It’s that time of the year where fans and media members make their early predictions on the upcoming NBA season. While it may have just seemed like the 2020 season concluded, the 2020-2021 season is set to begin on December 22. It will be a fresh start for players in the game to make their mark on the league.
While next season will not follow an 82-game schedule, it will still feature a jam-packed season full of surprises and individual performances. With that said, let’s take a look at the predictions of the major awards heading into 2021.
Coach of the Year: Steve Nash
The potential is there for Nash to break out into the coaching world and win the prestigious award for coaches in his first season. It’s not even that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are the main reasons either. Both players are superstars and healthy, which is most important. However, a coach is only as good as his assistants and the first-year coach surrounded himself with some solid assistants.
For starters, Jacque Vaughn stayed with the Nets and he didn’t have to stay. Vaughn took over as the interim coach after the team fired Kenny Atkinson midway through the season. Vaughn helped lead a team that had no Irving or Durant down the stretch and qualified for the playoffs. Next, former Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni joined. Say what you want, but D’Antoni can almost serve as an offensive coordinator. The coach knows how to teach an offense that scores.
The most interesting hire was Ime Udoka. The former Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach chose to leave the team after the franchise hired Doc Rivers. Udoka was a contender for the Chicago Bulls head coaching position, as well as interviewed for other head coaching positions. He is a well-regarded assistant that will prove his value once again under Nash.
The rest of the staff features director of player development Adam Harrington, assistant coach Jordan Ott, assistant coach/player development Tiago Splitter, and Nash’s former teammate Amar’e Stoudemire. This is an A+ coaching staff that will prime Nash in his coaching debut.
Runner-Up: Frank Vogel
6th Man of the Year: Carmelo Anthony
Can Carmelo Anthony win this award? The way he changed up his game last season, it’s possible. It helps when reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell leaves your team to join the Lakers. Runner-up Dennis Schroder also joined the Lakers which means the two will be splitting minutes. There are also chances that one of two players could be a starter.
As for Anthony, he will turn 37 during the middle of the season. He averaged 15.3 points per game and was starting when the Trail Blazers qualified for the postseason. Derek Jones Jr. and Robert Covington should take up both the small forward and power forward starting positions.
That allows Anthony to come off the bench to provide immediate scoring. There’s no reason to doubt that Anthony can go over for 20 points each night. Lou Williams has done it three times, and he is not on the same playing field in terms of scoring as Anthony. Look for Anthony to do something he has ever done before.
Runner-Up: Dennis Schroder
Rookie of the Year: LaMelo Ball
Some of you could see Anthony Edwards or James Wiseman in the fold, but Ball is going to have the most asked out of him. The Timberwolves have Karl Anthony-Towns Jr and D’Angelo Russell. The Warriors will have Steph Curry, Andrew Wiggins, and Draymond Green. Even though both Edwards and Wiseman will be starters, both of them have a significantly lighter load to handle.
What does Ball have? Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward? Out of Lonzo and LiAngelo, LaMelo has the highest expectations starting with a franchise. Ever since Ball scored 92 points in high school, NBA teams have waited for this moment for Ball to prove he can be a dominant scorer on the highest stage. You can look at his 25% three-point shooting clip in the NPL and shake your head. He played only 12 games and has played international basketball in the last two seasons.
Thanks to higher volume, Ball is going to get a chance to find a rhythm. When he does, the rest of the league better watch out.
Runner-Up: James Wiseman
Most Improved Player: Jamal Murray
After watching the NBA playoffs last year, you might wonder how Murray could be considered. Murray scored 50 points twice against the Utah Jazz and once scored 42 points. He proved that he can flat out take over when the lights are on. Even in the Western Conference Finals, Murray scored over 20 points in four of the five games.
During the regular season, Murray averaged 18.5 points per game, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. Murray hasn’t shown his playoff production consistently throughout a regular season. If this past postseason has given us a glimpse of what is yet to come, then Murray would be the runaway candidate to win this award. The Denver Nuggets have a chance to make the Western Conference Finals, or even the NBA Finals, once again. The team will need Murray to produce the way he did during the postseason for over 60 games to do that though.
Runner-Up: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis
Davis finished second in the voting this past season after he averaged 2.3 blocks per game. Throughout seven All-Star appearances, Davis has solidified himself as one of the best rim protectors in the league. While his overall rebounds were down last season, the advanced analytics showed that Davis was one of the best defenders in the league.
According to Basketball-Reference, Davis averaged 3.2 blocks per 100 possessions, but the most impressive stat is his rank for defensive win shares. His 4.4 defensive win shares were only second to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 5.0. Giannis won Defensive Player of the Year last season for many reasons, but with both players returning to their similar core, we should see Davis take one more step forward and win this award in 2021.
Runner-Up: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Why is there any reason to believe that a 25-year old, two-time MVP will slow down? To be blunt, there isn’t. Last season, Giannis led the league in field goals, two-point field goals, defensive rebounds, player efficiency rating, usage percentage, win shares per 48 minutes, and box plus/minus. On the defensive side, he led the league in defensive rating and defensive win shares. While we know that he may never be a great outside shooter, Giannis is one of the best post players of our generation.
Without Giannis, the Bucks are not the Bucks. It would be a historic feat if Giannis can win the award for the third year in a row. The last person to do that? Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Magic Johnson never did it. Larry Bird won the last three-peats from 1984-1986. Giannis isn’t even 30 years old. This could be a transcendent season, especially with it being a contract year for the Bucks big man.
Runner-Up: LeBron James