NBA awards discussion is ever present. Statement MVP games, rookie comparisons and Defensive Player of the Year rankings are a staple of NBA discourse. Becoming an NBA award winner can be a career highlight or a moment to define a legacy.
All-time greats will be weighed up with their MVP awards. Rookie of the Year is an early barometer on the previous draft.
It might be a team sport, but enormous importance is placed on individual awards in the NBA.
This is the pinnacle. This is the award every elite player is gunning for as the season begins. While players like Michael Jordan and LeBron James have won it multiple times each, there are many all-time greats who were less successful.
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant only won it once each. Only eight players have won it more than once, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the most successful of all-time with six awards.
Bill Russell, Larry Bird and Wilt Chamberlain are the only players in league history to threepeat the MVP award. In 2020, Giannis Antetokounmpo became the fifth player in the 21st century to go back-to-back.
NBA MVP winner 2021: Nikola Jokic
Defensive Player of the Year
Defensive statistics are still contentious compared to their offensive counterparts. Winning Defensive Player of the Year is a more complicated endeavour as a result, and it is particularly reliant on team performance.
While your team must be good to win MVP, a player needs to be on an elite defensive team to win Defensive Player of the Year.
Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace are the most successful players in this category, winning DPOY four times apiece. Dwight Howard is the only player to win it more than twice.
Picking up the hardware in 2020, Giannis Antetokounmpo joined Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players in NBA history to win DPOY and MVP in the same campaign.
NBA Defensive Player of the Year winner 2021: Rudy Gobert
Rookie of the Year
The Rookie of the Year race is always fascinating. It’s an award which isn’t always linked to a successful NBA career, though it’s been a starting point for some of the game’s greatest players.
Since the first ROY was handed out in the early 1950s, 21 of the winners were selected first overall. Malcolm Brogdon is the only Rookie of the Year to be picked in the second round.
Luka Doncic and Pau Gasol are the only players to win Rookie of the Year having been trained entirely overseas.
NBA Rookie of the Year winner 2021: LaMelo Ball
Coach of the Year
More subjective than other awards, Coach of the Year goes to a coach who has exceeded expectations. This can be taking a solid playoff team to 55+ wins. It could be a surprise young group who make the postseason against the odds.
Don Nelson, Gregg Popovich and Pat Riley are the only coaches to win the award thrice. Among active coaches, Mike D’Antoni and Mike Budenholzer are the most successful, winning the award twice each.
NBA Coach of the Year winner 2021: Tom Thibodeau
Sixth Man of the Year
Sixth Man of the Year is awarded to the best contributor off the bench. This is a relatively new award, first introduced in the 1980s, and has traditionally been awarded to bench scorers.
As such, Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams are the most successful players in this category, winning it three times each.
The first four award winners – Bill Walton, Kevin McHale and Bobby Jones – were inducted to the Hall of Fame. No Hall of Famer has won Sixth Man of the Year since, though James Harden will eventually buck that trend.
NBA Sixth Man of the Year winner 2021: Jordan Clarkson
Most Improved Player
The NBA’s Most Improved Player award (MIP) is given to the player who has made the most progress during the regular season. Players usually win this a few years after they were drafted when they make a ‘leap’.
No player has ever won this award twice. Pascal Siakam is the only player to win Most Improved Player and a championship in the same season.
With Brandon Ingram’s triumph in 2020, 11 players have won the MIP and been an All-Star in the same campaign. One of those 11, Tracy McGrady, is the only player to win MIP and be inducted to the Hall of Fame.
NBA Most Improved Player winner 2021: Julius Randle