Three Sports Illustrated analysts predict Celtics’ Ime Udoka for 2021-22 Coach of the Year

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Depending on how you look at things, first-year Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka is either set up for an epic success, or at risk for a big letdown given the expectations baked into helming a team with two established All-Stars and designs on deep postseason runs.

So far, however, it has mostly been glass half-full, both here at the Celtics Wire and among our peers at Sports Illustrated, who seem to be pretty optimistic about the Portland native’s ability to succeed in his new role. In their recent 2021-22 NBA season predictions article, a panel of eight SI writers weighed in on a number of topics, three of the panelists picked Udoka for this season’s Coach of the Year.

No other coach received more notes, so let’s dive into why that trio feels the former Brooklyn Nets assistant will make the leap successfully (and then some) with Boston.

Sports Illustrated’s Chris herring leads the charge for Udoka:

“The first-time head coach takes over a Boston club that could be primed for a solid bounceback season, one that with better health could easily go from being a slightly below-average unit on defense last season to a top-five one this year.”

“There’s plenty of talk around the Hawks, Bulls and Knicks potentially moving up in the East,” he adds. “Udoka and the Celtics could be in line to do the same after last season’s war of attrition.”

“Boston went through what seemed to be a season from hell in 2020–21, in which injury, COVID-19 absences, and a thinned rotation resulted in a 36–36 record,” opines SI’s Michael Shapiro.

“We should see the Celtics look like more of a contender this season. Boston added veteran depth over the offseason with Al Horford returning and Dennis Schröder joining on a one-year, prove-it deal, and Jayson Tatum’s fifth NBA season could see him leap into the MVP discussion. An improved roster should also benefit from a new voice in Udoka, who pairs a decade-plus playing career with stints on the staffs of Gregg Popovich and Nash.”

“As Boston returns toward the top of the East,” suggests the Sports Illustrated analyst, “Udoka could be rewarded with Coach of the Year.”

Finally, SI’s Ben Pickman notes that the “The Celtics had a disappointing year, at least by their standards, in 2020–21, finishing with just a 36–36 record and the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.”

“With Brad Stevens now leading the organization’s front office, first-year coach Udoka will be traversing the sideline for the C’s. If the Celtics bounce back—say they finish third or fourth in the East—then I think Udoka will become an immediate front-runner for the Coach of the Year award.”

“A first-year coach helping his team jump up the standings appears to be a recipe for taking home this honor,” Pickman observes — and we agree.

One of the more narrative-driven awards out there, Coach of the Year might conceivably go to the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers or Brooklyn Nets if Doc Rivers or Steve Nash respectively can convert their current chaos into a title.

It might also go to a coach like Nate McMillan of the Hawks if he lands his team in the NBA Finals or maybe even the conference finals, but from where we sit, Udoka’s odds seem at least as good as anyone else’s.

This post originally appeared on Celtics Wire. Follow us on Facebook!

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