NLJ 2021 NBA Awards

The 2021 regular season has come to an end, which means it’s time for the 2nd annual NLJ NBA Awards! NBA writers Sean Curley, Brandon Rosenthal, & James Macey give their picks on all of the NBA Awards for the 2021 season. After weeks of deliberation, the NLJ team is ready to unveil their picks for the 2021 season. Due to the number of games played, it was very difficult to select each category. We hope you enjoy our selections and if you disagree, AT us! We’re like Kwame … we want all the smoke.

Most Valuable Player Award

2021 Candidates: Nikola Jokic (C, Den), Joel Embiid (C, Phi), Giannis Antetokounmpo (F, Mil), Steph Curry (G, GSW), LeBron James (F/G, LAL), Chris Paul (G, Phx)

Sean: Nikola Jokic

I’m going Nikola Jokic here. The Joker has upped every facet of his game and is averaging 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists per game on 38% shooting from 3.  He’s a point center who’s led his team to the 4th spot in the West despite the Nuggets losing their second-best player to injury. This award is particularly interesting this year in terms of the number of games played between the nominees. For example, Jokic has played and started in every single game this season.  The production along with the durability gives him the edge.

Brandon: Nikola Jokic

The MVP award is weird. If you miss games and your team struggles, you move up in the MVP ranks. However, if your team struggles too much in your absence, you fall down because the MVP can’t be on a bad team. Okay, fine. This is just my elaborate way of saying I really want to pick LeBron but since the Lakers are flirting with the play-in games, I can’t. So, give me the Joker. I know, if we compare his numbers to Harden or Westbrook, they are actually inferior. BUT, Jokic is a stud. Eight assists from a center position is unheard of. I know Wilt did it as a joke back before there was the internet, but Jokic is the Nuggets offense. Not only has he played in every game this year (which should be its own award), the Nuggets run their entire offense through him and he makes players better. I don’t know how good some players would be outside of Denver (aside from MPJ and Murray). Jokic can slow the game down to a crawl and has the ability to dribble the rock, pass, run plays, shoot 3’s, and score on anyone in the post. Sounds like an MVP to me.

James: Steph Curry

MVP to me means more than just where your team lands as far as seeding is involved. It’s an award that I look at beyond the numbers and Curry case is something that shouldn’t be ignored. This was the year we were ready to write Curry off. No Klay for the second straight year, and a more broken down team than prior seasons. The question at the beginning of the season was could Curry carry the load? He’s done a lot more than just carry the Warriors this year and to do at 32 years old is amazing

Defensive Player of the Year Award

2021 Candidates: Rudy Gobert (C, Uta), Ben Simmons (G, Phi), Bam Adebayo (C, Mia), Clint Capela (C, ATL)

Sean: Rudy Gobert

Rudy Gobert’s Utah Jazz have been one of the best teams in the NBA this year in large part due to a top 5 defense. The perimeter players for Utah have the luxury of pressing up on their man with complete confidence that Rudy will clean up any drives to the basket. Teams are afraid to attack the big man and their only recourse has been to force Rudy into defending the pick and roll. However, he’s been solid in that area as well. He deserves this award this season. Fun fact: he will join Ben Wallace (4x), Dikembe Mutombo (4x) and Dwight Howard (3x) as the only players to win DPOY 3 or more times.

Brandon: Rudy Gobert

I really wanted to pick Simmons here, but Rudy Gobert just does too much to ignore. Sure, he whines about being selected to All-Star games, but the dude is a defensive stud. All of the defensive metrics favor Gobert and truth be told, he’s a phenomenal defender. Gobert’s presence at the rim is unmatched, as opponents shoot 48% within six feet. Overall, shots defended by Gobert only go in 41.9% of the time. Gobert played in 71 of 72 games this year, which is actually more than he played last season, and his 190 blocked shots are the most he’s had since 2016/17. Gobert is the clear-cut DPOY in 2021, which will now make him a three-time DPOY winner.

James: Clint Capela

First of all I don’t even think Capela is one of the top candidates for this award, but he should be. Will he win the award league-wide? Probably not, but here’s his case. Capela led the league in rebounds at 14.3 which is a career-high. On the contrary, he’s been an efficient shot-blocker with 2 blocks a game which is also a career-high. He’s been a huge reason that Atlanta has been able to turn their whole season around on short notice. His attentiveness on the defensive end is something that sprouted in Houston but flourished in Atlanta. He deserves this award because if you took him out of the lineup, the Hawks would struggle immensely. 

