2020-21 NBA Awards Picks

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Fuck it, this season was weird as hell. Covid-19 sucked, the season started in December, there were only 72 games, and a doughy Serbian guy is the best basketball player on the planet. But we made it through the regular season with minimal casualties for the playoffs (RIP Jaylen Brown and Jamal Murray) and about eight different teams that seem to have a shot at the championship. A lot of dudes missed a lot of time during the regular season, but most are back for the playoffs. We have a play-in tournament this year which is fun unless your name is LeBron. And the Timberwolves sucked and are about to get screwed in the draft lottery. (Maybe it wasn’t such a weird season after all.) So here are my totally official (and not just some guy with an internet connection) awards picks that will be etched in stone for the rest of time, which after the pandemic is probably about 5-8 years give or take.

MVP

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

No matter what casuals like Nick “Wrong” think about Jokic and the legacy of the MVP award and those who win it, Nikola Jokic is the clear cut MVP this season. The Serbian center is unstoppable averaging 26.4 points per game, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.5 assists with a ridiculously efficient 64.7 true shooting percentage. To say he’d be the worst MVP since Dave Cowens is like saying LeBron is only the best GOAT since Jordan. It makes no damn sense, and it doesn’t even compel me. Out of every MVP season in NBA history Jokic would rank second in true shooting, 7th in BPM, 8th in PER, 11th in assists, three-point shooting, and win shares per 48 minutes, 21st in VORP, 33rd in scoring, and 35th in rebounding. I know those statistics are hard for small brains like Nick to wrap his head around, but Jokic is having a middle to top tier MVP season. By the way he’s doing it without his second best player. Jokic and the Nuggets are 13-6 since Jamal Murray tore his ACL and entrenched themselves as the four-seed in a loaded Western Conference. You can make the case for Embiid, who is having a Shaq-esque season, but missing 19 games puts his a step behind the Joker. Jokic is the best passing big man of all-time and probably the best passer in the NBA today period. It’s time to stop worrying about the legacy of a piece of metal, and the endless “what about this guy” that we play at the end of the season and appreciate Jokic for what he is, the most valuable player in the NBA.

Defensive Player of the Year

Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Jumbo sized Rudy is the best post defender in the NBA since Dikembe Mutombo, and is closing in on his third DPOY award. Gobert leads the league with a career high 2.8 blocks per game and is the anchor of the league’s third-best defense. The Jazz are 16.5 points per possession better when Gobert is on the court vs. off the court. The case could be made for Ben Simmons, probably the premiere wing defender in the league, but the award more often than not goes to a big-man for protecting the rim, which is Gobert’s best trait, so we won’t rock the boat too much this season. John Hollinger believes Gobert should get serious play in the MVP discussion, so that accounts for something right?

Rookie of the Year

LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

I’m going to catch a lot of flack from my beloved members of Timberwolves Twitter for this pick, but LaMelo Ball is the Rookie of the Year. I know, I know, Ball missed 21 games with a fractured wrist, and in that time Anthony Edwards went next level averaging 21.6 points per game, five rebounds, and three assists. But Ball has been the better player this year. The only other rookies in history to average at least 16.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game are Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and the legend himself Michael Carter-Williams. That’s some rarified are Ball is playing in, and the same just can’t be said for Edwards. Ball has the upstart Hornets in the play-in tournament, while Edwards’ contributions to winning are more one dimensional at this point in his career. Ball earned the award before the injury, and now that he’s back and fighting for a playoff spot, it seems like the right thing to do to remember his awesome season.

