NBA Regular Season Round-Up: Awards, Surprises & Disappointments
The most compacted NBA regular season of all time has come to an end.
2,160 games, 500 injuries & 100 legendary soundbites from the Charlotte Hornets commentators!
The majority of the season was played behind closed doors but over the last couple of months some fans have been able to return to arena's and this will increase as we head into the playoffs.
A strange season no doubt but an enthralling one that threw up big surprises, breakout seasons & major disappointments. The New York Knicks return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Jazz won the Western Conference for the first time since 1998 & the big men of the NBA reasserted their dominance.
Here is our regular season round-up!
MVP - Joel Embiid
JoJo was an animal this season, he averaged 28.5 pts 10.6 rebs 1.4 blk & 1 steal while shooting 51% from the field, 38% from three & 86% from the free throw line, all career highs.
Embiid was the lead figure as the 76ers bounced back from a disappointing 2019/20 season to beat the Brooklyn Nets to the no.1 seed in the East with a record of 49-23.
Embiid will not win the MVP award because injuries restricted him to just 51 games but in those games Philadelphia had a record of 39-12 compared to 10-11 without him. He was crucial to everything good about the 76ers this season and will be a tough man to stop in the playoffs.
Most Improved Player - Julius Randle
The New York Knicks are heading to the playoffs for the first time in eight years and the reason is, Julius Randle.
The former Lakers forward played in all but one game this season and averaged 37.6 minutes per, a league high. In that time he averaged 24 pts 10 rebs & 6 assists, all career highs while he also shot 41% from three & 81% from the free throw line, both significantly higher than his career averages.
The Knicks have been crying out for a leader since losing Melo and this year Randle became the embodiment of everything required. Randle led the NBA in clutch steals, ranked in the top 3 in clutch rebounds & had an overall clutch plus-minus of 54, third highest in the league.
Randle has been red hot for nearly the entire season, he is the most improved player in the league and deserves an All-NBA spot.
Coach of the Year - Monty Williams
The Phoenix Suns have been one of the best teams to watch in the 2020/21 season and their second year head coach, Monty Williams, has been at the heart of it.
In his first year in charge, Williams had led the Suns to a record of 26-39 before the season was postponed due to Covid-19. He then led Phoenix to an 8-0 run in 'the bubble' but it wasn't enough to reach the playoffs.
This year, the Suns have finished 2nd in the West with a record of 51-21 and are heading to their first post-season since 2010. In the off-season, Williams re-united with Chris Paul, whom he had coached in New Orleans and it has proved a winning combination.
The Suns are one of only two teams to win 50 games in the shortened 2020/21 season while winning 17 more games than they did in the 2019/2020. Monty Williams is working something special in Phoenix and he should be honored for that.
Rookie of the Year - LaMelo Ball
LaMelo Ball was the hot ticket in the 2020 draft and he showed why in his rookie year. The 19 year old averaged 16 pts 6 rebs & 6 assists while shooting 44% from the field, 35% from three & 76% from the free throw line, all significant improvements on his year in the NBL.
It appeared he may lose the chance to win ROY when he went down with a wrist injury in March which forced him to miss 21 games but he returned for the final 10 games of the season to re-affirm his place as the best rookie in the league.
Ball scored 20+ in 17 of his 51 games this season and was a key contributor for the Hornets as they won 10 more games than last season and secured a place in the play-in tournament.
Defensive Player of the Year - Ben Simmons
DPOY has been a hot topic throughout the season with a number of players making a case to be considered the best defender in the NBA but Ben Simmons is the only player that defends every position and consistently guards the best player of the opposing team.
The Philadelphia 76ers rank 2nd in defensive rating & 6th in opponents pts per game and Ben Simmons has been their defensive anchor. The former rookie of the year had 93 steals, 35 blocks and averaged 7 rebounds a game as the 76ers roared to no.1 seed in the East.
While Rudy Gobert has dominated for the league leading Utah Jazz, leading the league with 2.7 blocks per game and sitting second behind Clint Capela for rebounds per game, he doesn't defend one through five like Simmons and that is why the Australian should win his first DPOY.
Surprise Team - New York Knicks
Before this season, the Knicks had not finished higher than 11th in the East since 2014, the team had not won more than 35 games since 2014 and they had not had a winning season/reached the playoffs since 2013 but in 2020/21 things were flipped on their head.
The Knicks brought in veteran head coach Tom Thibodeau and the team instantly bought into his defensive philosophy which brought out the best in Julius Randle and saw huge improvements in their second year lottery pick, RJ Barrett.
The Knicks ended the season with a record of 41-21 as they finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, this is a 20 game improvement on their record from 2019/20 and their highest finish in eight years. The Knicks have become one of the best defensive teams in the league and are getting huge contributions from seasoned vets like Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson & Alec Burks.
As LeBron James said, the NBA is a lot better when the Knicks are winning!
Disappointing Team - Boston Celtics
2020/21 has been a hugely disappointing year for the Boston Celtics, last years Eastern Conference finalists have been plagued by poor Front Office decisions, Covid & injuries but so have a number of other teams and that is no excuse for their 36-36 record.
Boston have arguably the best young duo in the NBA in Jayson Tatum & Jaylen Brown paired with guys like Kemba Walker, Tristian Thompson & Marcus Smart and yet they cant even put together a winning season in the Eastern Conference...
There have been some positives for Boston, Jaylen Brown had a career year, Jayson Tatum equaled Larry Birds franchise scoring record while again showing himself to be one of the elite offensive players in the NBA but overall it has been an incredibly underwhelming season.
They can still turn it around however as they face Washington in the play-in tournament on Tuesday but without Jaylen Brown and the team playing with little confidence, they wont be causing any upsets.
Surprise Player - Russell Westbrook
When Russell Westbrook was traded to the Washington Wizards in the off-season, most thought his career was going to peter out after a so-so year in Houston with James Harden but instead Westbrook has revitalized his career.
The 2017 MVP played in all but seven of the Wizards games and led the team to an 8th place finish in the East. Westbrook averaged 22 points 11 rebounds & 12 assists, as Washington won nine more games than in 2019/20 and they have the chance to make their first post-season appearance since 2018 via the play-in tournament.
Westbrook has formed a great partnership with Bradley Beal and looked back to his best as he broke Oscar Robertson's triple-doubles record which stood for 47 years. Russ now tops the list with 184, maybe just a flash in the pan but Westbrook was a surprising star in 2021.
Disappointing Player - Kristaps Porzingis
I know I am not alone in thinking that 2020/21 was going to be the season where we saw Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis emerge as one of the elite duos in the NBA but alas we were disappointed mainly due to Porzingis.
For the most part Porzingis' failures this year have been due to circumstances out of his control as injuries meant he was only able to suit up for 43 games but that's the problem for 'the Unicorn'.
Every time he starts to look like a star an injury comes to halt his progress, on the court he averaged 20 points 9 rebounds and 1 block while shooting 48% from the field, 38% from three & 86% from the free throw line. But his longest run of games at any point this season was 8.
Of course to criticize an injury riddled player is harsh but this guy has so much talent, he needs to find a way to make sure he is on the court for at least 80% of games a season or he will never realize his potential.
The long haul of the regular season is over and now the fun part begins, bring on the playoffs!