WorldWideWob: 2020-21 NBA Season Award Predictions
By Rob Perez
Throughout the 2020-2021 NBA campaign, I have been working on a project called "Leader in the Clubhouse", documenting who I think should win each NBA award at 18 different check points from season tipoff to season end.
This was the result:
- Nikola Jokic
- Joel Embiid
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Steph Curry
- Chris Paul
It’s Jokic. It’s going to be Jokic. It’s been Jokic since the all-star break.
Players win the MVP by checking the following boxes:
- Elite Statistics & Analytics
- Popular Narrative
- Team Finishes Top 4 in Conference
- 1 “Holy s**t, that’s the MVP” Moment
Giannis, Embiid, and Jokic qualify for consideration based on these prerequisites.
Giannis is somehow, someway averaging the same and sometimes even better numbers than he recorded in his previous two MVP campaigns. That’s a narrative in itself, is it not?
Embiid has potential to be the most dominant center since Shaquille O’Neal, and showed has single-handedly removed “true center” from the NBA’s endangered species list. He would have certainly been in contention for the win if he didn’t get hurt and had to sit out for an extended period of time.
But ultimately, it’s Jokic. The only name on this list who played in every single game this season. Yes, durability should absolutely matter. Especially during a season with unprecedented adversity from the pandemic, schedule condensing, and more back-to-backs than ever. Road back-to-backs require getting on a plane after playing a game, traveling to another city, arriving in the death of the night, checking into the hotel, waking up after only a couple hours of sleep, and getting ready for another game that evening. Last time I checked: the human body needs sleep to recover injuries and energy, and the NBA put its players through a never-before-seen stress test. Durability matters. It’s not mandatory, but it needs to be recognized and applauded for those who so choose to complete the task of playing every single night.
Jokic, as he’s proved multiple times this campaign, is the reason why the Nuggets are going to finish a top 4 seed in the Western Conference. After Jamal Murray went down, nobody would have blamed Denver for regressing to the mean. All they did was keep winning, and their success starts and ends with the nucleus of everything they do: Nikola Jokic.
And finally: the “holy shit, that’s the MVP” moment. A moment that freezes you in time and creates a never-ending multimedia archive in your memory. It’s the highlight that runs on loop when the player is included in future MVP montages and/or giving his induction speech at the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Did he get a little hand on the way up? Yeah, it wasn’t clean. But what would happen if you stuck your arm out in front of a runaway train? He’s lucky it’s still attached to his body, and I won’t be forgetting that game-saving block against Zion anytime soon.
Defensive Player of the Year
- Rudy Gobert
- Ben Simmons
- Bam Adebayo
Gobert didn’t just break every advanced analytic used to measure defense, he had his opponents looking over their shoulders at all times wondering where he was.
This level of intimidation isn’t something that’s quantifiable in box score statistics, but look no further than the Utah Jazz’s third-ranked defense that was ELEVEN points better with Gobert on the court versus when he was on the bench.
Yes, memes of him on the timeline can be entertaining sometimes. But it’s not so fun when the memes clap black, now, is it?
Simmons can guard positions 1-5, god bless him because that is a skill only a handful of players can earnestly say they have the ability to do so. But that fortress of a 76ers defense is an assembly line production. And despite his individual talent, Gobert’s value is worth more to the Jazz than Simmons’ is to the 76ers. That doesn’t mean Gobert is a “better defender” than Ben, he was simply more impactful this season.
Rookie of the Year
- LaMelo Ball
- Anthony Edwards
- Tyrese Haliburton
Most Improved Player
- Julius Randle
- Michael Porter Jr.
- Christian Wood
The emergence of that LIGHTS OUT weak-hand step back to the right corner is one of the more baffling developments of the season. At first, it was probably the NBA’s number one “no no no no YES!!!” shot now that J.R. Smith and Nick Young are no longer in the league, but now, after so many examples of it getting the Knicks to the finish line, it’s Julius Randle’s Stone Cold Stunner.
6th Man of the Year
- Jordan Clarkson
- Derrick Rose
- Jalen Brunson
Coach of the Year
- Monty Williams
- Tom Thibodeau
- Quin Snyder
It started with the Suns running the table in the bubble. They ultimately fell short of the playoffs, but that winning streak catapulted the franchise into massive momentum.
This team has embraced and embodied Monty Williams — not only as a coach, but as a person.
His speech after the team’s final game in Orlando still sticks with me to this day:
Fast-forward to April, and the Suns are not only clinching a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2010, they, at one point, hold the best record in the NBA and the Western Conference’s #1 seed.
While that #1 spot would soon be relinquished back to the Utah Jazz, how Monty Williams has balanced a roster of young role players (Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jevon Carter, Torrey Craig, Deandre Ayton), veteran castaways (Frank Kaminsky, Dario Saric, Langston Galloway, Jae Crowder), and two all-stars (Chris Paul, Devin Booker) can only be challenged by Tom Thibodeau’s accomplishments.
This Suns team has no business being THIS good, THIS quickly. The same could be said about the New York Knicks, but the difference for me is not only a top record — but an overnight ascension to championship contention. That doesn’t happen by accident, and it’s not just because Chris Paul is there now too. Monty Williams has extracted the best out of everyone on that roster. Overachieving is a compliment, and they have done it the best. Winning is a collective effort, and all of these players don’t shine this season without buying what Monty Williams is selling.
C: Nikola Jokic
F: Joel Embiid
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
G: Steph Curry
G: Chris Paul
C: Rudy Gobert
F: Julius Randle
F: Kawhi Leonard
G: Damian Lillard
G: Luka Doncic
C: Bam Adebayo
F: Paul George
F: LeBron James
G: Russell Westbrook
G: Kyrie Irving
1st team all-NBA should be your MVP ballot. Is that so hard?
1st Team All-Defense:
C: Rudy Gobert
F: Bam Adebayo
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
G: Ben Simmons
G: Matisse Thybulle
1st Team All-Rookie:
Executive of the Year:
Remember when the Nets got James Harden for Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, and some draft picks? Good times.
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