Aside from making the playoffs and winning a championship, one of the top goals NBA teams have every year is for someone on their roster to take home a major year-end award at the end of the campaign.
Of course, some teams have way better chances to win such awards every season – and 2020-21 is no different.
Below, we break down every team’s best chance to win a major award this campaign.
Atlanta: Danilo Gallinari (Sixth Man of the Year)
Danilo Gallinari will be able to focus on simply doing some scoring and playmaking as a reserve this year without having to worry about much else.
Coming off a campaign that saw him average 18.7 points and shoot 40.5 percent from three, that shouldn’t be a problem for the Italian veteran.
Also helping his case is the fact that Sixth Man of the Year most often goes to the best bench scorer on a good-to-great team every year. The Hawks have started the season 3-1 and look like they’ll be able to keep up with any opponent, so that should put Gallinari in the running for this accolade by season’s end, as long as he’s able to get healthy and stay that way, which has not been the case so far early in 2020-21.
Other considerations: Trae Young (MVP), Lloyd Pierce (Coach of the Year)
Boston: Brad Stevens (Coach of the Year)
As long as the Celtics overdeliver relative to expectations in 2020-21, i.e., win at least 55 games and finish atop the East, which feels unlikely right now considering their competition, Brad Stevens will see his name included among the top Coach of the Year candidates for the campaign.
As is, Stevens is already considered one of the top head coaches in the Association, one who has led Boston to Conference Finals appearances three out of the last four years. Maybe this will be the year he finally adds this important piece of hardware to his resume.
Other considerations: Jayson Tatum (MVP), Jaylen Brown (Most Improved Player)
Brooklyn: Kevin Durant (MVP)
Without question, the Brooklyn Nets’ best chance at taking home a major award this year will come down to Kevin Durant winning Most Valuable Player for the second time in his career.
And seeing the otherworldly level Durant is at four games into this season, that looks far from impossible; you wouldn’t think Durant’s coming back from a year-and-a-half injury-related layoff just seeing him play right now.
Thus far in 2020-21, Durant is averaging 28.3 points (his highest mark since 2013-14), 5.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.5 steals while posting an outrageous 67.3 true-shooting percentage, which would be the best clip of his career if he’s able to keep it up.
As long as the Nets continue to win – and there’s no reason to think that won’t be the case, considering how loaded their roster is – Durant will be a frontrunner for MVP by year’s end.
Other considerations: Steve Nash (Coach of the Year)
Charlotte: LaMelo Ball (Rookie of the Year)
It’s been an up-and-down start for Charlotte Hornets first-year LaMelo Ball, as is usually the case for rookie point guards.
Even so, Ball’s overall averages to this point – 10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals on well-above-average 45.2/53.3/83.3 shooting splits – look beyond solid, and if he’s able to improve the scoring just a bit, he should get some consideration for Rookie of the Year by the end of the season.
Would he call him the favorite for the award at this point?
Not quite, but thanks to his flashy playmaking and shockingly adept outside shooting touch, he’s in the conversation so far, at the very least.
Chicago: Patrick Williams (Rookie of the Year)
The Chicago Bulls, 2-3 to start the season, don’t have a whole lot of positive things going for them at the moment outside of the strong play of 19-year-old swingman Patrick Williams.
In all likelihood, Williams isn’t flashy enough and won’t put up big enough numbers to actually win Rookie of the Year, but he still gives Chicago their best chance at an award this campaign considering what’s going on with the rest of the roster.
Through four games, Williams is averaging 10.6 points and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 50.0 percent from three. Not many expected Williams, who wasn’t even a starter for Florida State last season, to be such a solid scorer this early on in his career, but obviously, there’s a reason Chicago chose him at No. 4.
Cleveland: Darius Garland (Most Improved Player)
There were times in his rookie season that Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland didn’t look like a prospect who warranted being selected in the Top 5 of his draft class.
However, Garland has so far put that notion to bed this season, upping his averages to 19.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.4 steals through five games while hitting 51.7 percent of his 5.8 nightly attempts from beyond the arc.
If he’s able to keep up that level of production and if Cleveland is able to hover around .500 for the entire season, Garland will certainly receive some consideration for Most Improved Player in 2020-21.
Other considerations: Isaac Okoro (Rookie of the Year), JB Bickerstaff (Coach of the Year)
Dallas: Luka Doncic (MVP)
There’s no doubt Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic has been a disappointment early on in the 2020-21 season, especially when you consider the MVP-level expectations he had heading into the campaign.
