBA guard Ja Morant. After all, Memphis went 20-5 in the games Morant did not play this season. In fact, the team’s on-paper preferred starting lineup – Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Steven Adams – only played 108 minutes together, with Jenkins tapping the youthful roster’s reserves for mix-and-match success.

Bickerstaff brings a demeanor much like Williams, while solving his own roster puzzles: young and old, big vs. small. He made the improbably long frontcourt of Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen and Lauri Markkanen work well, found juice in Kevin Love off the bench and navigated major backcourt injuries to Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio. The Cavs drooped from being one of the league’s happiest early-season stories but still are fighting for playoff life this week.


Sixth Man of the Year

Miami guard Tyler Herro was historically impressive off the bench this season.

1. Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

2. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers

3. Cam Johnson, Phoenix Suns

Count on the voting tabulations here to be the biggest runaway of the major awards. Without Herro’s production off the bench, the Heat don’t rise to the top of the East as the No. 1 seed. He brought “instant offense” in the grand sixth-man tradition of Vinnie Johnson, Ricky Pierce, Lou Williams, Eddie Johnson and others. His eight games with at least 30 points tied for third-most in a season since the league began tracking starts vs. bench performances in 1970-71. The lean 6-foot-5 wing scored 25 or more 20 times and led Miami in total points (1,367) and points for 36 minutes (22.9).

Love was the proverbial old dog learning a new trick, moving to a bench role at age 33 in his 14th season. He was invaluable, averaging 21.8 points and 11.6 rebounds for 36 minutes while playing in his most games di lui (74) in six years. Getting on board with the move showed support of Bickerstaff to younger teammates, too.

Johnson built on his 50-40-90 shooting accuracy in the last postseason to hit 42.5% of his 3-pointers this season. And when he has scored at least 16 points, the Suns have gone 12-4.


Most Improved Player

San Antonio guard Dejounte Murray took his game to a new level this season.

1. Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs

2. Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers

3. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

If not for San Antonio’s fly-over status in finishing below .500 the past three seasons, more folks would have paid attention to Murray by now. Even then, they might have been surprised by the performance he gave the Spurs, jumping to 21.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 9.2 assists while leading the NBA with 2.0 steals. This is a No. 29 draft pick who averaged 3.4 and 8.4 points his first two seasons, then missed the third with an ACL injury. Now in his fifth campaign, he became the first player in franchise history to reach 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in a season.

Garland took a similar stride in scoring average, with his usage rate taking a leap along with his backcourt responsibilities with the season-ending injuries of Sexton and Rubio. He represented the host market in the All-Star Game and, while hoisting a Cavs-high 17.3 shots per game, attended to his teammates (8.6 assists), including 29 points-assists double-doubles.

Morant might be too good to be on this list – he was the overall No. 2 pick in 2019, already flourishing in every way beyond the guy (Zion Williamson) selected ahead of him. But going from very good to great might be even harder in this league, as far as improvement. And a number of other candidates “improved” largely because their playing time went up, their production simply staying proportional.


Executive of the Year

Offseason additions DeMar DeRozan and rookie Ayo Dosunmu delivered for Chicago this season.

1. Arturas Karnisovas, Chicago Bulls

2. James Jones, Phoenix Suns

3. Koby Altman, Cleveland Cavaliers

The media do not vote for this award – it’s strictly a peer review, the execs voting amongst themselves. So take the choices here with an even tinier grain of salt than those above. But Karnisovas didn’t just cobble together a better roster for the Bulls, he transformed their outlook. And heck, he did something, after slow-moving and even stagnant seasons under the previous administration. Signing DeMar DeRozan at 32 to a three-year, $ 82 million free-agent deal felt like an overpay that could damage Bulls salary flexibility into the future, but who’s second-guessing that decision now? The additions of Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso and the drafting of No. 38 Ayo Dosunmu all make his case.

James Jones is sort of the Monty Williams of front offices, largely behind the scenes, bringing a light, surgical touch to his roster tweaks for the NBA’s winningest team this season. Altman’s maneuvers to bring in Markkanen and Allen up front, to land Caris LeVert, to get fresh life from holdovers Cedi Osman and Dean Wade and to see what at least two teams didn’t in Mobley all speak for themselves.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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