As we approach the stretch run of the 2020-21 NBA campaign, we thought up a fun exercise: Why not look at current betting odds, use our own opinions and common sense, and vote on the likeliest players to win end-of-year awards this season?
So that’s precisely what we did.
From Rudy Gobert vs. Ben Simmons for Defensive Player of the Year to LaMelo Ball up against No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards for Rookie of the Year and even, of course, the frontrunners for Most Valuable Player, below, you can check out who we think are the likeliest guys to take home a major accolade for the 2020-21 season.
Jordan Clarkson (Sixth Man of the Year)
Betting odds indicate that the likeliest player-award pairing for the 2020-21 season is Jordan Clarkson as Sixth Man of the Year, as OddsShark has the Utah Jazz guard as a -1000 favorite to win the prestigious accolade right now.
We agree with that assessment, as Clarkson has been spectacular coming off the bench for the best team in the league this year, putting up 17.2 points and 3.0 three-pointers per game while leading the league in free throw percentage at a 95.5 percent rate.
Moreso than with any other award, Sixth Man of The Year has a very distinct type, almost always going to guys who score a lot off the bench for contenders.
Clarkson fits that mold to a tee, so that’s why we rank him as the likeliest award winner for this campaign.
For the latest Jordan Clarkson rumors, click here.
Nikola Jokic (Most Valuable Player)
At one point earlier in the campaign, the Most Valuable Player race was almost too close to call, with multiple guys making strong cases to be considered this year’s top player.
However, injuries to some of the other leading candidates have taken a good bit of the drama out of the race, leaving Nikola Jokic as the current clear favorite.
Jokic has been truly ridiculous in 2020-21, putting up 26.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists per contest on outrageous 56.4/41.8/85.3 percent shooting splits.
The big superstar also leads the league in multiple catch-all advanced metrics, including Value Over Replacement Player, Box Plus/Minus and Win Shares, a ridiculous accomplishment this deep into a league year.
Other players could make it close over the stretch run of the season, but for now, Jokic is the MVP favorite.
For the latest Nikola Jokic rumors, click here.
Rudy Gobert (Defensive Player of the Year)
Next up in our rankings is Gobert for 2020-21’s Defensive Player of the Year, which, if it does come to fruition, would make it the big man’s third time taking home the award.
That would make Gobert just the fourth player ever to win Defensive Player of the Year at least three times, joining an illustrious list along with Dwight Howard, Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo – the latter two of whom actually won the accolade four times each.
Gobert has yet again put together a very strong case for Defensive Player of the Year this season, blocking 2.8 shots nightly (the second-highest mark in the league), while ranking first in Defensive Win Shares (4.0) on the year, fourth in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (2.5) and fourth in block rate (7.3 percent).
Further aiding Gobert’s case is the fact that he anchors a Jazz defense that has been elite yet again, giving up just 107.6 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-stingiest mark in the NBA this year.
Gobert does face some solid competition for the award this campaign, but as of now, we consider him the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year and one of the likeliest players to win a major accolade for 2020-21.
For the latest Rudy Gobert rumors, click here.
Ben Simmons (Defensive Player of the Year)
Gobert has a strong rival in the Defensive Player of the Year race this season in Simmons, as the versatile Philadelphia 76ers guard has a very strong case in his own right to take home the award.
The latest betting odds on this battle, per OddsShark, are extremely close, with Gobert a -200 favorite and Simmons right behind him at +200, indicating the race is close to a pick ’em right now, meaning it’s almost a 50/50 shot for either guy to win it.
Aiding Simmons’ case is the fact that he’s a much more versatile and multi-positional defender than Gobert, as the Australian guard can legitimately cover every opposing position on the court at a high level, something the Jazz center simply cannot match.
Opposing teams occasionally find offensive success against Utah by forcing Gobert to defend perimeter-oriented big men who pull him away from the rim and open up the lane for their ball-handlers and slashers. It’s much harder for teams to scheme around Simmons’ defensive prowess, however, as even setting picks on him is difficult due to his size and strength and even if they do force him to switch, Simmons is a monster at picking pockets and jumping passing lanes.
Additionally, Simmons’ Sixers actually have a higher defensive rating than the Jazz this year, with Philadelphia giving up 106.6 points per 100 possessions in 2020-21 (the second-best mark in the NBA) to Utah’s 107.6 mark.
