The finalists for the 2021 NBA Awards have been announced and now the anticipation to hand out the trophy begins. There are some tight races and there are some finalists who have been running away with the award for the majority of the year. Let’s take a look at the NBA awards for 2021 and who could be taking home the hardware.
Who will win the 2021 NBA Most Valuable Player?
It had been mostly a two-horse race for the majority of the NBA season between Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, but Steph Curry went on an absolute tear in the second half of the season, making these three the finalists for the award.
Curry, the 33-year-old guard for the Golden State Warriors, won the NBA scoring title for the second time in his career, totaling 2,015 total points in the regular season. He joined an exclusive list of players who have won the scoring title multiple times, joining players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and James Harden. Curry also led the league in 3-pointers made with 337. Curry set a new career-high in points per game this season with 32.0, shooting 48.2% from the field and 42.1% from beyond the arc.
Jokic had an excellent season, taking yet another step forward in his young career. The Denver Nuggets were contenders for the No. 1 seed in the West before losing Jamal Murray to a torn ACL in April. However, Jokic helped carry the Denver Nuggets to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. The Serbian center averaged a career-high 26.4 points per game, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists. He also added a phenomenal 56.6% field-goal percentage and 86.8% free-throw percentage.
Staying on the big-man theme, Embiid led the Philadelphia 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference. The center averaged 28.5 points per game, a new career-high and fourth-best mark in the NBA this season, along with 10.6 rebounds. He shot 51.3% from the field, in addition to 85.9% from the free throw line. He was fantastic when on the floor, but he did miss 21 games with injuries and that may be the one knock against his season.
Prediction: Nikola Jokic
The big man showcased not just his rebounding and scoring ability, but his passing was what put him over the top. He’s the oddsmaker's clear favorite, with PointBet having him at -10000 to win, and should take home his first MVP award. It would be the first time a center won the award since Shaquille O'Neal in 2000.
Who will win the 2021 NBA Defensive Player of the Year?
Two former Defensive Player of the Year winners and another play who has been named to a NBA All-Defense first team round out the finalists for the 2021 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert and Ben Simmons were announced as the finalists for the award.
Green, who won the award in 2017, was a key cog in the Klay Thompson-less Warriors’ run to get into the play-in tournament and a chance at the playoffs. The forward averaged 6.3 defensive rebounds, 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks. The Warriors finished with the fifth-best defensive rating in the league, thanks in part to Green’s efforts.
The winner of the award in both 2018 and 2019 is the favorite again to win the award this year. Gobert and the Utah Jazz have been fantastic all season long, finishing with the best record in the NBA and the third-best defensive rating. Gobert had 2.7 blocks per game, with 10.1 defensive rebounds and 13.5 total rebounds.
Simmons, along with MVP candidate Joel Embiid, brought the Sixers to the top of the East. The LSU product had 5.6 defensive rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. Simmons helped the Sixers have the second-best defensive rating in the league.
Prediction: Rudy Gobert
Gobert would join Dwight Howard and Dikembe Mutombo has the only players to win the Defensive Player of the Year at least three times -- and he’s only 28 years old.
Who will win the 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year?
The NBA Rookie of the Year race gets a little tighter than the previous two awards. Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton have been announced as the three finalists for the award.
The first overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Edwards enjoyed a stellar freshman campaign with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Leading all rookies with 19.3 points per game will certainly help the argument for Edwards, with the next eligible rookie being over 3.5 points behind him.
The youngest of the Ball brothers, LaMelo shined in Charlotte with the Hornets. His 15.7 points per game was only behind Edwards, and Ball led all rookies in assists with 6.1 and was second in rebounding with 5.9. Ball did miss over 20 games with a wrist injury.
Regarded as the “steal of the 2020 draft”, Haliburton showed tons of potential and promise for the future of the Sacramento Kings. He finished third in points per game (13.0) behind Edwards and Ball, and tied for second with Detroit Piston Killian Hayes in assist per game (5.3). There’s an outside chance Haliburton gets the award, but still a deserved finalist recognition for the King.
