Steph Curry, Julius Randle, Ben Simmons headline 2021 NBA award finalists

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Thursday the NBA revealed its finalists for MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player. The Knicks, who recently ended an eight-year postseason drought by finishing with the Eastern Conference’s fourth-best record, are well-represented with Julius Randle (Most Improved), Derrick Rose (Sixth Man) and Tom Thibodeau (Coach) all recognized as finalists. So were the top-seeded Jazz, who claimed two of the three finalists for Sixth Man of the Year (Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson) as well as Rudy Gobert, who is seeking his third Defensive Player of the Year Award in four seasons.

Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who double-dipped as both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year last season, was not named a finalist for any of this year’s awards. Neither was LeBron James, marking just the third time he’s finished outside the top three in MVP voting since 2009 (11th in 2019, fourth in 2017). Meanwhile, Anthony Edwards of the Timberwolves and Hornets phenom LaMelo Ball—both top-three picks in last year’s draft—headline this year’s list of Rookie of the Year contenders. Though Ball was electric whenever he took the court, injuries limited him to just 51 games, which could prevent him from becoming Charlotte's first Rookie of the Year recipient since Emeka Okafor in 2005.

This year’s MVP race will be waged between Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid (who surprisingly was not named a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, though his teammate Ben Simmons is up for the honor) and Steph Curry. Winner of back-to-back MVPs in 2015-16, Curry led the league in scoring this year, averaging a career-best 32 points per game for Golden State. Draymond Green, also of the Warriors, is one of three finalists for Defensive Player of the Year, an award he won in 2017.

Jokic, considered the overwhelming favorite to win, is poised to be Denver’s first MVP in franchise history. Jokic’s teammate, Michael Porter Jr., is a candidate for Most Improved Player alongside the aforementioned Randle and Pistons forward Jerami Grant. Ironically enough, Grant played with both Jokic and Porter in Denver last year.

If Rose wins, he’d be the second player ever to win both MVP and Sixth Man of the Year Awards, a feat only achieved by Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton of Trail Blazers and Celtics fame. The Clippers have traditionally dominated Sixth Man voting—they’ve claimed five of the last seven winners—but none made the cut this year.

Though Thibodeau and Utah’s Quin Snyder would both be deserving winners, the sentimental favorite for Coach of the Year has to be Monty Williams, who experienced tragedy when his wife was killed in a head-on collision driving in Oklahoma City five years ago. Led by Devin Booker and veteran point guard Chris Paul, the Suns experienced a resurgence under Williams, returning to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years as the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed.

In lieu of an awards ceremony, each winner will be announced throughout the NBA playoffs on TNT.

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