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Monty Williams wins Coach of the Year

The Suns dominated the regular season in historic fashion, joining the 8-Game Plus Club. The sportswriters and broadcasters got it right this time by awarding him with the COTY.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Few teams in NBA history have dominated a regular season like the Phoenix Suns did in 2021-22. The statistics are staggering. 47-0 when entering the fourth quarter with a lead (an NBA record). 32-9 on the road, the fifth best winning percentage on the road in NBA history. 33-9 in the clutch, fourth best all-time by winning percentage in that category.

While their 64-18 record is tied for the 23rd greatest in league history, they are in rarified air when it comes to the gap between them and the league’s second-best club. The Suns became just the 11th team in NBA history to end the season with such a significant margin over the league’s second-best team, the Memphis Grizzlies, by finishing with an 8-game lead.

The team has performed with precision all season long, and with such an overwhelming display of dominance, my assumption is that some hardware would follow.

Suns’ head coach Monty Williams was awarded with that recognition by taking home Coach of the Year honors as voted on by sportswriters and broadcasters. He joins Cotton Fitzsimmons (1989) and Mike D’Antoni (2005) as the only other winners of the award in Phoenix Suns’ history.

Yes, the Larry O’Brien Trophy is the only prize that matters, but when you look back on this season on Basketball-Reference in 50 years, the efforts that led to such a lopsided season should be properly acknowledged in the hardware category. Awards are a reflection of what made a season special.

And, under the guidance of Monty Williams, this was a special season by the Phoenix Suns.

I mean, we haven’t seen a team do this to the NBA since the Shaq and Kobe era!

The sportswriters and broadcasters of the NBA who vote on the awards recognized that what the Suns did was unique, and the team was special due to the different mechanisms within the team and the organization.

This would is a good opportunity to take a look at the 10 other teams that are on the list of dominating seasons relative to where they finished compared to the rest of the league. The “8-Game Plus Club”, if you will. In 75 seasons, only 11 teams have gained admission. It’s prestigious indeed, especially when you hear the name associated with the successes.

Members of the Phoenix Suns were finalists for three categories, with Devin Booker being mentioned as an MVP candidate throughout the final month of the season. Coach Monty Williams (Coach of the Year), Mikal Bridges (Defensive Player of the Year), and Cameron Johnson (Sixth Man of the Year) all helped the team join the 8-Game Plus Club.

These four trophies — MVP, COTY, DPOY, and 6MOTY — have historically served as barometers of individual achievement on great teams. I looked at the awards given out each season to see if these historical regular seasons predicated awards, or if those teams were cornholed by the system and league around them. Were personal accolades provided to the players/coaches who dominated the league?

Let’s start with an understanding of when awards come into existence in the NBA. That’s right, the award landscape has evolved over the past 75 years. Not every season has had all of the awards available to distribute to players/coaches.

MVP Award

While the league technically came to fruition for the 1946-47 season – known then as the BAA (Basketball Association of America) – the league didn’t hand out the MVP award until the 1955-56 season. For the first 25 years of the award, the MVP was voted on by players in the league. It wasn’t until the 1980-81 season that sportswriters and broadcasters took on the task of voting on who should receive it.

It’s probably because every player in the league thought Rick Barry was a prick…

Although Devin Booker put forth a stellar effort in 2021-22, he was not a finalist for the MVP award. While some used the “best defensive player on the best defensive team” argument to cast their DPOY vote, the “best offensive player on the best team in the NBA” didn’t apply.

The league awarded Nikola Jokic instead.

Defensive Player of the Year

The DPOY was first awarded in 1982-83, as Bucks’ guard Sidney Moncrief took home the first two. Of the 11 teams who are in the 8-Game Plus Club, only the last five have had players who would qualify for this award, seeing as it wasn’t handed out prior.

Marcus Smart took home this hardware for the 2021-22 season, becoming only the sixth guard to win the award. Crazy to think that it took the NBA 36 years to hand out an award for the defensive efforts in the game of basketball.

Note that no member of the Phoenix Suns has won the DPOY.

Sixth Man of the Year

The best from the bench, the MVP of the pine. Much like the DPOY, the Sixth Man of the Year was instituted in the 1982-83 season, and Bobby Jones from Philly won the first one.

The Phoenix Suns have seen four winners of the award during their 54-year history: Eddie Johnson (1989), Danny Manning (1998), Rodney Rogers (2000), and Leandro Barbosa (2007). Cameron Johnson was among the three-finalists, but Tyler Herro took home the hardware in 2022.

None of truly expected Cam Johnson to win. In fact, I was more surprised than anything that he was a finalist.

Coach of the Year

The first Coach of the Year has been awarded since the 1962-63 season, and Harry Gallatin from the St. Louis Hawks was the first to win. The Red Auerbach Trophy, who only won the award once, is given to whomever the sportswriters and broadcasters deem that best coach each season.

