NBA awards predictions for 2021: MVP, Rookie of the Year, more

All 30 teams are slated to play 72 games in mostly empty arenas and travel as usual despite the coronavirus pandemic. Yet some teams ha...



All 30 teams are slated to play 72 games in mostly empty arenas and travel as usual despite the coronavirus pandemic. Yet some teams have only been off since October, while others haven’t taken the court since March. Will heavy legs catch up to players who made deep runs in the bubble? Will rust hold back players who were idle for most of 2020?

There’s no way to know for sure, but here’s a look at how the 2021 awards ballot might shake out.

Most Valuable Player: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Bet against an MVP three-peat for Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird are the only players in NBA history to win the award in three consecutive years, and some voters will surely hold the Bucks’ past two postseason flameouts against Antetokounmpo even if he turns in another worthy campaign.

Lillard is a bit of a long shot according to the oddsmakers, but he reliably posts monster numbers and has guided Portland to seven straight playoff trips. With a deeper roster around him, Lillard could catch voters’ attention if he leads Portland to a top-three seed in the West. From the all-important narrative standpoint, it doesn’t hurt that he’s arguably the NBA’s most media-friendly superstar and a loyal representative of a small-market franchise.

Also consider: Durant on a comeback tour, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic taking the league by storm and Lakers forward Anthony Davis reaching the peak of his powers.

Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

The story line will be strong for Davis, who perfectly embodies the modern archetype of a defensive anchor with his rare combination of length, quickness and versatility. Many pundits felt Davis was snubbed in favor of Antetokounmpo in 2020, and the Lakers’ big man wreaked havoc at every step of their title journey. As long as the Lakers don’t go too easy on Davis’s minutes after the quick turnaround, look for him to benefit from the voting equivalent of a makeup call.

Also consider: Miami’s Bam Adebayo if he continues to progress rapidly and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid if he maintains good health.

Rookie of the Year: Obi Toppin, New York Knicks

This year’s weak rookie class is short on impact players, and several of the prospects with the highest ceilings will need to fight for their roles this season. The 22-year-old Toppin is the obvious exception: He’s a polished offensive scorer joining a talent-poor Knicks team that needs all the help it can get.

Also consider: Golden State’s James Wiseman benefiting from Curry’s presence and Detroit’s Killian Hayes padding his scoring numbers in meaningless games down the stretch.

Most Improved Player: Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets

Porter, 22, is a textbook MIP candidate. First, he’s coming off a rookie season in which his production — 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game — fell far short of his capabilities because of his limited role. Second, Jerami Grant’s departure opens more playing time and responsibility for him. Finally, he has the offensive skills and confidence to emerge as a third scorer for the Nuggets, who should be one of the West’s top teams again after reaching the conference finals.

Also consider: New Orleans’s Zion Williamson winning back everyone’s hearts if he stays healthy and Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton getting the Chris Paul bounce.

Sixth Man of the Year: Dennis Schroder, Los Angeles Lakers

Schroder has campaigned to start, but the Lakers would be wise to use him as the leader of their second unit and in their closing lineups. Los Angeles needs to stagger Schroder and LeBron James to ensure there is always a lead ballhandler on the court. If Frank Vogel takes that approach and limits James’s workload, Schroder should get plenty of regular season repetitions while also benefiting from the Lakers’ big stage. After finishing second to Montrezl Harrell last year, Schroder is first in line this year.

Also consider: Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie if the Nets turn into an offensive juggernaut as expected and Utah’s Jordan Clarkson if the Jazz can break out of the West’s crowded middle tier.

Coach of the Year: Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks

Sometimes awards voters are a year late to the party, so this is a bet that they will catch on to the extraordinary offense and winning program that Carlisle has built around Doncic. While Doncic was the league’s clear breakout star last year, the rest of the Mavericks didn’t quite get their due despite climbing into the playoffs. Carlisle excels at fitting limited players into useful roles and at letting Doncic do his thing, and he should benefit from an improved defense this year, too.

Also consider: Boston’s Brad Stevens if the rising Celtics win the East without Gordon Hayward and Portland’s Terry Stotts if its many new pieces fall into place.

Executive of the Year: Sean Marks, Brooklyn Nets

Marks never gets much attention, but he orchestrated the necessary moves to land Durant and Irving in 2019, he went out on a limb to hire Steve Nash as his coach, and he made savvy additions this offseason by snagging Landry Shamet and Bruce Brown in trades. The Nets are deep and talented enough to win the East after finishing below .500 last year. If Brooklyn makes that type of leap and approaches its extraordinarily high ceiling, Marks will be well-positioned to get his share of the credit.

Also consider: The Lakers’ Rob Pelinka if his aggressive offseason lives up to the hype and the Pelicans’ David Griffin if New Orleans reaches the playoffs after he retooled the roster, hired a new coach and stacked up a boatload of future draft picks.

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Newsrust: NBA awards predictions for 2021: MVP, Rookie of the Year, more
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