Our Picks for the 2020-21 NBA Regular Season Awards
May 17th, 2021
In making selections for various awards, I looked at many various metrics on Basketball-Reference to make an informed decision as to whom I would vote for in the 2020-21 NBA regular season awards. Although it was rare when the winner was unanimous, our staff reached a consensus to make its picks for the 2021 NBA regular season awards.
MVP: Nikola Jokić, C, Denver Nuggets
Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić is a tremendously skilled center that lead the league in a lot of advanced metrics such as win shares, box plus-minus, value over replacement player (VORP), and in PER, and his strong all-around play would make him well-deserving of winning the MVP honors this season. He does pretty much everything for his team, and that he is a 6-11 center that also averaged almost 8 ½ assists per game is very impressive. Add in that he’s helped Denver to another top-4 seed in the West in addition to his tremendous individual performance gives Jokić a really strong case for the MVP award.
He does face some competition, though. Utah Jazz’s center, Rudy Gobert has been the best player on the team with the best record in the NBA, and he’s a stout defender that ranked really well in a lot of defensive metrics, and he is also second in win shares.
Philadelphia 76ers’ center, Joel Embiid is also playing very well, as he is the best player on the best team in the East. He’s 2nd in PER and in Win Shares per 48, and he’s been putting forth strong scoring and rebounding numbers this season.
While our staff voted for those three players, Golden State Warriors’ guard, Stephen Curry deserves a special mention. Curry is a superstar that is currently one of the best players in the league, and he has fully recovered to drop multiple 50-point games, and he also scored 62 points early this season. Curry ranked in the top 10 in win shares and value over replacement level player, and he also led the league in scoring in total points and points per game. If his team won more games though, he probably would’ve gotten a top 3 vote for sure, but for our staff, there was only enough room to vote for three players.
Defensive Player of the Year: Ben Simmons, G-F, Philadelphia 76ers
This was a close one. Unlike our pick for the MVP award, our staff did not pick the same person to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, and it was not a unanimous pick. But in the close call between Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Utah’s Rudy Gobert, ultimately, our staff went with Ben Simmons.
Ben Simmons is a super versatile defender that can guard all five positions. He can aptly defend out on the perimeter as well as in the post, and his defensive versatility makes him a very valuable player on the court, especially on the defensive end. He ranked 9th in Defensive Win Shares, 7th in Defensive Box Plus-Minus, and 5th in Defensive Rating, and he also helped lead Philadelphia to a 1st place finish in the East. It may be tough to fully capture perimeter defense statistically, but Simmons is an especially important on the defensive end. One interesting stat is that the 76ers are 42-16 with him on the floor, but were 7-7 without him, which goes to highlight how truly valuable he is to them.
Rudy Gobert is an elite interior defender that is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner, and he appears to have a much stronger case from a statistical vantage point. He led the league in blocks per game, defensive win shares, and defensive rating, and he also finished in the top 5 in defensive box plus-minus. He is also the defensive anchor on the team with the best record in the NBA. If there’s one thing that knocks Gobert, it’s that Simmons generally faces tougher matchups and a more diverse range of matchups, as where Gobert traditionally gets matched up against other big men, and so he isn’t often tasked to defend out on the perimeter.
Draymond Green is also a versatile defender that can guard a wide range of positions, and he has helped propel the Warriors into having a top 5 defense in the NBA this year, and he also has excelled defensively as a result. He was 5th in defensive win shares, 2nd in defensive box plus-minus, and 8th in defensive rating. His case for the defensive player of the year award might not be as strong as Simmons or Gobert’s, but he’s still proved to be quite valuable to his team, and his ability to guard a wide range of players allows the Warriors to compete for a playoff spot this season.
One of the more surprising aspects of this season is the New York Knicks’ stunning success this year, and veteran center Nerlens Noel plays a big part in helping his coach Tom Thibodeau run a solid defensive unit this year. Noel ranked very well in a lot of advanced metrics, and he ranked in the top 5 in defensive win shares, defensive box plus-minus, and defensive rating. Noel also led the league in defensive box plus-minus. If he had gotten even more playing time, he would’ve been a more obvious candidate for the defensive player of the year award for sure, but Noel deserves a mention for his strong defensive play this year.
Others Receiving Votes:
Nerlens Noel, C, New York Knicks
Rookie of the Year: LaMelo Ball, G, Charlotte Hornets
LaMelo Ball has had a tremendous rookie season with the Charlotte Hornets under head coach James Borrego, and even though he missed some time due to injury, he still has a strong case to win the Rookie of the Year award.
Among rookies that played over 1000 minutes, Ball finished second in points per game, second in rebounds per game, first in assists per game, finished in the top 2 in value over replacement player among drafted rookies, and was third in total steals. Ball has put up strong all-around numbers, and he also has shot the ball much better than expected coming in to this season. Add in the fact that Ball has been a valuable player on a potentially postseason bound-Hornets team, and that makes him just about a shoo-in to win the Rookie of the Year award.
