NBA futures: Backing Wes Unseld Jr for Coach of the Year
With the Washington Wizards defying expectations to lead the East, Chris Sheridan examines Wes Unseld Jr's chances of winning Coach of the Year.
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It’s safe to say that it has been a strange year in Washington D.C., from an insurrection at the nation’s capital to the ending of the usage of the word "Redskins" to the never-ending war for the hearts and minds of the polarized American public being waged every day by politicians.
Now, among the strangeness, the Washington Wizards are sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference with a lineup including several Nets and Lakers castoffs who are making Wes Unseld Jr. look like the best coach in the NBA.
When will the sportsbooks recognize this? And should you recognize it before the odds on Unseld Jr. winning Coach of the Year begin to drop? Washington is a 3.5-point favorite tonight against an absolutely horrible New Orleans Pelicans team that enters the nation’s capital with a 2-12 record and a general manager on the hot seat, and this very strange NBA season seems to be serving up an opportunity.
We have said this before and we will say it again: The futures markets can often offer some tantalizing opportunities, and right now Unseld Jr. is not listed among the top seven favorites for Coach of the Year. Betway has him at +1500.
Much of the Eastern Conference makes little sense at this early point of the season. The defending champion Milwaukee Bucks are in 11th place with losses in four of their past six games, while the Cleveland Cavaliers, despite losing shooting guard Collin Sexton for two months due to injury, are sitting in fourth. The Atlanta Hawks, who knocked off the Bucks by 20, are nonetheless 13th in the conference at 5-9, and the Philadelphia 76ers have lost four in a row and seem no closer to finding a deal for Ben Simmons as he continues to sit idle while awaiting a trade that may or may not happen.
The prognosticators did not foresee this, but out of chaos can come order, as the expression goes. Which means we are hereby asking you to consider the following: The Coach of the Year award almost always goes to a coach whose team outperforms preseason expectations, as Tom Thibodeau (Knicks) and Nick Nurse (Raptors) can attest after what happened in each of the last two seasons.
So ask yourself: Can Washington keep doing what it is doing? Can the Cavs, too? And in the West, the same goes for the Golden State Warriors and Steve Kerr, who is currently the +700 favorite to win the same award he captured in 2016. The ‘Dubs lost last night in Charlotte to begin a four-game Eastern road trip, just the second blemish on their record with a tough nationally televised matchup against the Brooklyn Nets coming up Tuesday night.
So while Kerr is a worthy favorite at this point, a word of caution from a former official NBA awards voter: When writers and broadcasters cast their votes, they often try to spread the love. And if Steph Curry continues on his current NBA MVP pace, that is going to impact the number of votes that Kerr receives barring a 70-win season.
The big question with Unseld Jr. and the Wizards (and the same thing with Bickerstaff and the Cavs) is whether they can sustain what they have done thus far. In both cases my answer is: “Why not?”
The Wizards turned Russell Westbrook into Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell, all of whom are playing huge roles along with Spencer Dinwiddie in the Wizards’ strong start. Washington has played only one game outside of the Eastern Conference (a victory vs. Memphis). After tonight’s game against the Pelicans, the Wizards play on the road against Charlotte and Miami before returning to D.C. to play those same teams again. Going 4-0 would be a huge validation that they are a team to be reckoned with, and although nobody is prepared to say they are ready to compete for a championship, we should remind you that strange things continue to happen in the nation’s capital. So if you are a believer in some team doing exactly what Toronto did three seasons ago, Unseld’s team is on the board at Betway at +8000 to win the East and +18000 to win the championship.
Let’s have a look at the seven candidates with shorter odds than Unseld’s:
Kerr, Golden State (+700): When you have a player playing as well as Curry has been playing, the credit always goes to the player rather than the coach, who generally has to do little more than tell his team “Get Steph the ball behind the 3-point line, OK?” Kerr is a media darling, which could help him, and his chances are not to be dismissed but rather looked at through a sharp lens. Did he have to do all that much actual coaching?
Erik Spoelstra, Miami (+800): Three consecutive losses on the current Western trip along with injuries to Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo (neither is serious) have pushed the Heat back to the middle of the East pack. An exceptional final regular-season record gets Spoelstra some consideration. Anything short of that, and voters say: “He is a great coach, no doubt. But he was not the Coach of the Year.”
Billy Donovan, Chicago (+900): A very serious contender if Chicago continues to play at a level that keeps the Bulls in the hunt for a top-three spot in the East. Have defeated the Clippers and lost to the Warriors on their current Western swing. It may come down to a question of whether voters believe the credit should go to Donovan for his coaching or to Arturas Karnisovas for his offseason maneuvering to rebuild the roster with key pieces including DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso (now starting).
Quin Snyder, Utah (+1000): The Jazz finished first in the West a year ago, so the bar was already set pretty high for them. They remain a very good team that is very far off the national radar, and the thinking here is that only an NBA-best record gets Snyder any first-place votes.
Steve Nash, Brooklyn (+1200): How can he not win with the roster he has been given? Another guy (like Kerr) who may need a 70-win season to get this award, Kyrie or no Kyrie.
James Borrego, Charlotte (+1400): His team is 8-7, and 8-7 is not all that great of a record – certainly not award consideration material. Has no business having shorter odds than Unseld, Bickerstaff and a few others.
Doc Rivers, Philadelphia (+1400): He has lost a bunch of man games to COVID and injuries, and he has done the best he can with the Simmons situation. The jury is out on this team and this candidacy until we see what becomes of the Simmons situation. For now, an 8-6 record ain’t all that much.
Monty Williams, Phoenix (+1500): His team went to the NBA finals last season and he did not get enough credit, which means he could draw some “sorry about forgetting about you a year ago” votes. Still, he would have to win West to win this award, which is not out of the question. That conference sucks.
Backatcha tomorrow with a betting preview of the TNT doubleheader featuring Golden State vs Brooklyn and Philadelphia vs Utah.