Most Improved Player Award

2021 Candidates: Julius Randle (F, NY), Christian Wood (C/F, Hou), Jerami Grant (F, Det)

Sean: Julius Randle

I snubbed Julius Randle on my all-star ballot this year but I’m not about to make that same mistake with the 2021 NBA Awards.  Randle has been so good this season that Most Improved feels underwhelming in that he could legitimately be an MVP candidate. Randle has the stats to win this award outright.  He’s posted upticks in every major category including a staggering improvement from the 3 point line and on the defensive end.  However, the stats pale in comparison to his leadership for the resurgent New York Knicks. 

Brandon: Julius Randle

I’ve been a Julius Randle fan since Kentucky. I always envisioned him doing this in the NBA, I just thought it was going to be with the purple-and-gold. Seeing the growth in Randle’s game has been joyful to watch. He’s shooting jumpers with confidence, finding teammates for open shots, and he is playing in complete control. He has found how he wants to play in the league and I love it. If the Knicks were 10+ over .500, he might get some MVP votes. Hell, he still might. He’s a lock to make at least one of the All-NBA teams, which means he improved a whole lot.

James: Julius Randle

If you don’t award Randle this award then you should stop talking about basketball. When you erupt in every statistical category, become an all star, and put a losing franchise in the playoffs for the first time in a very long time is something everyone can’t get ignored. More importantly Randle’s isolation game in the low and high post is the best in the league. On a more serious note to go from a mediocre role player to franchise center piece that quick is too hard to pass up on this award. It’s unanimous in Randle’s favor.

6th Man of the Year Award

2021 Candidates: Jordan Clarkson (G, Uta), Joe Ingles (F, Uta), Jalen Brunson (G, Dal)

Sean: Jordan Clarkson

Although he’s tailed off a bit at the end of the season, the body of work Jordan Clarkson has put up is deserving of this award. He’s averaging a career-high in points and he’s an integral part of what the Utah Jazz do on offense. There’s not a lot of players who can put up 40 points off the bench and Clarkson has done it twice. It seems like Utah is the perfect fit for him and this season has only accentuated that belief.

Brandon: Jordan Clarkson

I already picked a former Laker for MIP …… SO YOU KNOW DAMN WELL WHO I GOT HERE! Gimme my dude JC! When Clarkson was unexpectedly ballin’ on the Lakers, I saw his game and thought that he could be an ideal 6th man. The classic instant offense guy. Clarkson has evolved his game from his days in LA to more than just a 6th man to the 6th Man of the Year. His numbers are equally as impressive as any other candidate, except his team is number 1 in the West. I know Joe Ingles is a candidate, but JC dropped 40+ twice this season, and constantly makes huge plays down the stretch for Utah. And we all know that this award really means “we know you aren’t a starter, but you play starter minutes and crunch time, and you are the x-factor most nights”. Since that isn’t as catchy, the NBA went with 6th Man of the Year. JC is like a combo of Lou Will and Jamal Crawford, two ideal players to base your career on.

James: Jordan Clarkson

When we think of sixth man of the year we always think of an instant offense guy. This season in particular Clarkson has managed to put up a career high 18.4 points on 42% shooting on a Utah team that has been rolling all season long. To lean on a guy this hard for an entire season says something about Clarkson character as he’s the pure definition of a sixth man. The Jazz are 8-2 when Clarkson goes for 25 or more. I rest my case.

Coach of the Year Award

2021 Candidates: Monty Williams (Phx), Tom Thibodeau (NYK), Mike Malone (Den), Quin Snyder (Uta)

Sean: Monty Williams

I’d love to go Thibs here, but how can we ignore the season Monty Williams has had with the Phoenix Suns?  They currently sit 2nd in the Western Conference and Williams has done a great job of assimilating new, verteran pieces with the young core they already had. They have a top 10 defensive and offensive rating and are poised to make a deep run in the playoffs. You could argue Snyder’s got the better record, Malone’s done more with less or Doc’s handling of Embiid and Simmons but I still think Monty Williams has done the most impressive job this season.

Brandon: Tom Thibodeau

My gut is telling me to go Thibs here, and that I should eat some NY pizza ASAP. I will ignore the pizza craving for now and discuss Thibs. Any NBA fan knows how trash the Knicks were last year. And the year before that. And the year before that. And the year before that. And th– I think you got it. This Knicks team not only gives a shit now, they actually are GOOD! Do you know how hard that is? And this Knicks team is not the most talented roster in the league, but they give a damn. This team took on the personality of their coach and no one did that more than Julius Randle. Thibs squeezed every ounce of juice from these players, in a shortened, weird season.  The Knicks are making the playoffs with maybe one round of home court, let’s give Thibs the kudos he deserves.