Tyrese Haliburton also has played very well this year. He is a very efficient and skilled playmaker, and among qualifiers he ranked 3rd in points per game, 2nd in assists per game, 5th in steals, tied for first in value over replacement player among drafted rookies, and was second in WAR among drafted rookies. Haliburton has played well, but also rates well in advanced metrics, which could give him a fairly solid case for this award as well.
Anthony Edwards was the first overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The Timberwolves’ rookie scoring guard got off to a slow start, but he’s progressed steadily since. He leads all rookies in points per game, is tied for second in total steals, has dropped a 40 point game once, and he has brought forth a plethora of tremendous dunk reels for his team. Advanced metrics might not like him nearly as much as the other two, but he has gained a strong and loyal faithful in Minnesota, and they will surely back his candidacy for the Rookie of the Year award.
Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks
Before Tom Thibodeau got to New York City, the Knicks had been a downtrodden team that had accrued one losing season after another, and their loyal and passionate fanbase was already listless and restless, as they demanded change. Skip forward to right now, and Tom Thibodeau is the toast of the town. Actually, he may be the most popular man in their state right now. He’s led the Knicks to a top 4 finish in the East, and to having one of the best defenses in the NBA. His team was projected to finish near the bottom, and he’s led them to finish near the top of the Eastern Conference. He’s made the Knicks a relevant NBA team again, and that alone speaks volumes as to why he deserves to be the coach of the year this season.
Monty Williams did a great job in leading the Phoenix Suns this season. It did help that they landed Chris Paul in a blockbuster trade, but the Suns surpassed expectations, nonetheless. They were expected to be a mid-tier playoff team coming in, but right now, the Suns have the second best record in the West. It’s possible that they could face the defending champions, Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, but have home court advantage this time, and Monty Williams deserves a lot of credit for helping to lead his team into a contender this year.
Just before the Atlanta Hawks made their coaching change, they were floundering as a lower-tier team in the East, and it seemed as if they were doomed for another middling, lackluster season yet again. When they hired Nate McMillan during the middle of the season, it was a game changer. McMillan won 27 of his first 38 games as Atlanta’s interim head coach, and he’s guided the Hawks from a bubble playoff team to squarely being a top 6 seed in the East. His win percentage this season would have been good enough to net the Hawks a top 3 finish if he had been the head coach from the start. Certainly, he’s helped lead Trae Young and the Hawks to be the offensive force that NBA fans were hoping them to be.
Also deserving of special mention are Utah Jazz’s head coach, Quin Snyder, and Philadelphia 76ers’ head coach, Doc Rivers. Though their teams were expected to be solid playoff teams this year, both coaches still managed to exceed their already high expectations, as they guided their teams to have the best records of their respective conferences. In any other year, both of them would be right in the running for the Head Coach of the Year award, if not the favorite altogether.
Others Receiving Votes:
Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz
Sixth Man of the Year: Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz
There were plenty of strong candidates for the sixth man of the year award.
Joe Ingles is a very efficient, skilled forward that is an incredibly gifted shooter and passer, and he has put up strong numbers this season, especially from an advanced metrics’ point of view. That he has accumulated 7 win shares and is on the team with the best record in the NBA gives him a very strong case to win this award.
Jordan Clarkson is an athletic, skilled scoring guard that packs a strong punch off the bench. He was considered by some people as a candidate to be an NBA All-Star this year, and he has excelled as a scorer off the bench for the Utah Jazz, who has the best record in the NBA.
Montrezl Harrell won the award last year with the Los Angeles Clippers, and he could be up for the award again this year with the Lakers. He’s a consistent, high-motor big man that puts up strong numbers off the bench. He has even more win shares than Ingles, as Harrell has slightly over 7 win shares, but the Lakers’ relatively disappointing regular season finish might weaken his case, as his team has struggled much more than expected this year.
Derrick Rose played very well for the New York Knicks this year, and he played a vital role as a scoring playmaker to revitalize their bench this season. He’s played a key role on their team, and he has been a big part of their success this year.
Though the Toronto Raptors were surprisingly one of the worst teams in the NBA this year, Chris Boucher was a bright spot on their team. He put up strong numbers off the bench for them, and he is a very athletic, skilled stretch big that can space the floor, rebound, and block shots, and he has the talent to start on a very good playoff level team in this league.
Others Receiving Votes:
Derrick Rose, New York Knicks, Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors
Most Improved Player: Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Julius Randle has transformed himself into being one of the best, most versatile and skilled players in the NBA. He is a very athletic big man that has strong scoring skills, and he also can rack up rebounds and assists. He’s been the Knicks’ most important player, as he will guide them to their first postseason berth of this decade.
Executive of the Year: James Jones, Phoenix Suns’ general manager
James Jones made the trade of the year by acquiring Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder to pair him up with rising stars Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, and the Phoenix Suns immediately transformed into being an overnight contender. They finished 2nd in the West, and they look to be a formidable team that may be sleeper contenders for the title this year.
