The NBA season is nearly two months old now with every team playing approximately 25 games to this point. No longer can we look at a players stats, good or bad, and claim small sample size. Sure, we can blame Covid-19 for keeping some players out of action. We’re to the point, though, where narratives are starting to be set in stone. One of which is the awards race. Here are my top candidates for each 2020-21 NBA Award.
27.2 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 8.6 APG
The numbers listed above speak for themselves. The Joker has been one of the most exciting players in basketball for the past couple of seasons because of how offensively gifted he is at the center position. He fills up the stat sheet on a nightly basis as he’s recorded five triple-doubles on the season through 22 games. That puts him on pace for 16 on the season. His season’s averages are a career-high across the board and his shooting numbers have improved as well. From 2018-2020, Jokic shot 3.5 threes a game and hit them at a 31% clip. That’s not terrible, but he felt he could do better and he has. So far this season Nikola has been shooting 39.2% on 3.6 attempts per game. People have been banking on him improving given he’s only 25 and that has come to fruition this season. His defense still isn’t great, but I think voters can live with that given how good he is everywhere else.
25.5 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 7.8 APG
There’s not much to say here. It’s LeBron.
27.1 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 5.8 APG
How can I keep the two-time reigning MVP off this list? I don’t know how likely it is he ends up winning it, but he deserves to be mentioned. Giannis has been his dominant self as he’s been an absolute force near the rim. The three-point shot still isn’t there for him and his free throw percentage has dropped, but I’m not too concerned. His points and rebounds per game numbers have slightly dipped this year due to the addition of more talent on Milwaukee’s roster. I think Antetokounmpo is fine with that as long as the Bucks are winning. There’s not a whole lot else to be said on the case he has. He’s one of the most dominant players we’ve ever seen when going towards the rim and he’s continued that this season.
2.7 BPG, 1.7 DWS, 22.3 PER
Gobert has to be mentioned here because he’s already won the award twice. He’s a one man wrecking crew on the defensive side of the ball. Teams really have to game plan around him and that is what makes him special. It’s hard to really appreciate what he brings to the table unless you watch him play. His defensive stats are great, but his on-court presence is something that has to be seen in person. There are very few players in league history that cause teams as much trouble as this guy.
1.9 BPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.6 DWS
Davis is much like Gobert in the sense that he can ruin an entire offensive game plan with his presence. Davis has a leg up on Rudy due to his ability to guard out on the perimeter. Anthony can not only shut down the paint but he can lock you down on the perimeter as well. Very rarely have we ever seen a player with his defensive skill set. It’s been even more rare we see them put it all together the way he does. People talk about narrative in the league and I think the narrative favors AD winning this award. Despite him being one of the better defenders since he step foot in the league, he’s never won the DPOY. He’s been selected to 4 All-Defensive teams, but never had the honor of hoisting this trophy. Davis is going to be in the league for a long time and will have plenty more chances of winning the award; I think he should get his first now.
3.6 BPG, 1.3 DWS, 2.5 DBPM
Turner has to be included in this discussion based on his league-leading 3.6 BPG. Turner has always been a steady defender and he’s been able to take that a step further this season. It seems, more than anything, he’s being more aggressive in going after blocks. His fouls per game have gone up by a full foul this year, showing he isn’t afraid of going up for the swat. I don’t know how much longer he can keep up his dominant performance, but as long as he does he will be in this discussion.
14.1 PPG, 37.9 3P%, 15.8 PER
Bridges has taken his game to another level this year and it wasn’t that hard seeing it coming. He shot the ball much better towards the end of last season and that has continued on into this year. He started off the season shooting white hot, but has since cooled off. Even so, his 37.9% from deep is certainly something teams have to be aware of. Mikal’s also shooting more threes, showing how lethal he has become this year. Bridges has always been a strong defensive player, but his game has gotten better there as well. There were debates last season as to whether or not he should’ve been on an All-Defensive team. This year, there is no debate. He’s one of the better defenders in the league with room to get even better. Bridges takes on the toughest assignment every night and seems to hold his own against whoever it is. The big difference in his game this year is his aggressiveness. He’s asserting himself on defense, offense, and on the boards and it has led to a big leap in production.