Prediction: Anthony Edwards
Look if you’re going to knock Embiid for missing games as a reason to not give him the MVP, that same logic should apply here with Ball. Edwards played in every game for the Timberwolves and while Ball might have been the better overall player, there was no denying the scoring touch Edwards displayed in Minnesota.
Who will win the 2021 NBA Sixth Man of the Year?
Finally, a year where a Los Angeles Clipper won’t win the award! Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles and Derrick Rose were named as finalists for the award, meaning it will be a first-time winner no matter who gets selected.
In his first full season as a member of the Utah Jazz, Jordan Clarkson, one of two Jazz players up for the award, set a career-high in points per game with 18.4. He found his groove coming off the bench for Quin Snyder’s squad.
Speaking of Snyder’s bench, Ingles was another key part in the success of the Jazz. The Australian averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists for Utah. He added a new career-high in 3-point percentage with 45.1%.
A former MVP, Rose found success in New York after being traded from the Detroit Pistons. With the Knicks, Rose averaged 14.9 points per game with 4.2 assists. He also finally hit the 40% threshold for 3-point percentage for the first time in his career, making a career-best 41.1%.
Prediction: Jordan Clarkson
It really is 1A and 1B for the award between the two Jazz players, and PointsBet agrees, with Clarkson set as the favorite at -345, but Ingles is right behind him at +225. We’ll go with the favorite, but let’s face it, there’s no wrong answer between the two.
Who will win the 2021 NBA Most Improved Player?
OK, yes, we know who the winner of this award will be, but let’s at least give the credit and preview the three finalists.
Michael Porter Jr. took a big step forward this season and showcased why he was a top prospect coming out of Missouri. After not playing in his first season and dipping his toes last year, Porter Jr. hit his stride, averaging 19.0 points a game with 7.3 rebounds. After starting just eight games all last year, he got the starting nod in 54 of 61 games that he played in.
Jerami Grant blossomed into a fine power forward for the Detroit Pistons this season after struggling in Philadelphia and Oklahoma City for a number of seasons. He nearly doubled his points per game average, going from 12.0 PPG to 22.3. He also improved his assists average, going from 1.2 to 2.8. Perhaps the biggest jump came at the free-throw line, as he jumped from shooting 75.0% from the line to 84.5%.
Julius Randle’s performance this year is the reason this award exists. New career-highs were set this year for Randle in points per game (24.1), rebounds (10.1), assists (6.0), minutes played (37.6), 3-point percentage (41.1%) and free-throw percentage (81.1%). Most importantly -- he made the Knicks good again!
Prediction: Julius Randle
When you come to New York, you become an All-Star player and lead the Knicks back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, you win MIP. Round of applause to Porter Jr. and Grant, but this is Randle’s award and has been for most of the season.
Who will win the 2021 NBA Coach of the Year?
The final award to preview is the Coach of the Year, which features three finalists that coached teams that vastly improved this season -- Monty Williams, Tom Thibodeau and Quin Snyder.
In just his second season at the helm of the Phoenix Suns, Williams brought the Suns to the No. 2 seed in the West after missing out on the playoffs for 10 straight seasons. He already was acknowledged as the NBCA Coach of the Year, and very well would be deserving of the Coach of the Year honor for the NBA.
While it took Williams two seasons to bring success to the desert, all Thibodeau needed was one season in New York to bring basketball victories back to the Mecca. The veteran coach brought the Knicks out from the bottom of the league and into the No. 4 seed in the East. Thibodeau previously won the award in 2012 as head coach of the Chicago Bulls.
Snyder, who was a finalist for this award in 2018, coached the Utah Jazz to the best record in the NBA. He’s been with the team since 2014, but this is by far the best season he has had in Utah.
Prediction: Monty Williams
Thibs absolutely could take this award, but Williams has much less experience coaching at the NBA level, compared to Thibodeau and even Snyder. He finally took the Suns to the next level this season and made them consistently one of the best teams in basketball.
Bryan Murphy contributed to this story.