Daryl Morey made a lot of solid moves for the Philadelphia 76ers. They replaced Brett Brown with head coach Doc Rivers, and that move has really paid off. They also acquired Danny Green and Dwight Howard via trades and free agency, and they also selected rookie guard, Tyrese Maxey in the draft. Mostly though, Morey’s hiring of Doc Rivers allowed Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons further develop their rapport, as Embiid is now an MVP candidate, and Simmons is also a strong contender for the Defensive Player of the Year award this year.
New York Knicks’ president, Leon Rose made a smart hire by hiring Tom Thibodeau to be the head coach of their team. It changed their culture for the better. The Knicks now have become a winning basketball team, and the fans are finding the feeling to be irresistible.
Thibodeau helped lead the Knicks to have a top 4 finish in the East, and to being one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Julius Randle is now an NBA All-Star that may be one of the most underrated players in the league, and second-year guard R.J. Barrett looks to be a rising star in the making. Also, that they selected rookie guard Immanuel Quickley from Kentucky late in the first round was a brush stroke of genius, as he has fit well with their team, and has immediately brought forth strong shooting and defensive skills this year.
Also, worthy of mentioning is Atlanta Hawks’ general manager and president, Travis Schlenk. Schlenk helped accrue plenty of solid veterans via free agency, as he signed Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanović. He also signed Rajon Rondo, who had played well last year with the Lakers, and he then managed to flip him in a trade midseason to get former Los Angeles Clippers’ star guard, Lou Williams.
His best move was hiring Nate McMillan as the interim head coach midseason. They had been able to hire him as an assistant prior to the start of the season to join former coach, Lloyd Pierce’s staff. If only if McMillan was the head coach to start the season all along though, rather than give Pierce another chance to coach at the start, Schlenk likely would have been able to get a third place vote here. Regardless, Schlenk still had a good season.
Our Executive of the Year voting results (Unanimous):
1. James Jones, Phoenix Suns’ general manager
2. Daryl Morey, Philadelphia 76ers’ president of basketball operations
3. Leon Rose, New York Knicks’ president
All-Rookie First Team (Unanimous):
As mentioned earlier, LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton, and Anthony Edwards were easy picks for us to include on the All-Rookie first team, because our staff unanimously selected them to be in the top 3 of the Rookie of the Year award.
Detroit Pistons’ rookie center, Isaiah Stewart also gets a spot on this team, as he finished first in rebounds per game, blocks, and he also finished first in WAR among rookies.
New York Knicks’ rookie guard, Immanuel Quickley also gets a spot here, as he was 4thin WAR amongst drafted rookies, placed in the top 10 in points per game, and he also excelled as a shooter and defender on a solid, playoff bound team this year.
All-Rookie Second Team:
Houston Rockets’ forward, Jae’Sean Tate, Detroit Pistons’ forward, Saddiq Bey, and Denver Nuggets’ guard Facundo Campazzo were unanimous picks for our All-Rookie Second Team. Tate ranked in the top 10 in points per game, rebounds per game, steals, and blocks, and he also ranked 2nd in WAR amongst rookies.
Saddiq Bey excelled as a shooter and scorer for his team, and he placed 3rd in WAR amongst drafted rookies.
Facundo Campazzo played well in his role off the bench for a solid Denver Nuggets’ team, and he placed among league leaders in WAR amongst rookies.
Desmond Bane shot the ball really well, as he ranked first in three-point percentage amongst rookies that played over 1000 minutes as made 43.2% of his threes, and he excelled as a sharpshooter for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Patrick Williams also excelled as a shooter and defender for the Chicago Bulls, and he looks to be a solid player amongst rookies in his draft class.
Also, Payton Pritchard shot the ball very well for the Boston Celtics, and he played a substantial role on a talented, Celtics team. Houston Rockets’ forward, Kenyon Martin Jr. was surprisingly impressive as a shooter and defender as well, though he didn’t play nearly as much as Williams. Though no one on our staff voted for Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers’ rookie guard Tyrese Maxey also deserves a mention, as he played a vital role on a very good 76ers’ team, and he is a scoring guard that once scored 39 points in an NBA regular season game this season.
Others Receiving Votes for the All-Rookie 2nd Team:
Payton Pritchard, Boston Celtics, Kenyon Martin Jr., Houston Rockets
Using all of the information we had available to us, here are our picks for the All-Defensive teams.
All-Defensive 1st Team:
All-Defensive 2nd Team:
Also, here are our picks for the All-NBA first, second, and third teams for the 2020-21 season.
NBA Scouting Live’s All-NBA 1st Team:
NBA Scouting Live’s All-NBA 2nd Team:
NBA Scouting Live’s All-NBA 3rd Team:
It will be interesting to see how the 2021 NBA playoffs will play out and unfold. Thanks for reading our award picks, and thank you for reading.