While the player awards (MVP, DPOY, etc.) typically dominate the futures market, there still remains plenty of intrigue surrounding the Coach of the Year award. Odds were recently released on DraftKings, and they are oozing value. Check out below for recent Coach of the Year trends and subsequent best bets for the 2023-24 NBA season.
Recent COTY Trends
Trends are crucial for awards because they provide psychological insight into how the voters approach the matter. Once one understands what they value in a candidate, it’s far easier to predict which coach may fit the mold.
Over the past 20 seasons, 10 of the winners were returning coaches while 10 were just hired and in their first year with the franchise. An even split doesn’t seem significant, but consider the fact that the vast majority of coaches every season are returning to the same franchise. Therefore, a new coach holds an advantage, which seems logical since novelty inherently captures attention. They also bring new philosophies and tweak the roster, so a team’s success is more likely to be attributed to them rather than a team that sees improvement under a long-time coach.
The standards for success of new and returning coaches also differ. Of the 10 winners that were new coaches, the team’s previous season had a 0.445 average win percentage (~36.4 wins) and 0.432 median win percentage (~35.4 wins). During their COTY campaign, they raised these to a 0.682 average win percentage (~55.9 wins) and 0.701 median win percentage (~57.4 wins). That’s a net average change of 19.5 wins and a net median change of 22 wins, which is absolutely enormous.
Meanwhile, of the 10 winners that were returning coaches, the team’s previous season had a 0.614 average win percentage (~50.3 wins) and 0.664 median win percentage (~54.4 wins). During their COTY season, they increased these to a 0.732 average win percentage (~60 wins) and 0.733 median win percentage (~60.1 wins). Therefore, the net average change was 9.8 wins while the net median change was 5.7 wins.
Finally, it’s worth noting that 4 of the 10 returning coaches were coming off a Finals appearance. It’s almost as if voters were handing them delayed recognition if they managed to maintain an excellent record the following season.
In summation, the new coaches were recognized for adding an immense amount of wins and transforming a bad to mediocre team into a playoff squad. On the other hand, returning coaches were awarded for leading a team from a playoff squad into true title contender territory. Returning coaches that just made the Finals also had a strong history of winning the award during the next season. It was rare to see a winner not fit these trends, so this is the mold to target for either new or returning coaches.
2023-24 COTY Best Bets
Now that the recent trends are unearthed, let’s utilize them to inform the best bets for each category (returning and new).
Erik Spoelstra (+750): Despite being one of the best coaches in the NBA for over a decade, Spoelstra has never won the award. Is it finally time? Although Miami made the Finals, they are currently seen as dangerous but not a true title contender. Therefore, their elevation into this tier would fit the mold for returning coaches. Enter Damian Lillard, who seems destined to join the Heat via trade this off-season. A big three of Lillard, Butler, and Adebayo easily has the potential to claim a top three seed in the weaker Eastern Conference, which would shine brightly on Spoelstra.
Overall, Spoelstra checks all of the boxes for a returning coach. He’s highly-regarded, coming off a Finals appearance, and Damian Lillard’s seemingly inevitable trade pushes them into title contender territory while boosting their regular season wins. For +750 to be a profitable play long-term, Spoelstra must win the award at least 11.8% of the time. Considering all of the factors, that’s extremely feasible to me.
Ime Udoka (+4500): There are 5 new head coaches this upcoming season: Bucks, 76ers, Raptors, Suns, Rockets. Of that group, only the Rockets fit the trend of bad to mediocre team that could take a significant wins leap. They just added two big free agents in Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks along with top rookies Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore. Internal improvement from their young core is expected too, so Houston should drastically improve their win total. Udoka can instill a level of discipline that this young roster currently lacks, and Boston’s 2022 Finals run displayed Udoka’s knack for making key adjustments.
Overall, the Rockets are primed to make a leap due to roster upgrades and Udoka’s significant coaching upgrade. Will voters hold his reasons for being fired from Boston against him? It’s unclear, but +4500 is more than worth the risk. In fact, it’s an absolute steal, as Udoka only needs to win the award 2.2% of the time for it to hold a positive expected value.