Doncic’s scoring average is down to 23.3 points per game, as are his rebounding (5.8 per night so far) and assist (6.3) averages. He’s also off to a historically bad start shooting the ball, according to ESPN:
Per @ESPNStatsInfo, the two worst 3-point percentages with a minimum of 20 attempts through four games in NBA history:
Kelly Oubre: 4.8% (1-of-21)
Luka Doncic: 9.5% (2-of-21)
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) December 31, 2020
And not just all that, but Dallas is also 1-3 to start the year, struggling on both ends of the floor, partially due to the absence of Kristaps Porzingis.
We expect Doncic to turn things around, he’s too talented not to, but without question, his Most Valuable Player candidacy has taken a hit early on in 2020-21, and it’s going to take a lot for the 21-year-old to get back into that conversation unless he regains his elite form from last season relatively soon.
Other consideration: Rick Carlisle (Coach of the Year)
Denver: Jamal Murray (Most Improved Player)
As has been the case pretty much every season of his career, Jamal Murray is off to another slow start this year, which makes his Most Improved Player candidacy look shoddy early on.
The reasoning for this pick is: Murray was absolutely spectacular in the bubble last year, particularly in the playoffs, and we figured if he could carry that over into this season, he’d make a strong Most Improved Player candidate.
However, that hasn’t been the case so far, with Murray averaging just 17.7 points and 2.0 assists while shooting under 40 percent from the floor, looking a lot more like the non-bubble player he has been in his career than the elite bubble version.
There’s still plenty of time for Murray to turn it around, though, and we fully expect him to improve his efficiency and scoring marks as 2020-21 progresses.
Will it be enough for him to win Most Improved Player?
Probably not, but never say never.
Other consideration: Nikola Jokic (MVP)
Detroit: Jerami Grant (Most Improved Player)
Part of the reason Jerami Grant chose to leave Denver in favor of the Detroit Pistons was in order to get a bigger nightly role with the ball in his hands.
And although that hasn’t led to much team success for Detroit so far, Grant looks fully vindicated for that decision based on his strong play in 2020-21. Through four games, Grant is averaging career-highs in points (22.8), rebounds (6.0) and blocks (1.8) while shooting a respectable 36.7 percent from three.
If Grant is able to keep those marks up, there’s no doubt he’ll be a finalist for Most Improved Player by season’s end; the leaps he’s made in production have been that eye-catching.
Other consideration: Killian Hayes (Rookie of the Year)
Golden State: James Wiseman (Rookie of the Year)
After playing just three games in college and missing all of training camp and preseason this year, Golden State Warriors big man James Wiseman was expected to have a slow start to his NBA career.
That hasn’t totally been the case, however, as the Memphis product is averaging 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds through four games, albeit while shooting a paltry 43.9 percent from the floor.
He’s still rough around the edges and will need to refine the finer points of his game, such as his decision-making with the ball in his hands, but seeing a 19-year-old who’s 7-foot-1 weighing 240-plus pounds do things like this…
JAMES. WISEMAN. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/GZ3kLsE8pc
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) December 30, 2020
…indicates that the Warriors have a potentially special player on their hands.
As long as his scoring and rebounding improve a touch, Wiseman should get some love for Rookie of the Year in 2020-21, especially if Golden State can hover around the playoff picture by the end of the campaign.
Other consideration: Stephen Curry (MVP)
Houston: Christian Wood (Most Improved Player)
It has only taken three games in a Houston Rockets uniform for people to begin asking: What in the world were the Pistons thinking when they let Christian Wood go?
In those three games, Wood has averaged 25.0 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks with an explosive 60.7 effective field-goal percentage, a very tidy mark considering he’s shooting nearly 19 times per game. Wood has been explosive driving to the basket, getting down in transition and hitting open three-pointers, making him a prototypical modern big man, one who can even defend multiple positions on the less glamorous end of the floor.
Wood might not just be a candidate for Most Improved Player, but the current favorite, especially if he’s able to continue posting those kinds of ridiculous averages.
Indiana: Myles Turner (Defensive Player of the Year)
The league-leader in blocks per game to this point at 4.2, Myles Turner has been an absolute force defending the basket in 2020-21, even by his pristine standards.
Turner’s elite-level shot-blocking has helped the Indiana Pacers get off to a stingy start on the defensive end of the floor, where they’re giving up just 104.1 points per 100 possessions so far this season, the sixth-best mark in the league.
As long as Indiana keeps up that pace (very possible) and Turner keeps swatting away shots at such a high clip (likely), it would not be surprising to see his name thrown around for Defensive Player of the Year for 2020-21.