Monty Williams has won two consecutive NBCA Coach of the Year awards, which is selected by fellow head coaches. Yet in the 2020-21, after guiding a team that had not made the playoffs in 11 seasons to the second-best record in the league, the COTY was given to Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau. His .569 winning percentage was the lowest since Doc Rivers won the award in 2000.

Kudos for getting it right this season.

Now a look at how the 8-Game Plus Club performed relative to awards.

Yes, I’ll throw in whether or not they won the championship as well, for that is the ultimate goal. I understand that is all that is important, and I know those who do not read this piece in full will respond in the comments with that statement. Noted. The goal of this exercise is to display how prior 8-Game Plus Club members were rewarded for their regular season success.

Let’s start with the teams that only had MVP award available at the time:

1957-58 Boston Celtics (49-23)

  • Finished 8 games better than the Syracuse Nationals and St. Louis Hawks
  • Lost in the NBA Finals (4-2) to the St. Louis Hawks
  • Awards: MVP - Bill Russell

1959-60 Boston Celtics (59-16)

  • Finished 10 games better than the Philadelphia Warriors
  • Won the NBA Finals (4-3) over the St. Louis Hawks
  • Awards: None

The Coach of the Year Award came about in 1962-63, so here are the 8-Game Plus Club teams that had both the MVP and COTY awards up for grabs during their era:

1964-65 Boston Celtics (62-18)

  • Finished 13 games better than the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Won the NBA Finals (4-3) over the St. Louis Hawks
  • Awards: MVP - Bill Russell, COTY - Red Auerbach

1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers

  • Finished 8 games better than the Boston Celtics
  • Won the NBA Finals (4-2) over the San Francisco Warriors
  • Awards: MVP - Wilt Chamberlain

1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks (66-16)

  • Finished 14 games better than the New York Knicks
  • Won the NBA Finals (4-0) over the Baltimore Bullets
  • Awards: MVP - Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)

1972-73 Boston Celtics (68-14)

  • Finished 8 games better than the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks
  • Lost in the Eastern Conference Finals (4-3) to the New York Knicks
  • Awards: MVP - Dave Cowens, COTY - Tom Heinsohn

Enter some new awards, including the Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year. It wouldn’t be until 11 seasons later that the NBA saw a team enter the 8-Game Plus Club.

1983-84 Boston Celtics (62-20)

  • Finished 8 games better than the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Won the NBA Finals (4-2) over the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Awards: MVP - Larry Bird, 6MOY - Kevin McHale

1991-92 Chicago Bulls (67-15)

  • Finished 10 games better than the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trailblazers
  • Won the NBA Finals (4-2) over the Portland Trailblazers
  • Awards: MVP - Michael Jordan

1995-96 Chicago Bulls (72-10)

  • Finished 8 games better than the Seattle SuperSonics
  • Won the NBA Finals (4-2) over the Seattle SuperSonics
  • Awards: MVP - Michael Jordan, COTY - Phil Jackson, 6MOY - Toni Kukoc

1999-2000 Los Angeles Lakers (67-15)

  • Finished 8 games better than the Portland Trailblazers
  • Won the NBA Finals (4-2) over the Indiana Pacers
  • Awards: MVP - Shaquille O’Neal

And that’s it. It has been 21 years, the longest stretch in NBA history, since a team joined the 8-Game Plus Club. Until the Suns punched their ticket to the elite group this season.

What is of note in the context of this conversation is this: only one team did not earn any awards: the 1959-60 Celtics. They were in an era before COTY, DPOY, and 6OTY — so they potentially could’ve taken home one of those — and didn’t get the MVP because Wilt Chamberlain averaged 37.6 points and 27 rebounds. Read that stat line again. Wow.

8 of the previous 10 teams in the 8-Game Plus Club went on to win the title. There’s your championship pedigree nod.

Let’s go ahead and add Phoenix to the list, knowing that their march for a title is still in progress.

2021-22 Phoenix Suns (64-18)

  • Finished 8 games better than the Memphis Grizzlies
  • TBD
  • Awards: COTY - Monty Williams

Congratulations to Monty Williams for earning the Coach of the Year distinction. He earned it and history agrees with why. He led the Suns through the 2021-22 season in astonishing fashion, keeping them focused and engaged. The team won the most games in the 54-year history of the franchise and owned the rest of the league.

There are numerous moments in which Monty has shined. The #Montyism hashtag highlights his motivational words of wisdom. “Everything you want is on the other side of hard”. “Well done is better than well said”.

And some of these motivating words:

It’s nice to see Coach Monty get the recognition he deserves. He is a class act through and through. He has changed the trajectory of this franchise and is a role model for all those who have to honor of comin in contact with him.

Congrats Coach.

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