Predicting 2020-21 NBA regular season award winners

Handing out awards

The NBA released its finalists for the 2020-21 regular season awards during TNT’s programming for the play-in game between the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards. The list doesn’t include any surprise candidates, and basketball fans should keep their lists of snubs to a minimum this year. Most of the winners are obvious, but we’ll preview the award races anyway.

Keep in mind that the NBA hands out these awards based solely on regular season play. The play-in tournament isn’t part of the regular season. Anything done after May 16 doesn’t count toward a player’s or coach’s résumé.

Now, let’s hand out some awards.

MVP- Nikola Jokić

This should be an open and shut case, but the MVP is often about narrative as much as it is about performance. Stephen Curry, a finalist along with Joel Embiid and Jokić, has the power of narrative on his side. However, Jokić’s performance this season is on such a high level that I can’t imagine him not becoming the first center to win the award in two decades.

Jokić played all 72 games this season while Curry and Embiid missed significant time. The Serbian is also first in several key statistical categories, including box plus-minus, VORP, and win shares. Jokić finished third in points (1,898) and assists (599) too. Add in finishing third in the stacked Western Conference without Jamal Murray, and you’ve got the league’s newest MVP.

Runner-up: Stephen Curry

Defensive Player of the Year- Ben Simmons

Simmons finished fourth in the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) voting last season. The 24-year-old responded by taking his defensive game to a new level in 2020. Despite his size, Simmons often covers the opposing team’s best player for larger chunks of games. He’s a stud defensive wing with matchup versatility possessed by very few players in the past 20 years.

Simmons is the only finalist for the DPOY that hasn’t won the award previously. Rudy Gobert took it home in back-to-back seasons (2017 and 2018), while Draymond Green won in 2016. Green’s defense played a massive role in Golden State’s success this season, but Gobert is still the odds-on favorite to win this year. I disagree with the oddsmakers.

Runner-up: Rudy Gobert

Sixth Man of the Year- Jordan Clarkson

This award is fairly straightforward for me. Clarkson’s teammate, Joe Ingles, and New York’s Derrick Rose are finalists for the Sixth Man of the Year award, but this is a one-man race. Ingles is an excellent three-point shooter, but Clarkson and Rose are more dynamic scoring options that shouldered larger burdens on the offensive end of the court. Clarkson outscored Rose by over 500 points this year.

It’s worth noting that Ingles has the highest VORP and most win shares of these three candidates, but this is a rare instance where I’ll go against the numbers. Give it to Clarkson.

Runner-up: Derrick Rose

Rookie of the Year- Anthony Edwards

Tyrese Haliburton is the most underrated member of the Class of 2020. LaMelo Ball is the most gifted. Edwards is your Rookie of the Year (ROY). The first overall pick lived up to his draft stock, scoring 1,392 points in his 72 appearances. Edwards finished his rookie season with 25 or more points in 19 games, including a pair of 42-point performances.

Ball deserves consideration for this award, but he only played 51 games. At some point, availability must play a role in these selections. That’s why I’m not giving much consideration to Embiid in the MVP race. Ball had 22 games with at least seven assists and five games with 25 points or more. He’s the center of Charlotte’s organization, but this award belongs to Edwards.

Runner-up: LaMelo Ball

Most Improved Player- Julius Randle

Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. made strides this season, but neither led a playoff team in points, assists, and rebounds. Randle captured the triple crown for New York as he led the Knicks to their first playoff berth in nearly a decade. The first-time All-Star also had a great campaign in 2018, but his horrendous 2019 season opened the door to winning this award.

While Randle rebounded from a disappointing year after a breakout season in 2018, Grant and Porter planted their flags in the NBA landscape for the first time. Grant went from averaging 12 points per game in 2019 to 22.3 this year.

Porter, who is technically still a second-year player, became Denver’s second option on offense once Murray went down. He averaged 19 points per game while canning 44.5% of his 6.3 three-pointers per outing. That’s massive growth from a player who’s only 22 years old.

Grant and Porter had impressive seasons, but Randle is on the verge of earning an All-NBA selection. He should win this award in a landslide.

Runner-up: Michael Porter Jr.

Coach of the Year- Monty Williams

The Suns won all eight of their games in the bubble and narrowly missed the playoffs last year. While Williams’ team was heading in the right direction entering this season, no one expected Phoenix to finish second in the Western Conference. Williams coached his team to a 51-21 record, one win shy of Utah’s league-leading 52-20 mark.

Speaking of Utah, Quin Snyder is one of the other finalists, along with New York’s Tom Thibodeau. All three men are deserving of this award, but the Knicks and Suns are shattering playoff droughts. New York hadn’t made the playoffs since the 2012 season, while Phoenix’s drought dates back over a decade.

Runner-up: Tom Thibodeau

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