As the NBA’s regular season winds down and the postseason nears, there’s another important season that is approaching: award season.
As the league gears up to crown a 2020-21 champion, there are other honors to be bestowed on the NBA’s elite, and the Utah Jazz are going to be in the mix for many of the annual end-of-year awards.
Before we dive into the many members of the Jazz that will be in the running for individual honors this season (the fun stuff), let’s quickly go over the awards that they won’t be competing for (the not so fun stuff).
While there might be some fourth- or fifth-place Most Valuable Player votes for Rudy Gobert or even Donovan Mitchell, they won’t be taking home the MVP hardware this season. The award seems as if it is Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic’s to lose at this point with the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid finishing second.
Likewise, the Jazz don’t have a Rookie of the Year or Most Improved Player candidate this season either.
But that’s where the bad news ends. Now onto the fun stuff.
Defensive Player of the Year
Just as Jokic seems to have the MVP award all but in hand, the Jazz’s Gobert seems on track to earning a third DPOY trophy.
Of the starting players who have played in at least 75% of their team’s games this season — usually the qualifying threshold for games played for year-end awards — the Jazz’s two-time All-Star and two-time DPOY (2017-18, 2018-19) leads the league in defensive rebounding and blocks per game, and his plus-minus, defensive rating, net rating and win shares are second only to teammate Mike Conley. And he’s doing it all averaging 30.9 minutes per game through 65 games, which ranks him 61st in average minutes played among starters who played in 75% of their team’s games.
Gobert tops the list or is near the top in almost every defensive metric and is the anchor of the Jazz defense, which has been in the top five in the league all season.
Sixth Man of the Year
The Sixth Man race is a little more nuanced and could come down to what happens over the final few games of the season.
For most of the season it seemed as if Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson was a shoo-in to win 6MOY. Prior to the All-Star break, Clarkson was averaging a career-best 17.9 points and four rebounds per game, while shooting 44.7% from the field and a career-best 37% from 3-point range and 96.7% from the free-throw line.
In 25 games following the All-Star break, Clarkson has averaged 16.5 points per game and his shooting efficiency has dropped significantly to 37% overall, 30% from beyond the arc and 87.3% from the line.
On the season, Clarkson is still the highest scoring bench player in the league, but as his shooting numbers have dipped, another contender has emerged in teammate Joe Ingles.
Ingles is having a career year shooting 50.3% from the field, 46.9% from 3 and 84% from the charity stripe, while averaging 12.3 points per game. But through 65 games, Ingles has come off the bench in just 56% of the Jazz’s games and has benefited from a jump in his numbers starting when either Conley or Mitchell or both have been sidelined by injury.
Clarkson still seems to be the favorite to win 6MOY, but there could be a bit of a race between the two Jazz teammates.
Coach of the Year
There is certainly an argument to be made for Jazz head coach Quin Snyder winning Coach of the Year and he will almost certainly get some votes, but again, there is a bit of nuance here.
Proponents of Snyder winning COY will say he is the coach of the team that led the league in the standings through the majority of the season, he took the Jazz from a middle-of-the-pack team to the top of the conference and he was the winningest coach at the All-Star break, which is why he coached in the All-Star Game.
There are two other contenders though who seem to be benefitting from a little bit of recency bias and favorable narrative.
The New York Knicks were a team without any expectations before the 2020-21 season started. They’ve been that team for a long time. In fact, they haven’t been in the playoffs since the 2012-13 season. This season, head coach Tom Thibodeau took what was a 21-win team last year and made it a playoff contender with a winning record despite not having any real star power.
While Thibodeau is in the conversation because of what he’s been able to do with the Knicks, Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams seems like he might be the one who challenges Snyder for COY honors this season.
The Suns will be battling with the Jazz for the top seed in the Western Conference for the remainder of the season and have so far posted a better record than the Jazz have since the All-Star break. They have beat the Jazz three times this season so if you’re looking at the head-to-head comparison, the Suns have it. But more than record or position in the standings, the Suns are seen as a team that has gone from horrible — not making the playoffs since the 2009-10 season — to great, fighting for the No. 1 spot in a loaded Western Conference.
And whether anyone wants to admit it or not, what the Suns did in the NBA bubble last season — going undefeated in the seeding games only for it to not be enough to earn them a playoff spot — then building on that to have the best season the team has seen in over a decade, will impact how voters feel about the job that Williams has done in Phoenix.
This race is too close to call, but it seems as if most people are leaning toward Williams, with Snyder a close second.
The All-NBA teams are going to be trickier to decide than ever because there will be players who were voted to All-Star teams that may have missed significant time this season due to COVID-19 protocols or injury, and not having played in a majority of the games will have an impact on whether they are considered for an All-NBA team.
Take the Brooklyn Nets Kevin Durant for example. Even if he plays in each of the Nets’ remaining games he will have only played in 35 games this season. Will that be enough to earn him a spot on any of the three All-NBA teams? It seems unlikely.
Here’s the way I see it. There are three center spots to be filled between the All-NBA first, second and third teams and three centers deserving of those spots: Gobert, Jokic and Embiid. Which team they land on will depend on the voting, but those three choices seem pretty cut and dry.
It also seems likely that Mitchell will make his first All-NBA team, but it will probably be close. Six guards will be selected to All-NBA teams, two on each of the three teams, and that’s a very small field. Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Phoenix’s Chris Paul, Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Mitchell seem to be largely the consensus for guards to make the All-NBA teams.
But you might have noticed that all of those players are from the Western Conference. There are also going to be many that consider some of the more overachieving players on underachieving teams or players who missed significant time for All-NBA. Washington’s Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook or Brooklyn’s James Harden are a few that come to mind. Those are going to be difficult decisions to make.
Even so, the argument for Mitchell is pretty simple. He improved his game in nearly every area and was the highest scoring player on one of the best teams in the league.
Gobert is the favorite to win DPOY and as such is likely a lock for an All-Defensive first team selection.
Outside of Gobert there are going to be some people that will argue that the Jazz’s Conley and Royce O’Neale deserve some recognition by making an All-Defensive team, but seeing as there are only two All-Defense teams (compared to the three All-NBA teams), it will be a bit of a long shot to expect three players from a single team taking three of the 10 spots.
Conley would be easier to make an argument for since his defensive metrics are pretty high, but he’s also missed quite a bit of time this season being cautious with a hamstring injury. And there are players who tip the star scale a little more than both Conley and O’Neale. But they will definitely be mentioned in many of the conversations that will be happening over the coming weeks.
All of that being said, there will be quite a few Jazz players, as well as their coach, who will be considered for the year-end awards so as we prepare for the postseason, let’s also gear up for awards season.