NBA awards: Vincent Goodwill reveals his 2020-21 selections

·7-min read

Our look at four topics — players, issues, numbers, trends — that are impacting and, in some cases, changing the game.

Four Quarters
Four Quarters

First Quarter: The winners we already know

Sixth Man of the Year

1. Jordan Clarkson, Jazz

2. Tim Hardaway Jr., Mavs

3. Derrick Rose, Knicks

Is it sixth man or seventh man? Hard to have two members of the same team on the ballot in Utah’s Clarkson and Joe Ingles. Clarkson had this award wrapped up before we had time to entertain other candidates, a volume scorer who finally found his niche as an off-the-bench brainbuster. This award is made for the unabashed bucket-getter (Jamal Crawford, Lou Williams), and Clarkson follows in that tradition, a key wrinkle in the Jazz getting the top seed in the West. 

Hardaway Jr. is an NBA starter who’s coming off the bench, and if the first two games of the playoffs aren’t evidence, then you’re blind. He plays perfectly off Luka Doncic, taking nearly eight threes a game while still being a threat to get it off the bounce on his own. It’s almost easy to forget he was involved in that Kristaps Porzingis trade with a bloated contract, but he’s proven to be worth every penny to Dallas — and he’s coming back for more. 

Rose has remade his game and turned into an efficient reserve with the Knicks, with his favorite coach in Tom Thibodeau. He’s no longer the physical dynamo, and not chasing his past self. Since returning to New York, he’s helped the Knicks as a secondary scorer (14.9 points on 41% three-point shooting) and fourth-quarter ball-handling option, a huge factor in the team finishing fourth in the East.

 Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks directs his teammates in the second quarter against the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden on May 15, 2021 in New York City.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Julius Randle was voted Most Improved Player. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Most Improved Player

1. Julius Randle, Knicks

2. Michael Porter Jr., Nuggets

3. Jerami Grant, Pistons

Despite what’s been said by my colleague Chris Haynes, Randle’s improvement goes beyond his production. His scoring (24.1), rebounding (10.2) and assists (6.0) were all career highs but he played winning, impactful basketball and took to the hard coaching of Thibodeau. He largely carried the Knicks on his shoulders and got himself in the best shape of his life to do it. It’s not a matter of whether he had this in him since the start of his career, but putting it all together in a winning situation makes him a runaway winner. Porter Jr.’s improvement was both expected and not, once he got healthy from the back injury that shortened his college career. Jamal Murray’s injury only unlocked the special gifts he has, and he doubled his scoring from last season to now (19.1 points on 54-45-79 splits). He’s a matchup problem and a wild card for the playoffs. His shot-creating is elite and he is to be feared. Grant had this in him all along, he just needed the opportunity. The structure in Denver didn’t lend to it, but he blossomed in Detroit, albeit in a rebuild. His numbers before the break had him closer to first than third on this list (23.4 points) but he’s still an excellent two-way player.

Second Quarter: What's on tap next

Defensive Player of the Year

1. Rudy Gobert, Jazz

2. Draymond Green, Warriors

3. Ben Simmons, 76ers

Gobert could very well be Utah’s best player, although not in a traditional sense. Rebounds, blocked shots, impact. He makes you change everything you want to do offensively, even if he stays in the paint. Some around the league suggest his value is inflated because he can be schemed out of a playoff series, but they haven’t found a way to neutralize him in the regular season. 

Green is a one-man wrecking crew, disruptive and returning to his days as being the prototype for new-age switching basketball. The Warriors’ parts don’t show a top-five defense, but Green covered all the mistakes. 

Simmons embraced being a stopper, is routinely handsy and annoying on the perimeter, and was more focused on that end play-to-play than previous years. Joel Embiid, Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo made huge impacts, too, just finishing outside the top three.

Coach of the Year

1. Monty Williams, Suns

2. Tom Thibodeau, Knicks

3. Nate McMillan, Hawks

Chris Paul will get loads of credit, but Williams has done the heavy lifting. Even before the bubble, they were a winning team with DeAndre Ayton on the floor, with Williams finding a way to maximize the young center and Devin Booker to make Phoenix an attractive destination for Paul to land. Coming within a game of topping the highly competitive West makes him a step above Thibodeau. 

Thibodeau turned the Knicks into a feel-good story, his greatest achievement being nobody uttered the name “James Dolan” all season, and helping fine-tune Julius Randle’s game. The roster is makeshift, but Thibodeau gets them playing hard on defense and producing consistent effort — while remixing his image along the way. 

McMillan might’ve had the toughest job of all, taking over a team that didn’t put it together under Lloyd Pierce, but turning the Hawks into a group that went on a hellacious 27-11 run to finish the season. They got healthy, for sure, and Pierce got a raw deal. McMillan’s experience and calm was just what this young team needed. They shot better, defended better and responded to his expectations.

Vinnie Goodwill shares his picks for the 2020-21 NBA Awards. (Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)
Vinnie Goodwill shares his picks for the 2020-21 NBA Awards. (Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)

Third Quarter: LaMelo vs. Edwards

Rookie of the Year

1. LaMelo Ball, Hornets

2. Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves

3. Tyrese Haliburton, Kings

Ball accomplished a feat that ranked among the impossible: Making the Charlotte Hornets must-see TV. His wrist injury and rushed return certainly didn’t help his overall numbers but it was clear his teammates played for him, ran harder and his creativity reminds so many of former All-Star Penny Hardaway. Averaging 16 with six assists is only the start, along with making the Hornets a destination for future players. 

Edwards’ only sin was playing for the Timberwolves, who had to endure so many outside issues he had no control over. He was electric and improved as the season went on. He became a more engaged defender after being a strong finisher and scorer, along with the highlight dunks. Averaging 23.8 points on 45% shooting after the All-Star break bodes well for his future. You can make the argument he should be the No. 1 priority for the franchise moving forward. Haliburton exceeded all expectations, playing with smarts and skill. He barely started a third of Sacramento’s games but his efficiency and shooting was impressive. That ceiling is high — higher than people think.

Nikola Jokic (15) of the Denver Nuggets stands on the court with teammates before the first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at Ball Arena on Saturday, May 22, 2021. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Nikola Jokic put together a season for the ages. (AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Fourth Quarter: Why Nikola Jokic is the MVP

Most Valuable Player

1. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

2. Joel Embiid, 76ers

3. Stephen Curry, Warriors

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

5. Damian Lillard, Blazers

Jokic put together a season for the ages that was such a foregone conclusion, nonsensical arguments were made against him in the season’s final six weeks or so. His raw production (26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists) and advanced numbers showed he was legit, perhaps the fulfilled promise of Arvydas Sabonis had he come to the NBA at full health a few decades ago. And keeping the Nuggets surging after Jamal Murray’s season-ending injury only bolstered his case. 

As for Embiid, only attendance prevented him from being a true contender for the award. He took the season as serious as he has in his career, and still kept his intensity on the defensive end. 

Curry’s team didn’t make the playoffs after the play-in, but averaging 37-5-5 after April 1 while dragging a below subpar Warriors team kicking and screaming to the eighth seed earns him that spot. Antetokounmpo took a step back statistically, but is still a force and could be better prepared for a validated postseason run. 

Lillard faced stiff competition from Luka Doncic, but the load he carried with the Blazers’ injuries and keeping them within a game of the Mavericks gave him the nod here.

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