2021 NBA awards: Final picks for All-NBA, All-Defensive and All-Rookie teams

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /
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NBA awards
Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2020-21 regular season is over, which means it’s officially NBA awards season! Here are our picks for All-NBA, All-Defensive and All-Rookie teams.

The 2020-21 regular season is officially over, and although we still don’t know who the final two playoff seeds will be in each conference, the pecking order is all set otherwise. The end of the regular season always hastens in the postseason, but before we look ahead, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take stock of some end-of-season NBA awards.

Contrary to popular belief, every individual award — including any selection to the All-NBA teams, All-Defensive teams and All-Rookie teams discussed here — is a regular-season honor. The final votes won’t be revealed for awhile, but that shouldn’t stop us from evaluating the best candidates for these special selections, especially before playoff events and the power of short memories starts to sway everyone’s opinion.

The NBA is as loaded with talent as it’s ever been, which makes narrowing it down to 15 All-NBA selections, 10 All-Defensive picks and 10 All-Rookie options more excruciating than ever. There will be several notable omissions, and the honorable mentions for the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams could form their own All-NBA or All-Defensive team that’d be just as deserving of recognition.

However, there can only be 15, 10 and 10 choices, respectively. FanSided doesn’t have an official ballot for NBA awards, but if we did, here would be my selections, starting with our honorable mentions for the All-NBA teams.

Toughest omissions

Before we get to our Third Team picks, we have to acknowledge the incredible field of honorable mentions who didn’t quite make the cut. There are several omitted players that will have angry fans in my Twitter mentions for the next week: LeBron James, James Harden, Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young, Bam Adebayo, Zach LaVine, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Zion Williamson, Ben Simmons, Jaylen Brown, Khris Middleton and Domantas Sabonis.

Just listing that many insanely talented players as “honorable mentions” will probably have some questioning my sanity from the get-go, but let’s start with the biggest names. LeBron James and James Harden were MVP frontrunners early in the season. They’d be no-brainer First Team selections … had they stayed healthy. But James missed 27 games and Harden missed 28, which means they were out for roughly 38 percent of the season. That matters, even if it feels weird leaving household names off the list.

Kevin Durant (37 missed games) and Anthony Davis (36) fall in that same category, though they’re much less painful to leave out since they missed way more time.

The tough omissions don’t get any easier once you get past the guys who missed too many games. Trae Young put up 25.3 points, 9.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game for an Atlanta Hawks team that secured the 5-seed in the Eastern Conference. Bam Adebayo is a central cog in the playoff-bound Miami Heat’s defense and vastly improved on offense thanks to the advent of his mid-range jumper. His 18.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game on 57 percent shooting comprise a sneaky-good stat line.

The Utah Jazz only getting one All-NBA selection feels odd, especially with how much Donovan Mitchell improved this season as a 3-point shooter. His 26.4 points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game for the NBA’s No. 1 team seem pretty worthy! So too does Zach LaVine’s 27.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game on .507/.419/.849 shooting splits, as well as Kyrie Irving’s 26.9 points, 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game on .506/.402/.922 splits for the No. 2 team in the East. Not having a single All-NBA selection for that star-studded team certainly makes me feel stupid.

Russell Westbrook just averaged a triple-double for the fourth time in his career, passing Oscar Robertson for the first on the NBA’s all-time triple-double list and finishing the season on such a tear the Washington Wizards climbed into a play-in spot. Zion Williamson put together a historic season for a second-year player. Ben Simmons is a walking triple-double threat and doubles as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Jaylen Brown upped his game in nearly every way. Khris Middleton remains underrated on both ends, and even someone like Domantas Sabonis put together an impressive 20-12-7 stat line.

We’ll get to the reasons why such a talented crop of players fell short of our Third Team picks on the next slide, but before we hone in on their limitations and get all negative, they deserve recognition for the great seasons they put together.