Other consideration: Domantas Sabonis (Most Improved Player)
LA Clippers: Kawhi Leonard (MVP)
Two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has never won a regular-season Most Valuable Player award, but this season could be as good as any for the two-way monster to take home that accolade for the first time.
Through three games this season, Leonard is averaging 25.0 points, 5.7 assists and 3.0 steals while hitting 93.8 percent of his five-plus nightly free-throw attempts. Leonard’s defense continues to be among the most grueling of any wing in basketball, and his scoring has improved so much over the years that it’s no longer surprising to see him post a 25-point-per-game average.
If the Los Angeles Clippers can conquer their demons from last season and finish 2020-21 with the top record in the West, Leonard will undoubtedly get consideration for Most Valuable Player as long as he doesn’t sit out too many games to have his load managed.
Other considerations: Tyronn Lue (Coach of the Year), Lou Williams (Sixth Man of the Year)
LA Lakers: Anthony Davis (Defensive Player of the Year)
The Los Angeles Lakers, as is only natural for such a loaded team with championship aspirations, had multiple strong candidates for this spot, but in the end, we went with Anthony Davis as Defensive Player of the Year.
So far, however, his candidacy isn’t as strong as it should have been considering how much campaigning his Lakers teammates did for him to win the award in 2019-20. So far, Los Angeles ranks merely 10th in defensive rating, giving up 106.0 points per 100 possessions while Davis is only blocking 0.5 shots per game and swiping away 0.8 steals nightly, poor marks by his usually outrageous standards.
Regardless, there’s more than enough time for Davis to make up ground in the chase for his first Defensive Player of the Year award, as the 27-year-old is way too talented to remain this mundane on the point-preventing side of the floor.
Other consideration: LeBron James (Most Valuable Player)
Memphis: Dillon Brooks (Most Improved Player)
There weren’t as many candidates to choose from here as there were with the previous two teams on the list, so we finally went with Dillon Brooks for Most Improved Player.
That’s partially due to the fact that his two top teammates, Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., are set to miss a lot of time this season due to injury, which leaves out two strong Most Improved Player candidates. They could still win the award, of course, depending on how much time they miss, but it’s just not as likely as it would have been had they started the season out healthy and remained that way.
Nonetheless, that leaves Brooks, who isn’t shy about shooting even when the Memphis Grizzlies are at full health, with even more possessions in which he can chuck up shots. If he hits enough of them and ups his scoring average by a noteworthy amount, he could get some Most Improved Player consideration by year’s end.
So far, through four games, Brooks is averaging 18.8 points despite shooting 40.5 percent from the floor and 29.6 percent from three. He’s also averaging a career-high 19.5 shots per game. He’ll have to hit them with higher frequency to get any kind of year-end award love, though.
Other considerations: Ja Morant (Most Improved Player), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Most Improved Player)
Miami: Goran Dragic (Sixth Man of the Year)
Although he may not have totally loved the idea at first, Goran Dragic accepting Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra’s decision to turn him into a bench player back in 2019-20 has paid serious dividends so far for both team and player, and this season has been no different so far.
Dragic is averaging 16.5 points, 4.8 assists and 1.3 steals as a reserve this year while shooting 55.8 percent from the floor. Against second units, his tenacity getting to the basket has proven difficult to stop and his decision-making as a playmaker has been nearly perfect.
Other considerations: Erik Spoelstra (Coach of the Year), Bam Adebayo (Defensive Player of the Year)
Milwaukee: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Defensive Player of the Year)
It’s very likely as far as in a theoretical MVP race this season, we will see voter fatigue when it comes to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s candidacy since the Greek phenom has already won the award two years running.
However, that doesn’t mean Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are guaranteed to finish the year empty-handed when it comes to major awards, as Antetokounmpo could and should still be a strong candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, an accolade he won last season for the first time.
Antetokounmpo is averaging 1.8 steals nightly so far in 2020-21 to go with 0.6 blocks, but the Bucks sit merely 15th in defensive rating, allowing 109.7 points per 100 possessions. The team will have to greatly improve on those marks if Antetokounmpo is to have a case for Defensive Player of the Year this season.
Other consideration: Giannis Antetokounmpo (MVP), Donte DiVincenzo (Most Improved Player)
Minnesota: Anthony Edwards (Rookie of the Year)
The top pick from the 2020 draft has not disappointed early on in his rookie campaign, as Anthony Edwards is putting up 15.0 points and 2.3 rebounds through four games with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He’ll like have to become more efficient as the season progresses (his effective field-goal percentage is a mediocre 49.1 so far), improve his decision-making and eventually earn a starting job in Minnesota in order to win Rookie of the Year, but he should be a top candidate up until the award is voted on either way.