Most Improved Player

Julius Randle, New York Knicks

Julius Randle’s breakout season is one of the best stories in all of sports. He went from highly touted recruit at Kentucky’s basketball factory, to breaking his leg mere minutes into is rookies season with the Lakers. He then spent the next several years as a high usage, stat packing role player before finally signing with the Knicks in an underwhelming move last year. Randle has blossomed this year as an all-around net positive for a franchise that hasn’t cheered for anyone this hard since Linsanity. He’s averaging career highs in scoring (23.9 ppg), rebounding (10.3 rpg), assists (5.9 apg), three-point shooting (41.3%), and he’s leading the league in minutes played (37.2 per game). ESPN’s Zach Lowe called Randle the Keystone for the Knicks this season, and he’ll likely make an All-NBA team (more on that later). The hardest thing in the NBA is to go from pretty good player to legitimately great player, and Randle has done that and more this season. Dude’s also about to get paid in 2022, which is pretty damn cool.

Coach of the Year

Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks

Again, probably not going to make be too popular with Wolves Twitter, but who has done more with less this season than Thibs? On paper the Knicks were supposed to be a train wreck this season. Julius Randle was just another meh free-agent signing a few years ago. RJ Barrett was coming off of a roller coaster rookie season that had more dips than heights. And they still had guys like Reggie Bullock and Nerlens Noel ready to play heavy minutes in a talent poor rotation. But, uh, the Knicks found a way. Thibs has them playing the best defense in New York since Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason were allowed to punch dudes, and Randle has blossomed into an All-NBA playmaker and shot creator. The Knicks have the fourth best defense in the league, and have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. ESPN had the Knicks 29th in its preseason power rankings, The Athletic’s Zach Harper had them 27th, and I (and Kurt Russell) had them 28th. What the fuck do we know anyway. Thibs is still screaming away and overplaying his starters, but it goes to show when the team actually buys in that shit works.

Sixth Man of the Year:

Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz

Joe Ingles is one of the most fascinating players in the NBA. He made his NBA debut at 27 from Australia. He’s 6-8 and has dunked just one time this season and only 23 times in his career. He’s sneakily one of the best three-point shooters ever, and he might not even be the best player off the bench on his own team. The Sixth Man of the Year award has been Jordan Clarkson’s to lose since for most of the season, but he might just get beaten out by his own teammate. Clarkson is built in the Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford mold, a microwave scorer who can keep the team afloat when they give their best players a break. He’s averaging 17.7 points off the bench with a true shooting percentage of 54.1. Ingles on the other hand is only averaging 12.3 points per game, but he’s the far more efficient player. Ingles is second in the league in true shooting (68.7%), fifth in three-point percentage (46.3), and the Jazz are 4.6 points per 100 possessions better with Ingles on the court vs off. The Jazz are actually 2.1 points per 100 worse with Clarkson on vs off. Ingles is the ultimate complimentary player, an older/less artistic Manu Ginobili, and should win over his flashier teammate.

All-NBA First Team:

G: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

G: Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

F: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

C: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Four of the five spots on the first team are mortal locks. Jokic, Steph, Luka, and Giannis are all having MVP-Caliber seasons and will be on the first team when all is said and done. That leaves one forward spot that is wildly up for grabs. It’s possible due to the new rules about positional eligibility that voters will slot one of Jokic or Embiid at a forward spot, which seems fair since Embiid is the runner-up MVP he does deserve first team honors. If you do that, I won’t judge you, it’s within the rules. But I do think it is unfair to the legacies of centers throughout history. In the 60’s when there were only two teams instead of three, any center not named Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell had no chance of getting All-NBA honors. Similarly in the ’90s when the league had Shaq, Hakeem, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, and other all time greats to battle it out for three spots. How many first team nods would Hakeem if he could have just been a forward? I understand that the league is shifting into a positionless landscape, but it seems a bit unfair to reward this generation when seemingly taking away some accomplishment of past greats. Embiid will have one of the biggest gripes in not making first team in recent memory, but it only seems fair to compare him against the Moses Malones of the world and not the Larry Birds or Charles Barkleys. So with that I chose Jimmy Butler at the second forward spot over LeBron, Kawhi, and Julius Randle. He’s quietly having the best season of his career, and the Heat are straight garbage (6-12) when he sits and would have home court advantage had he played the whole season. Also I know a lot of people are putting Luka at forward and slotting Lillard on the first team as the second guard. I don’t care what you have to tell yourself, Luka isn’t a forward.

