Feeling deflated by his ill-fated predictions over the years, Rich Harris invited Lee Branscome and myself to help with this year’s NBA Fearless Forecast. To his credit, he did correctly pick last season’s Sixth Man of the Year and MVP, and he came close by saying that the Denver Nuggets would make the NBA Finals — horseshoes and hand grenades, as they say.
Humor aside, here are Hoops Prospects’ 2020-21 predictions for the NBA’s annual awards, the conference winners, and the eventual champion.
Also see Eastern Conference and Western Conference Previews.
|Awards||Lee Branscome||Richard Harris||Brendan O’Sullivan|
|MVP||Luka Doncic||Luka Doncic||Anthony Davis|
|ROY||Tyrese Haliburton||Isaac Okoro||LaMelo Ball|
|DPOY||Ben Simmons||Giannis Antetokounmpo||Anthony Davis|
|Sixth Man||Danilo Gallinari||Michael Porter Jr.||Lou Williams|
|MIP||Miles Bridges||Zion Williamson||Jamal Murray|
|Coach||Steve Nash||Monty Williams||Rick Carlisle|
|Eastern Conference Champ||Nets||Heat||Bucks|
|Western Conference Champ||Lakers||Lakers||Lakers|
Most Valuable Player
There’s a slight disagreement among us for the MVP award, and rightfully so. Although I have Anthony Davis winning the award, Luka Doncic will contest heavily.
Davis is a dominant threat on both ends of the floor, scoring 26.1 points per game (PPG) and anchoring the team with the third best defensive rating in the league and the fourth fewest points per game allowed. That said, Davis will be getting the majority of the credit, unlike last year, as he leads the Lakers to the top of the Western Conference.
Branscome and Harris disagree, favoring Doncic. Through two seasons, the 21-year-old has garnered an All-Star appearance, the Rookie of the Year award and an All-NBA First Team selection. This year is no different in terms of dominance, and the confidence in him is high. That said, Doncic could become the youngest player to win the NBA MVP award, surpassing Derrick Rose who was 22 years and 191 days old.
Rookie of the Year
When there’s no clear-cut best prospect out of the NBA Draft, it makes choosing the Rookie of the Year difficult. Understandably so, the three of us differed with LaMelo Ball, Isaac Okoro and Tyrese Haliburton. Each will garner plenty of time on the floor, allowing them to increase their usage rate, the most important stat in this race. Since the 2000-01 season, 10 Rookie of the Year winners have surpassed a 24 usage rate, while only two fell under the 21.5 mark, according to Basketball Reference. So, the player with the advantage will be the one who has the most opportunity, thus Ball is my choice.
Defensive Player of the Year
Harris is notorious for predicting the Defensive Player of the Year incorrectly, so he played it safe and chose Giannis Antetokounmpo to repeat, while Branscome chose Ben Simmons, and I chose Anthony Davis. Ultimately, the winner of the award has the most defensive impact, making their team one of the top units on that end of the floor. That said, Davis and Antetokounmpo lead the candidates, but because Antetokoumpo will have more help defensively with Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and the addition of two-time All-Defensive selection Jrue Holiday, Davis is more likely to take the trophy home.
Sixth Man of the Year
Lou Williams is an easy selection for the award given his track record as a candidate, winning the trophy three times. His opportunities will be abundant off the Clippers bench, and with former teammate and 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell leaving for the Lakers, Williams will have even more shots than last year. However, Danilo Gallinari and Michael Porter Jr. are two solid contenders. Gallinari is a proven scorer and is coming off a season in which he started on a playoff team. Porter isn’t proven but he’s shown glimpses of offensive excellence, and the focus will not be on him given the Nuggets’ other weapons.
Most Improved Player
Arguably the most difficult award to predict, the Most Improved Player award designates who’s on the rise in the NBA. That player is Jamal Murray, in my opinion. He was outstanding in the 2020 playoffs and was a large part of the Nuggets’ run to the Western Conference Finals. By no means will Murray sustain his playoff averages of 26.5 PPG and 6.6 APG on .505/.453/.897 shooting splits, but the 6-foot-4 guard will certainly take a leap in scoring, passing and efficiency, enough to garner the Most Improved Player award.
Harris and Branscome disagree, as they chose Zion Williamson and Miles Bridges, respectively. Williamson is coming off a season in which he dominated but only played 24 games. A healthy season for him could trump whatever Murray does. Bridges, though, doesn’t play as much of a threat. Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington are ahead of him in the frontcourt and the three-guard rotation of Ball, Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham will need the ball.
Coach of the Year
When considering the award winners for Coach of the Year, the winner should have either dominated or progressed further than expected. That’s the case for all three picks. Steve Nash would lead the Nets atop the Eastern Conference, Monty Williams would break the Suns’ 11-year playoff drought, and Rick Carlisle would overachieve with a lackluster roster outside of Doncic and the injured Kristaps Porzingis. Ultimately, my confidence resides with Carlisle. I think the Mavericks will be successful in large part due to Carlisle and his ability to put Doncic in situations to flourish.
Eastern Conference Champs
The Miami Heat shocked a lot of people last season, knocking off the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the semi-finals and the No. 3 seed Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. They’ll fight the Bucks, as both return as strong contenders, while the Brooklyn Nets will join the mix in their first year with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant fully healthy. The Nets were good without them last year, so they should be great this year and certainly challenge for the top spot. As Branscome said, “ Talent wins out in the greatest league on Earth, and Brooklyn has that in spades. While the Bucks will likely finish with a better regular-season record in the East, I expect the Nets to represent the conference in the 2021 NBA Finals.”
I believe that the Bucks have too much talent and good depth to believe they’ll fall short again this season. However, Harris disagrees, saying that the Heat’s depth and past playoff success will give them the advantage over Milwaukee in the long run.
Western Conference Champs
Unlike the Eastern Conference, the West seems predictable. The Los Angeles Lakers reign as the West’s top team is not over and with an improvement to the roster, we all agreed that they’ll be facing off against the best of the East.
Harris said, “I believe the Lakers are better than last year by adding Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, and Dennis Schroder. Also, wing Talen Horton-Tucker gives them a youngster with potential, and he may have an impact this season. I don’t see anyone stopping the Lakers unless Lebron James and/or Anthony Davis go down with a serious injury.”
Not much to say other than that the Los Angeles Lakers are a dominant force. They won last year and found a way to get better in the offseason. It’s hard to believe they won’t come away with their NBA best 18th NBA Finals win.