We also have to factor Joel Embiid in here, though, as Embiid is an All-Defensive Team-caliber player who helps Philadelphia on the point-preventing end of the floor much more than any of Gobert’s teammates do for him.
Even so, Simmons averages 1.6 steals per game this season (the No. 9 mark in the league) while ranking third in Defensive Win Shares (2.8), ninth in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (1.8) and 12th in steal rate (2.3 percent). Simmons is also one of just two guards in the Top 15 in Defensive Win Shares this year, proving just how unique his impact on that end of the floor is.
Gobert may be the slight favorite for Defensive Player of the Year right now, but Simmons is right there with him. This is another race that should come down to the wire.
For the latest Ben Simmons rumors, click here.
Jerami Grant (Most Improved Player)
Missed time recently may hurt his case a bit, but there’s no doubt Jerami Grant has one of the strongest cases for Most Improved Player this year, as the leap he’s made in his first campaign as a Detroit Piston has been nothing short of spectacular.
Grant’s averages have gone up from 12.0 points to 22.6 points this season, his rebounds from 3.5 to 4.8 and his assists from 1.2 to 2.9.
What’s more, the athletic wing is shooting an elite 85.8 percent from the foul stripe on over six free throws nightly after never having made more than 75.0 percent of his free throws in a season before.
That’s not easy for a player to do in Year 7.
Just based on pure production, Grant has one of the most foolproof cases for Most Improved Player in 2020-21 to this point. Whether or not he wins it will depend on how much time he misses down the stretch, as there are other great candidates for the same accolade, too.
For the latest Jerami Grant rumors, click here.
LaMelo Ball (Rookie of the Year)
The race for Rookie of the Year in 2020-21 is going to be razor-tight, but that’s mostly because the presumptive favorite a month ago, LaMelo Ball, has been out since late March and might not be able to return this season at all.
Prior to going down, Ball was enjoying a historic inaugural campaign for the Charlotte Hornets, putting up 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists nightly while shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc and ripping away 1.6 steals per contest.
In addition, though missing such a large chunk of his first season will hurt his chances of being Rookie of the Year, as does the fact that Edwards has come on much stronger lately, the advanced analytics still favor Ball as the best rookie the season by a wide margin.
Even with the missed time, Ball ranks 53rd in Value Over Replacement Player for 2020-21 at a 1.4 mark. Edwards? 518th at -0.8. Ball also sits 38th in Box Plus/Minus (2.7) while Edwards ranks 178th (-3.9). Even Win Shares, which is a cumulative stat and not a per-game one, still has Ball way ahead, with the Hornets guard ranking 97th in the metric and Edwards at 518th.
If we take efficiency into account, this race might not actually be all that close.
However, there are other factors at play, like Ball’s injury, and Edwards legitimately has been much better over the past month, so Rookie of the Year will likely come down to the wire as far as picking a winner.
For the latest LaMelo Ball rumors, click here.
Anthony Edwards (Rookie of the Year)
The advanced stats may not care for his first-year contributions, but the eye test and raw averages paint a different picture, as Edwards has been quite impressive over the second half of the season.
Since Feb. 27, a 23-game stretch in which Edwards has not sat even once, the former No. 1 pick is putting up 23.7 points per game to go with 5.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.7 steals. His percentages over that span – 42.6 percent from the field, 31.6 percent from three and 77.3 percent from the foul line – are still hideous, but that production is still noteworthy.
Also helping Edwards’ case are the almost nightly viral videos he produces – here’s an example of a recent one…
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 10, 2021
…showing the flashes of greatness the Georgia product possesses.
Despite ugly shooting numbers and advanced metrics, there’s no doubting Edwards’ massive upside, and as he cleans up his game, he should be to be a serious player over the coming years.
Will he do enough over the last month of the season to take Rookie of the Year from Ball, though?
That remains to be seen.
For the latest Anthony Edwards rumors, click here.