Edwards’ smooth scoring touch and confident bucket-getting mindset have been impressive so far, particularly for a first-year player.
New Orleans: Zion Williamson (Most Improved Player)
The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t give us many great options here, so we opted with Zion Williamson as Most Improved Player.
Considering Williamson only saw action in 24 games as a rookie, Williamson’s candidacy for the award will be plausible, as long as his numbers hover around where they are now (19.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game with a tidy 54.3 field-goal percentage).
Of course, Williamson’s Most Improved Player chances could also depend on how the Pelicans season goes: A strong, playoff-level year for the young New Orleans squad will really help Williamson’s odds to win a major award.
If they miss the playoffs again, however, the Duke product will have little chance to win anything of note, barring a statistical explosion.
New York: Obi Toppin (Rookie of the Year)
New York Knicks’ first-year player Obi Toppin is off to a tough start as far as potentially being a Rookie of the Year candidate, as the Dayton product has already missed time due to a calf injury and didn’t exactly light the world aflame in the preseason, where he acveraged 7.2 points and 6.0 rebounds.
Nevertheless, there’s still a chance once Toppin returns, his explosive, rim-destroying abilities and three-point stroke will impress enough to earn some love for the major accolade. He’ll have to be a lot better than he was in the preseason for that to happen, however.
Other consideration: Tom Thibodeau for Coach of the Year
Oklahoma City: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Most Improved Player)
The logic for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s Most Improved Player candidacy is simple: With Chris Paul now gone, the former Kentucky Wildcat will have the ball in his hands even more often this season, and for a player as talented and efficient as Gilgeous-Alexander, that could be a recipe for a huge year.
Thus far this year, Gilgeous-Alexander’s usage rate has already risen from 23.7 percent to 27.8 percent, and though his scoring average hasn’t seen a similar jump – he’s averaging 19.5 points as opposed to 19.0 points – he is posting more nightly assists (6.8 this year versus 3.3 last season).
The issue is, Gilgeous-Alexander is shooting 31.8 percent from three and 71.4 percent from the foul stripe, marks far lower than his career marks of 35.2 percent and 80.1 percent respectively.
Regardless, the 22-year-old has proven to be too good of a player not to improve on those numbers, and as long as he does, his scoring average should move to the 22-to-23-point-per-game range, which could be enough for him to get Most Improved Player consideration.
Orlando: Terrence Ross (Sixth Man of the Year)
Orlando Magic 2-guard Terrence Ross has always been a bucket, but that has been especially true this season, as the 29-year-old is off to an explosive start in 2020-21.
Thus far this campaign, Ross is pouring in 21.0 points per game, the best mark among players with zero starts this season.
And although it’s questionable how sustainable that will be for Ross considering he’s posting an outrageous 66.2 true-shooting percentage (his previous career-best mark was 56.1), if he’s able to stay around that number while the Magic continue to impress (they’re 4-1 to this point in the season), there’s little doubt Ross will be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
Philadelphia: Joel Embiid (Defensive Player of the Year)
Through five games, the league-leaders in defensive stinginess are the Philadelphia 76ers, who are giving up a ridiculous 98.0 points per 100 possessions early on in 2020-21. For comparison’s sake, last season’s best defense, which belonged to the Bucks, gave up 102.5 points per 100 possessions.
Of course, the number by the Sixers should go up at some point, as it’s nearly impossible for a team facing modern offenses on a nightly basis to post a defensive rating that low. Nevertheless, with a roster built around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, there’s reason to believe Philadelphia could be the best defense in basketball in 2020-21.
And if that is the case, Embiid, who’s averaging 1.5 blocks per game and allowing opponents to shoot just 41.9 percent from the floor against him, will get serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year.
Other consideration: Ben Simmons (Defensive Player of the Year)
Phoenix: Monty Williams (Coach of the Year)
For the first time in a long time, Phoenix has a strong roster built around two stars, Devin Booker and Chris Paul, two-way wings, Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder, and an exciting young center, Deandre Ayton, to go with a solid bench.
Of course, it also helps that they have the best head coach they’ve had since Mike D’Antoni, as Monty Williams has proven to know exactly what buttons to push with the Suns dating back to last season.
The results are undeniable: Early on this season, the Phoenix Suns sit No. 2 league-wide in net rating (+11.5), trailing just the reigning champion Lakers.