All-NBA Second Team:

G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

G: Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns

F: Julius Randle, New York Knicks

F: Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

C: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Again, the second team has three locks this time: Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, and Embiid. That leaves both forward spots up for grabs. The contenders include: LeBron, Zion, Kawhi, Julius Randle, Paul George, and Jayson Tatum. I went with Randle for what he means to to upstart Knicks, and Kawhi because he’s all-around a top five or six player in the league having a great season.

All-NBA Third Team:

G: Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

G: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

F: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

F: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

C: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Unless a lot of people view Embiid or Jokic as a forward and throw a wrench in the whole system, Rudy Gobert will be your third team center. After that though things get murky. For guards do you pick Bradley Beal, the league’s second leading scorer who has had a much maligned season until the Wizards resurgence since the All-Star Break? Or do you go with Devin Booker or Donovan Mitchell, two explosive scorers on two of the best teams in the league? Or Kyrie Irving, a guy who left his team during the season twice for not the best reasons in the world, but has been worthy of the honor when he does decide to lace ’em up? Not to even mention the heater Russell Westbrook has been on the last two months or Trae Young’s blossoming leadership in Atlanta. I originally had Mitchell and Bookers pretty easily making the cut but now it’s much harder to leave off Beal and Kyrie. Trae Young doesn’t move the needle for me. Mitchell is an interesting case as the Jazz are actually better when he sits. Beal’s best games seem to come in Washington losses. I’ll go will Irving and Booker, rewarding both for having great individual seasons on great teams. LeBron bumps down to the third team simply because he’s missed almost 30 games, and Zion makes it ahead of Tatum because he is inevitable.

Biggest snubs: Jayson Tatum, Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Bam Adebayo, Trae Young, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Clint Capela.

All-Defensive First Team

G: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

G: Jrue Holliday, Milwaukee Bucks

F: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

C: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Simmons and Gobert are locks. Jrue Holliday is reminding everyone that he’s a top-25 guy in the league, and Jimmy Butler is working hard and being the man. Giannis is Giannis so there’s not a lot of holes to poke in this first team.

All-Defensive Second Team

G: Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers

G: Lu Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder

F: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

F: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

C: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Got a little funkier on the second team with the most fun defender in Dort, the self appointed GOAT defender in Draymond, and putting Bam at a forward, but these guys are all great so shut the hell up.

All-Rookie First Team

LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings

Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets

Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks

Ball, Edwards, and Haliburton should all be unanimous and have had stellar seasons in different ways. Edwards is a bulldozer getting to the rim had and will be a super scorer in the league. Ball is a playmaking magician and can follow in the footsteps of other tall point guards like Magic and Penny. And Haliburton is a do-everything facilitator who can shoot threes and defend. I rounded out the first team with Tate and Quickly. Tate is an all-around stud who, even though he’s a 25-year-old rookie, still has a super bright future. Quickley has been a bright spot for the Knicks who thought Obi Toppin would contribute right away. Instead it’s Quickley who already has one of the deadliest floaters in the game.

All-Rookie Second Team

Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons

Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls

Isaiah Stewart, Detroit Pistons

James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors

Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic

Wiseman was a bit of a disappointment in his rookie campaign, but was put in an impossible situation trying to compete right away with Hall of Famers like Steph and Draymond. He should be eased back into the rotation next year and given time to figure things out with the second unit. The Pistons have a surprisingly bright future thanks to their 2020 rookie crop of Bey, Beef Stew, and Killian Hayes. Hayes missed too much time to be considered but Bey can get his shot and beef stew is one of the chunkiest guys in the league, in a good way. Patrick Williams has shown that he can be a high level defender for years to come, and Cole Anthony has stepped up on the depleted Magic and shown that they have some future pieces to work with.

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