James: Nate McMillan

I don’t know what the rules for this award are being that McMillan is an Interim head coach, but the Hawks were 14-20 when he took over and finished with a 41-31 record making him 27-11 overall as head coach. The main problem the Hawks had was that fourth quarter. Roughly 12 out of those 20 losses under Coach Pierce were lost by 4 points or less and it came down to the wire. McMillan’s philosophy and emphasis on team play is the main reason for the Hawks quick success. More importantly the players have to buy into what your putting out and for McMillan to gain control of a team that quickly should speak volumes when considering him for this award. I can confidently say that if McMillan started the season as head coach the Hawks would easily be top two in the Eastern Conference

Rookie of the Year Award

2021 Candidates: LaMelo Ball (G, Cha), Anthony Edwards (G, Min), Trey Haliburton (G, Sac)

Sean: LaMelo Ball

Sean: This year’s ROTY race comes down to one simple question: does the amount of games played matter?  LaMelo Ball (my pick) has missed 21 games this season due to injury. I don’t believe those missed games are enough to give Anthony Edwards the nod, but they are making this race much closer than it was a couple months ago. (That and Edwards leveling up his game a few notches).  Ultimately though, when we look back on the 2021 season, we’ll remember Lamelo Ball and the Hornets season more so than Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves.  That reasoning may seem unfair but I’m sticking with BBB.

Brandon: LaMelo Ball

Brandon: LaMelo solidified this award by returning from his injury as a relatively quick pace, adding more games played to his impressive rookie season. Ball immediately proved he belonged in the NBA. Ball played in 20 games fewer than Anthony Edwards, but Ball dished 100 more assists, equaled Edward’s steals, and had less than 30 rebounds less than Edwards. Ball just impacted the game at a higher level. While both players had negative net ratings in advanced stats, Ball is a more efficient player and has a lower usage rate. After the first half of the season that LaMelo had, this was his award to lose.

James: LaMelo Ball

Ball has matured into a great NBA talent. Averaging respectively 16, 6, and 6 on 28 minutes a night shooting 43% from the field is not only a decent stat line, but impactful. Coming into this season no one expected the Hornets to do much of anything and he’s made guys like Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, and Malik Monk relevant. His pass first play style is what stood out to me the most when picking him for this award. For him to be the level headed and high IQ oriented at 19 is something we should credit his father for. Without a doubt it shouldn’t be debated that Ball is the Rookie of the year.

Below are our selections for All-NBA, All Defense, and All-Rookie. Enjoy and if you don’t, let’s debate!

All-NBA Teams


All-NBA 1st Team
All-NBA 2nd Team
All-NBA 3rd Team


All-NBA 1st Team
All-NBA 2nd Team
All-NBA 3rd Team

Hardest snubs: Domantas Sabonis, Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell


All-NBA 1st Team
All-NBA 2nd Team
All-NBA 3rd Team




All-Defense 1st Team
All-Defense 2nd Team


All-Defense 1st Team
All-Defense 2nd Team

Hardest snubs: TJ McConnell, Lonzo Ball, LeBron James


All-Defense 1st Team
All-Defense 2nd Team

All-Rookie Teams


All-NBA 1st Team
All-NBA 2nd Team


All-Rookie 1st Team
All-NBA 2nd Team

Hardest Snub: Patrick Williams, Immanuel Quickley


All-Rookie 1st Team
All-Rookie 2nd Team

Writer Credentials


  • Years covering the NBA: 4
  • Years being an NBA fan: 25 (I have the grainy Larry Bird VHS tapes to prove it).
  • Favorite Team: Boston Celtics
  • Favorite All-Time Player: see above…Larry Legend
  • Favorite Current Player: Jayson Tatum
  • Hometown: Santa Ana, CA


  • Years covering the NBA: 5+
  • Years being an NBA fan: 20 years (thank you NBA at 50)
  • Favorite Team: Los Angeles Lakers
  • Favorite All-Time Player: Kobe Bryant
  • Favorite Current Player: LeBron James
  • Hometown: Van Nuys, CA


  • Years covering the NBA: 5+
  • Years being an NBA fan: 21 Years
  • Favorite Team: Atlanta Hawks
  • Favorite All-Time Player: Joe Johnson/Magic Johnson
  • Favorite Current Player: Damian Lillard
  • Hometown: Springfield, MA



3 thoughts on “NLJ 2021 NBA Awards

  1. Damn Brandon, no love for Halliburton on your All Rookie team? Guess that ‘Sacramento’ on his Jersey just automatically disqualified him? That’s a shame.

    1. BB, he’s on my 2nd team. I had Edwards as a guard, not a forward, so he beat out Tyrese IMO. He’s fantastic and should be a hell of a player in the league.

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