If the Suns are able to at least somewhat continue on the level they’re presently on (they are 4-1 through five games) and make the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10, Williams will be a frontrunner for Coach of the Year.
Other considerations: Deandre Ayton (Most Improved Player)
Portland: Damian Lillard (MVP)
Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard is off to a slow start in 2020-21, especially by his pristine standards, averaging just 23.0 points and 6.3 assists per game on an ice-cold effective field-goal percentage of 47.9 through four games.
Nonetheless, Lillard will almost certainly turn that around, and probably soon, based on his absurd level of play in recent campaigns.
Once Lillard gets back to Lillard levels of explosiveness, he’ll once again get back to being arguably the best point guard in basketball and a lower-tier MVP candidate.
Sacramento: Tyrese Haliburton (Rookie of the Year)
The best rookie so far this season has undoubtedly been Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton, who’s averaging 10.6 points and 4.4 assists on an outrageous 70.6 true-shooting percentage to go with 1.0 steal per game.
Haliburton’s strong play has been a big reason why the Kings are off to a somewhat surprising 3-2 start with two wins over the Nuggets and another over the Suns.
Despite being considered a potential Top 5 pick in 2020, Haliburton falling to Sacramento at No. 12 is looking like an absolute coup early on in his career, and the question marks about his unique shooting stroke are starting to dwindle more and more with every passing game, something that Haliburton has been sure to remind critics about already:
They said the jumper wouldn’t translate😂😂
— Tyrese Haliburton (@TyHaliburton22) December 30, 2020
As long as Haliburton keeps up this level of form, he’ll be a Rookie of the Year frontrunner by year’s end.
San Antonio: Keldon Johnson (Most Improved Player)
His rookie season only gave us a 17-game sample size to examine, but even in that span of time, San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson showed flashes of explosive defense and solid outside shooting.
Now fully healthy, Johnson is proving his rookie-year flashes weren’t a fluke, as the Kentucky product is averaging 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks nightly and allowing opponents to shoot just 41.7 percent from the floor against him. What’s more, Johnson is also providing the Spurs with some offense, putting up 12.3 points and 2.8 assists per contest.
It would likely take a far bigger leap for Johnson to actually win Most Improved Player, but either way, it’s clear the talented 21-year-old is a much better player this year than he was as a rookie.
Toronto: Chris Boucher (Sixth Man of the Year)
Toronto Raptors big man Chris Boucher probably won’t win Sixth Man of the Year, not just because he won’t score enough but also because there’s a chance, based on his strong start to the season and the unimpressive form of players ahead of him in the rotation, that he’s a starter at some point this year.
Through four games, Boucher is averaging 10.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc – and he’s doing all that in just 18.0 minutes per contest. Extrapolating that to per-36-minute numbers and Boucher’s averages are even more ridiculous: 21.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.0 blocks per game.
Perhaps Raptors head coach Nick Nurse believes Boucher’s at his best making a huge impact in limited minutes off the bench, but if the 28-year-old keeps up this outstanding run of form, he should start to get some consideration as a starter for Toronto.
Other considerations: Nick Nurse (Coach of the Year)
Utah: Rudy Gobert (Defensive Player of the Year)
This one wouldn’t be all that surprising considering Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert has already won Defensive Player of the Year twice in his career. Seeing him win it a third time wouldn’t be all that shocking, though so far this season, it certainly doesn’t look likely.
Utah sits 11th in defensive rating in 2020-21, giving up 106.9 points per 100 possessions, a mark too high for a team with a Defensive Player of the Year candidate on its roster.
Additionally, so far this year, opponents are shooting 55.2 percent from within five feet of the basket against Gobert, a solid mark but not an elite one. For reference, Myles Turner leads the league in field-goal percentage allowed from within five feet of the basket at 46.2 percent.
For Gobert to win a third Defensive Player of the Year award, both of those aforementioned numbers will have to greatly improve.
Washington: Deni Avdija (Rookie of the Year)
His numbers probably won’t be eye-catching enough to win Rookie of the Year this season, but Deni Avdija has quietly been one of the best first-year players in 2020-21.
Avdija is averaging 7.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game while answering questions about his outside shot by hitting 43.8 percent of his looks from beyond the arc through five games. Perhaps on a team with a bigger role, Avdija’s numbers would be even more impressive, but sharing the ball with the likes of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal greatly hampers Avdija’s potential usage rate.
Regardless, Avdija has been beyond solid to start out his career, and it looks like the Washington Wizards got a great piece with the ninth pick in the 2020 draft.