27.0 PPG, 51.2 FG%, 2.4 WS
LaVine’s inclusion in this is much like the case Pascal Siakam had in 2019-20. Zach has gone from good to legitimately great this year. He’s been looked at as a guy who has good stats on a bad team, but that narrative has changed. Chicago still isn’t that great, but LaVine has stepped into the role of being the undisputed leader and has carried the team. His offensive efficiency seems to be where the major leap has come from. His FG% has risen from 45% in 2019-20 to 51.2% this season in large part due to his ability to find his own shot in the mid-range. The mid-range is where great players make a living. Guys like Booker, Kawhi, and Tatum live in the mid-range and have been viewed as some of the purest scorers in the game. This year, Zach is scoring more of his baskets by creating for himself and he’s killing it in the in-between game. Teams are aware of how incredible LaVine is once he gets to the rim and decided to give him space. He’s taken that space and made them pay as he’s shot 48% from the mid-range. That’ll get it done.
26.4 PPG, 24.4 PER, 2.5 WS
Brown needed to take his game to the next level with Kemba missing the start of the season and he did just that. Jaylen has been on a mission all season long and it’s helped him turn into one of the better players in the Eastern Conference. The way his shooting numbers have gone up are impressive, but the more interesting component of his rise is how well he’s distributed the ball. He’s doubled his assist rate while his turnover rate has dropped. That is an incredibly hard thing to do. It’s even harder to do when you’re seeing more action. His usage rate has gone up every year and this time around it is above 30. One of the bigger questions about Brown has been his ability to get his teammates involved and he has answered that this year in a big way. It was the final piece of the puzzle for Brown and the Celtics now have two of the most complete young players the league has to offer.
5.9 RPG, 6.0 APG, 18.2 PER
There’s not much of a discussion about this one. Most people figured that Ball had the award locked down once the draft was over. Wiseman and Edwards are the only two who stack up to LaMelo’s skill level, but they don’t get the same chances Ball does given the talent on their teams. No one else is even close to LaMelo’s production. Ball has gotten more used to the pace of the NBA as the season has gone along and he looks comfortable running the show in Charlotte. He still makes some dumb plays from time to time, but he’s the clear favorite for the award.
48 FG%, 37.5 3P%, 53.1 eFG%
While the award clearly belongs to Ball, Williams is worth mentioning. The number four pick has played well in the Windy City and has gotten some love from the likes of LeBron and Leonard. The best way of describing what Patrick has done to this point is that he is very steady. He’s shown how smart he is out on the court as he never tries to play outside of himself. He works hard on both sides of the ball and has acclimated to the league well despite the limited playing time in his lone season in college. Throw in the solid shooting numbers and flashes of lockdown defense and you’ve got yourself a respectable rookie campaign.
12.0 PPG, 93.2 FT%, 18.5 PER
As a Kentucky fan, I knew Immanuel being picked by the Knicks at 25 would end up being the steal of the draft. He’s not an incredibly flashy player but he knows how to play the game. His long range shooting and long wingspan make him a great two-way prospect and that’s shown up so far. He has no real chance to win this award because of how well LaMelo has played, but he deserves to be on the All-Rookie First team.
17.5 PPG, 97.2 FT%, 1.9 WS
Clarkson has done exactly what the Utah Jazz have wanted him to do: score at will coming off the bench. The Jazz don’t have a truly legitimate star and rely on solid team play for them to be the best they can be. Clarkson has been playing as great as he ever has and his ability to come off the bench and provide the type of offense he does is a big part of why Utah finds themselves at the top of the standings. He’s been shooting the ball much better from the mid-range this season and it’s helped him find himself at the top of this list. Clarkson shot 37% from the mid-range last year and so far in 2020-21 he’s been at 47%. The other thing to note is his 97.2 FT%. It doesn’t qualify for league ranking because of his amount of attempts, but 35-36 is still note worthy.
64.1 eFG%, 21.2 PER, 2.8 WS
Harrell has been just what the Lakers wanted this season. He knows his role and plays it well and it has resulted in a year where he has the highest win shares of any player coming off the bench. Some of that doesn’t have to do with his production, but he’s still be on the floor. Montrezl has never been the guy to make the winning play. He makes the play that leads to the winning play. He might not get the tip in at the buzzer, but he’s the one boxing out that leads to the tip in. The Lakers know how important he is to their success and I don’t think that will be lost on voters.
54.5 FG%, 24.4 PER, 2.6 WS
Boucher has been arguably the best player for the Raptors this season and he hasn’t made a start yet. It’s been a rough go for Toronto at the center position, but they’ve been able to count on Boucher to give them good minutes when called upon. People have been drooling over this guy because of how athletic he is for quite some time now. The question with him was as to whether or not he will ever figure it out offensively. This year, it happened. His efficiency from the floor has dramatically improved as he’s shot 54.5% from the field and 44.4% from three. Chris has rounded out his game to where he’s now maybe the best two-way player the Raptors have. People knew how good he was on defense. Now, the offense has caught up and Toronto has one of the better bench players in the league.