Warriors

NBA superlatives for 2020-21 season

Warriors

The 2021 NBA Awards don't truly tell you who were the best players each year, so we picked some new superlatives for players who won't have a shot at hardware this season.

From legitimate starters to role players, here are some of the studs who stood out this season.

Catching Fire Award: Who was the hottest team in the NBA?

The Utah Jazz hit all the right notes this season and held the NBA's best record heading into the postseason. With Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and a plethora of lethal perimeter shooters around them, Utah looked primed for a potential Western Conference finals appearance when the playoffs began. Back in January, Steve Kerr even compared this year's Jazz team to the Golden State Warriors' dynasty teams. Utah is currently tied 2-2 with the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semifinals.

Fixer Upper Award: Who saw the most improvement in their game from their rookie year?

There have been a number of surprises for NBA fans this season, but there are not many like Michael Porter Jr.'s transformation on the Denver Nuggets. 

While Julius Randle took home the NBA's Most Improved Player award, Porter Jr. rose to the second option on a Nuggets team led by league MVP Nikola Jokic. The 22-year-old forward more than doubled his scoring average while improving his efficiency from the field and beyond the arc in 2020-21. Porter Jr. also improved defensively, becoming a solid rim protector and contributing more steals and blocks per game. He averaged 22.7 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game since the All-Star break and adjusted to a new role after Denver acquired Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline. Porter Jr.'s increase in production was a sight to behold and he continues to capitalize on the raw talent and versatility that made him one of the 2018 NBA Draft's most intriguing prospects.

 

Next Up Award: Which rookie is best positioned to become a star?

Much has been made of LaMelo Ball's rise to stardom on the Charlotte Hornets, but Anthony Edwards' progression with the Minnesota Timberwolves shouldn't be ignored. 

While Ball missed a third of the season with multiple injuries, Edwards developed into a grown man before our very eyes. In the 33 games he played since March, he averaged 23.4 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game, 3.2 assists per game and 1.5 steals per game.

Edwards' ascent from bench player to starter paid dividends for the Timberwolves, showing an ability to score, put up highlight-reel dunks and be a solid defender. While Edwards didn't clinch a playoff spot the future is bright for Minnesota behind a young core of Karl Anthony Towns, DeAngelo Russell and Karl Anthony Towns.

Hometown Hero Award: Who was the most valuable player to a team?

Nikola Jokic took home the honor of Most Valuable Player this season, but Portland Trail Blazers' guard Damian Lillard fell just outside of serious consideration for MVP honors, despite having another strong season in 2020-21. Lillard endured up-and-downs in Portland, often being required to take over games in order for the Trail Blazers to have a chance at winning. He averaged 28.8 points and 7.5 assists per game this season. When the playoff arrived Lillard proved that Dame Time never stops with a legendary performance that broke the internet. Lillard dropped 55 points with 10 assists and 12 made 3-pointers in Game 5 of the Blazers first-round series against the Nuggets. While Denver game out victorious, Dame was the winner of that night, shocking fans around the world and adding to his legacy. 

Lillard never seems to receive the recognition he deserves by the award voters. He has consistently helped run one of the top offenses in the NBA and the Trail Blazers wouldn't be able to contend in the Western Conference without him.

Clamps Award: Who is the best on-ball defender in the NBA?

Rudy Gobert took home the Defensive Player of the Year award this season. But Jrue Holiday's dominant season on the defensive side went largely unnoticed. Holiday emerged as one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA.

In his first season with the Milwaukee Bucks, he consistently matched up against the top 10 scorers in the league, the most of any player. He ranked first in loose balls recovered per game (1.3), third in steals (1.7), sixth in deflections (3.3) and was one of only five players with 90 or more steals and 30 or more blocks this season. 

While Gobert took home the win this year, Holiday deserves some credit as one of the best defensive players on a championship-contending Bucks squad.

Showstopper Award: Who is the most athletic player in the NBA?

Years ago this title might have gone to Russell Westbrook or even John Wall, but one of the league's most exciting young players takes the crown this year. Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant took the league by storm last season during his rookie of the year campaign and continued to build off that success this year.

 

Morant possesses the speed and athletics to become one of the most unguardable point guards in the league. Morant averaged 19.1 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game this season, playing in 63 games. But perhaps his biggest accomplishments were when the lights were brightest.

During the NBA's inaugural play-in tournament, Morant took over, scoring 20 points in the first play-in game and dropping 35 in the final play-in game, eliminating Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. His ability to stay composed in the final minutes of a game and deliver clutch performances night after night makes him primed to become a future superstar.

Despite being eliminated by the Jazz in the first round, Morant dropped 47 points in Game 2 and shined as the Grizzlies' primary option. With another offseason of development, Morant has all the skills to become the next must-see attraction in the NBA.