With the 2020-2021 NBA regular season at a close, it’s time for the media to honor the top performers from around the league. This list aims to recognize the athletes who’ve made a substantial impact on the Houston Rockets this season. Awards for this list will include Most Valuable Player, Most Improved Player of the Year, and other standard categories. Here are this year’s Houston Rockets Team Awards.
Most Valuable Player: Christian Wood
To little surprise, Christian Wood is the Houston Rockets’ Most Valuable Player. With the departure of James Harden, he brought hope to a franchise in need of an All-Star caliber performer. Wood stepped up to the plate, leading the Rockets in both total points and rebounds. He finished the 2020-2021 season averaging 21.0 points and 9.6 boards per game.
Additionally, at the start of this new era of Rockets basketball, the big man served a key role in keeping Houston afloat with a 11-10 record. Around this time, Wood was ranked eighth in All-Star fan voting for the frontcourt of the Western Conference.
It was on February 4 that Houston’s luck changed for the worse, as the star center sprained his ankle in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies. This injury took Wood out of action for nearly a month and a half, which resulted in the Rockets going through a 20-game losing streak. With Wood’s impact on the game evident, it’s arguable Houston could have secured a play-off spot if he remained healthy throughout the season.
Offensive Player of the Year: John Wall
Despite an injury-plagued season, John Wall has proven to be an offensive general on the court. Throughout his 40 games with the Rockets, Wall averaged 20.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists. His 30+ missed games is acceptable, as Wall still logged in more playing time than the majority of Houston’s roster this season. For this reason, despite his injury proneness, Wall has been the most productive guard. Had Victor Oladipo stuck with the team or Kevin Porter Jr. started earlier, this may be a different conversation.
While this is an achievement to celebrate, this isn’t an endorsement for keeping Wall around for the long term. As productive as the guard is on offense, he is nowhere near the value of his $40+ million contract.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jae’Sean Tate
The purpose of this award is to recognize the player who has made the greatest defensive impact throughout the entirety of this season. With that being said, the most consistent part of the Rockets’ core has been Jae’Sean Tate.
The Ohio native played 70 out of 72 games this season and has enthusiastically held down Houston’s backcourt. The energetic multi-position player brings a solid presence to Houston’s defense, with some similarities to P.J. Tucker. More specifically, the 6’4” rookie’s toughness alleviates pressure off big men, such as Wood and Kelly Olynyk, and he also leads the Rockets in steals this season. While Houston has a strong choice of centers, various injuries and roster changes pushed Tate to be a much needed defensive force.
Most Improved Player of the Year: Kelly Olynyk
When Kelly Olynyk was first acquired from the Miami Heat in late March, it was questionable whether Houston received enough compensation for their premier guard, Victor Oladipo. Olynyk appeared in 43 games with Miami this season, averaging 10.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists over 26.9 minutes. While Olynyk’s stats with the Heat aren’t horrible, analysts felt his trade value didn’t match up to Oladipo, who was averaging 21.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 5.0 assists for Houston.
Olynyk proved the doubters wrong. In his 27 games as a Rocket, Olynyk averaged 19.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists over 31.1 minutes. This rapid improvement, likely from a change of systems, bolstered Olynyk from an average role player to a serious threat on the court. Based on his career resurgence, the Canadian native will likely seek a salary boost in free agency.
Dunker of the Year: Kenyon Martin Jr.
Kenyon Martin Jr.’s explosiveness and athleticism on the court has made for some of the most prolific dunks of the Rockets’ season.
The rookie’s most recent dunk of note involved an alley-oop dunk from Kelly Olynyk, slammed over Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez. As Martin celebrated his mighty dunk, Lopez turned away screaming like a terrified child. The meme-worthy highlight is only a glimpse of what the rookie is capable of doing in the air. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Martin make an appearance in the NBA Slam Dunk contest in 2022.
Rookie of the Year: Jae’Sean Tate
The four candidates for this category include Armoni Brooks, Anthony Lamb, Kenyon Martin Jr., and Jae’Sean Tate. Tate finished his rookie season averaging 11.3 points and 3.5 rebounds over 29.2 minutes. As previously mentioned, Tate has been the most consistent part of this year’s roster. The Ohio native has played 70 games this season, impressively starting 58 of those games. As the only Rockets player to appear in nearly every game this season, his reliability must be praised. Additionally, in late April, Tate placed third on the Kia Rookie Ladder, below only Tyrese Haliburton and Anthony Edwards. The other Rockets rookies have potential too, but haven’t proved themselves as much as Tate.
Rising Star Award: Kevin Porter Jr.
Kevin Porter Jr. has blossomed as the rising star of this young Rockets core. This January, Porter was traded to Houston from the Cleveland Cavaliers for a future second-round draft pick, following troubling reports about the young guard’s behaviors. This was a low risk, high reward trade for H-Town, and the gamble was worth it.
Upon arrival, Porter quickly worked his way up Houston’s hierarchy, averaging 24.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The rising star continued to shine as a starter for Houston, dropping 50 points in a late April game against the Milwaukee Bucks, making him the fourth player to do so before turning 21 years old. In his 26 games with the Rockets, Porter averaged 16.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. Only in his sophomore season in the NBA, Porter is already one of the most valuable assets on this year’s roster.