Dark Horse Award Candidates: 2020-21 NBA Season
With the 2020-21 NBA season officially underway, it is time to do every fan’s favorite thing to do, determine who has a shot at each of the awards. We already know who the favorites are to win MVP. Players such as Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and LeBron James. The favorites to win Defensive Player of the Year are Anthony Davis, Greek Freak, and Rudy Gobert. However, what about the dark horse candidates? Players who could sneak in and snatch an award out of nowhere. Without further adieu, it’s time to pick our dark horse candidates for each award for the 2020-21 NBA season.
Dark Horse Candidates for Each NBA Award
After his impressive NBA Bubble run and coming into his prime, Nikola Jokic is due for possibly the best year of his career. He has the potential to average a triple-double and despite Denver’s slow start, there is still time to right the ship. In Jokic’s first four games of the season, he was averaging 24.5 points, 13.5 assists, and 11.8 total rebounds per game. At this rate, the Joker is on track to tally a career-high in assists per game and if the Nuggets start playing up to their potential soon, he is going to be in serious consideration for the MVP early on in the 2020-21 NBA season.
Defensive Player of the Year
After making the All-Defensive Team the past two seasons, it is time for Marcus Smart to make the next jump as an elite defender. We have seen him frustrate the likes of the reigning two-time MVP, completely take shooters out of the game, and win the NBA Hustle Award in the 2018-19 season. As of December 30, 2020, Smart is tallying 1.3 steals, 1.0 block, and has held the likes of Kevin Durant, Khris Middleton, and Giannis Antetokounmpo to under below double figures when matched up with the Celtics’ premier defender. The stats may not jump off the page, but remember, it is still early and one needs to watch Smart with their own eyes to realize Smart’s defensive impact. If anyone is slowly working their way towards a surprising Defensive Player of the Year, it is Marcus Smart.
Most Improved Player of the Year
Christian Wood has improved statistically year after year. After earning a nice contract with the Houston Rockets this offseason, we could see Wood have a major role in the Rockets’ starting lineup. To start the season, he was totaling a staggering 27.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting an effective field goal percentage of 59.5 percent in his first four starts for the Houston Rockets. Is he going to continue to put up this amount of points? Probably not, especially once John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins return to action. However, we have been seeing Wood develop nicely for the last couple of years. As a result, it would not be so far fetched to see the Rockets’ power forward take the Most Improved Player of the Year award.
Sixth Man of the Year
Jordan Clarkson has seemingly found a home in Utah. He was imperative in the playoff series against the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Bubble and is due for another solid season off the bench. As long as head coach, Quin Snyder, is putting him in a position where he can hit open shots off the dribble and utilizing good screens, Clarkson will be a deadly offensive threat to any defense in the league.
Last season, Clarkson averaged 15.6 points on 46.2 percent shooting once he was traded to the Jazz. During the playoffs, he tallied totals of 16.7 points with an effective field goal percentage of 55.2 percent including being perfect at the free-throw line. Clarkson was a nightmare for the Denver Nuggets in their series until their defensive ace, Gary Harris, returned. With all of this in mind, Jordan Clarkson could make a strong push for the 2020-21 NBA Sixth Man of the Year award.
Rookie of the Year
Tyrese Haliburton has been a revelation for the Sacramento Kings. Despite being drafted by a team that already possesses a solid back-court in Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox, the Iowa State prospect has made the most of his situation so far this season. His somewhat unorthodox shot is actually translating to the league as he was averaging a field goal percentage of 56.0 percent to start the year off for the Sacramento Kings.
Haliburton has already risen to the occasion against some of the top tier teams in the league as well. Case in point, in the Kings’ win over the Nuggets on December 29, Haliburton went for 13 points, six assists, and three steals while posting a box plus/minus of +20, the highest of any Kings player in the win. It is still early, but if he keeps up the pace, Tyrese Haliburton is a legitimate dark horse candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Coach of the Year
Monty Williams is in a great position this year. After coaching a young, but talented Phoenix Suns squad to an undefeated Bubble run, he was blessed with the likes of Chris Paul. Now, the Suns possess a solid trio of CP3, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton. With this talent, it would not be surprising to see the Suns make a huge leap into the Western Conference playoff picture.
It all starts at the top though, with the coaching of Monty Williams, who has been around the block a time or two. He has had to develop a young team before as he did get the New Orleans Pelicans to the postseason back in the 2014-15 season. With Chris Paul as his point guard, this should make things easier, and depending on how many wins the Suns’ record improves by, Williams could be a solid candidate to take home Coach of the Year honors.
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