Joel Embiid (Most Valuable Player)
A darkhorse player who could still make the MVP race interesting this year is the recently returned Embiid, who ranks third in 2020-21 in scoring (29.8 points nightly), 10th in rebounding (11.0 boards per game), fourth in Box Plus/Minus and second in Win Shares per 48 Minutes, behind just Jokic, the MVP favorite at the moment. Embiid also just posted a three-game stretch where he averaged 34.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game, all three wins for Philadelphia. It’s probably too late for him to jump Jokic in the MVP race this year, but Embiid absolutely will be one of the top contenders for the award.
For the latest Joel Embiid rumors, click here.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Most Valuable Player)
One of the players who could make the MVP race interesting down the stretch, as long as he returns from knee soreness soon, is the two-time reigning winner of the award, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who we recently ranked No. 2 in our weekly MVP ranking series.
On the year, Antetokounmpo is putting up preposterous numbers, averaging 28.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per contest while shooting 56.5 percent from the floor, the second-highest rate of his career. He also ranks second this season in Box Plus/Minus, third in Value Over Replacement Player and fourth in Win Shares.
Jokic probably has some breathing room as the MVP frontrunner at this point in the league year, but guys like Antetokounmpo shouldn’t be forgotten about in the race, either.
For the latest Giannis Antetokounmpo rumors, click here.
Tyrese Haliburton (Rookie of the Year)
It may be a two-horse race at the top for Rookie of the Year this season, but Tyrese Haliburton is also hanging around near the front of the pack thanks to his impressive first-year campaign for the Sacramento Kings.
On the year, Haliburton is averaging 12.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game and knocking down 40.8 percent of his outside looks, numbers that weren’t easy to put up considering he’s sharing the backcourt with a borderline All-Star in De’Aaron Fox.
In a different team setting, could Haliburton have made this season’s Rookie of the Year race even more interesting by being able to have a larger usage rate?
It’s possible, but either way, the Kings are probably just thrilled with who they got with the 12th pick in the 2020 draft, awards aside.
For the latest Tyrese Haliburton rumors, click here.
Christian Wood (Most Improved Player)
Were it not for the fact he missed over five weeks in the middle of the season due to injury, Christian Wood would probably rank far higher on this list, if not ahead of Grant.
Even with the missed time, however, Wood makes a strong case for Most Improved Player in 2020-21, as he’s taken a big leap in his first season with the Houston Rockets, upping his scoring (13.1 to 21.2 points per game), rebounding (6.3 to 9.6 rebounds) and shot-blocking (0.9 to 1.3 swats nightly) this campaign without seeing his efficiency fall off too much despite a higher usage rate as a Rocket.
The ankle injuries greatly hurt his chances at winning a major award this year, but Wood still has a lot to be proud of this season with his production, and Houston is probably thrilled with how their big offseason signing has panned out so far.
For the latest Christian Wood rumors, click here.
Julius Randle (Most Improved Player)
Julius Randle has seen one of the biggest jumps this season in terms of going from being a bit of an empty-stat player to one who is legitimately an All-Star, making huge nightly impacts towards winning. It may not be enough for him to win Most Improved Player, as other guys have seen bigger statistical jumps than Randle, but he still absolutely deserves serious consideration for the accolade.
For the latest Julius Randle rumors, click here.
Jaylen Brown (Most Improved Player)
Just when it seems Jaylen Brown may have hit a plateau as a player, he manages to get even better, making him a candidate for Most Improved Player this season. Brown is averaging a career-high in points this year at 24.3 per game, as well as in three-point percentage at 39.7.
For the latest Jaylen Brown rumors, click here.
Myles Turner (Defensive Player of the Year)
Team success is what prevents Myles Turner from being a more serious Defensive Player of the Year candidate, as not only are the Indiana Pacers a disappointing 26-28 this season, but their defense ranks a mediocre 13th in points allowed per 100 possessions (111.5). Still, Turner has been an extremely impressive defender this year, leading the league in nightly blocks (3.5) and block rate (9.2 percent) and sitting seventh in Defensive Box Plus/Minus on the campaign.
For the latest Myles Turner rumors, click here.
Damian Lillard (Most Valuable Player)
Damian Lillard has been slumping a bit of late, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has posted a straight Herculean effort this year in keeping the Portland Trail Blazers relevant in the playoff race despite a plethora of injuries to their roster. Lillard ranks fifth this season in Win Shares and eighth in Value Over Replacement Player.
For the latest Damian Lillard rumors, click here.