The NBA recently announced that the regular season awards will solely be based on all the games before the start of the hiatus. This means that the final eight regular-season games will have no impact on the awards process. Looking back at the 65 or so games played from October through March, plenty of preseason narratives were bucked and the players and coaches who made that happen deserve to be recognized.
Every award has multiple players that can make a strong case and even deserve to win the award, but there can only be one. The criteria for these awards is relatively simple; the player that wins should have had a worthy individual season with good to great numbers across the board while contributing to his team’s success.
Obviously some players are in better-suited environments for winning than others, but it is not about degrading one player because they aren’t contributing to wins as much, as it is celebrating the players that are in good situations and that take advantage of it.
Rookie of the Year Candidates: Ja Morant, Kendrick Nunn, Zion Williamson
Winner: Ja Morant
The battle for the Rookie of the Year could have been an interesting debate if the final eight games counted and the Pelicans caught up to the Grizzlies in the playoff hunt. However, due to the limited sample size of Zion Williamson, Morant deserves the award for the impressive total body of work he has put up this season. After all, the award does have the word “Year” in it, and Morant has played the entire year, unlike Zion.
Granted during the 19 games Zion played, he did post better numbers than Morant and elevated the Pelicans’ ceiling dramatically but the full season must be considered. Ja Morant has put up a solid 18 points per night off of good efficiency, and he’s been an effective playmaker for his team.
The results have shown in the win column, as the Grizzlies have far exceeded their preseason expectations. Morant has been the leader and number one option of one of the most surprising teams in the NBA, and for that reason, he deserves the Rookie of the Year award.
Most Improved Player Candidates: Bam Adebayo, Luka Doncic, Brandon Ingram
Winner: Bam Adebayo
Typically, this award has been a landslide over the past couple of years with Siakam and Oladipo showing incredible improvement from role players into All-Stars. This past season saw lots of new stars arriving and proving the NBA is as talented as its ever been. The list of improved players stretches farther than just these three names, but Adebayo is the most deserving.
Bam Adebayo saw an increase in opportunity, and he took full advantage. He was able to nearly double his scoring output from 9 points to 16 points while still remaining extremely efficient. Additionally, he improved as a rebounder and as a passer-by bumping both totals up by 3 per game in 10.5 and 5 respectively. The final part of his all-around game that makes him so valuable is his defensive growth.
Of course, he has always been a great defender, but he stepped up the intensity by locking down several elite bigs from the likes of Jokic to Giannis in critical games this regular season. As a result, he is now recognized in the elite class of defensive bigs and as representing the future of the Center position.
What separates him slightly over the pack is the surprising impact he has had on the Heat’s results and chances moving forward. The Heat exceeded expectations and Bam’s emergence has been the biggest reason why.
Sixth Man of the Year Candidates: Derrick Rose, Dennis Shroder, Lou Williams/Montrezl Harrell
Winner: Dennis Schroder
The OKC Thunder have been able to surprise the entire league by finishing tied for 5th in the West standings. They are led by a deadly three-guard combination that includes Schroder coming off the bench and posting starting-caliber numbers on a winning team. In Atlanta, he became the starter over time, but he has come off the bench in OKC and flourished in his new role.
Schroder leads the league in bench points per game at 19 and has elevated the overall bench production of the Thunder into the top 10 as a team. In recent years, Lou Williams has been far and wide the best bench player as evident by the back to back trophies for this award. However, this year Schroder poses a real challenge, and the voters may be a bit tired of voting in the same player three years in a row.
Williams and Harrell also work so well together, which may detract from either of their chances. Even though Rose’s numbers are comparable to Schroder’s, his impact on his team’s success gives the Thunder’s sixth man the edge.
Defensive Player of the Year Candidates: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Ben Simmons
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Of all the awards, this race is the closest and hardest to evaluate who really makes the biggest defensive impact both individually and to their respective teams. Defense goes a lot farther than just the two traditional blocks and steals categories that are shown in the box score. Both Giannis and Davis have great cases respectively, but how can we pick between the two?
Looking at the traditional numbers, Davis has the advantage over Giannis averaging 0.5 more steals and 1.5 more blocks per game. Davis is also top three in the NBA in both blocks per game and total blocks for the entire season. In terms of defensive rebounding, the Greek Freak beats Davis with 4.4 more defensive rebounds per game. Giannis holds an advantage in team defense, as he is the best defender on clearly the best defensive team in basketball.
Davis is no slouch in that area, but the Bucks rank higher than the Lakers in team defensive rating. Giannis is also a bit more versatile because of his ability to guard on the perimeter and not just in the paint. Davis can also do this but not quite to the extent that Giannis can. The real kicker is in the more advanced statistics, in which Giannis ranks first in the NBA in defensive box plus-minus, defensive win shares, and individual defensive rating.
Given all of that, the race is still a tossup, and there is really no wrong answer, as both have excellent cases and deserve the award but Giannis’ combination of individual and team impact on the defensive end of the floor and versatility give him a slight nod for this award.
Coach of the Year Candidates: Billy Donovan, Nick Nurse, Frank Vogel
Winner: Nick Nurse
Nick Nurse has been one of the biggest factors in why the Raptors remain in the championship picture despite losing a superstar and reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Toronto was expected to be a lower-tier playoff team and fall from contender to pretender coming off their championship run. Instead of all that, they have the two seed in the East and hold the third-best record in the entire league.
What’s even more impressive is the fact that they have had injuries to two big contributors on their team. Fred VanVleet and Marc Gasol have both missed significant time this season, but the Raptors still didn’t miss a beat. Nurse is the man behind the curtain making everything go smoothly no matter what obstacle they face. He has helped establish an even stronger culture and defensive mindset that led the Raptors to nearly a 60 win pace and top three in team defense.
There is no coincidence that the Raptors consistently develop talent by turning bench players into meaningful role players and from role players into All-Stars. Given the lower expectations and how the Raptors have greatly exceeded them, Nurse should receive the credit he deserves and win the COY award.
Most Valuable Player Candidates: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, LeBron James
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo
The MVP award comes down to three main criteria: individual success, team success, and narrative. For the better part of the season, Giannis seemed like the runaway favorite to win MVP, as he was posting better numbers than his MVP season the year prior and leading the Bucks to a 70 plus win pace for nearly the entire season.
The Bucks were blowing teams out and Giannis was sitting in the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, Lebron was catching up by dishing out a career-high in assists and leading the Lakers to the best record in the West. Lebron capped it off with two sensational performances against the Bucks and Clippers on the same weekend where he outplayed both Giannis and Kawhi.
Even though the hype train for the LeBron MVP campaign was at a high point and still is in some respects, Giannis still deserves the MVP award over Lebron James. The Greek Freak has been absolutely incredible in every area of the game; giving you 30 points a game, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, and arguably the best defense in the entire league.
LeBron has an advantage in playmaking, as he leads the entire NBA in assists and has slightly more points generated than Giannis because of his passing. Individual success has to go Giannis as he beats LeBron in scoring, rebounding, defense, and overall efficiency.
Team success is fairly simple, the Bucks were the best team in the NBA over the course of the entire season and still remain the best and ahead of the Lakers by three games. Additionally, Giannis has been the main reason why the Bucks rank ahead of the Lakers in both offensive and defensive ratings for the entire season.
The main argument for LeBron is the narrative around his historic season. He has built a worthy narrative due to his age and him being in year 17. The kind of season he is having is nothing short of historic and unprecedented. He has come back from last year’s struggles with a vengeance and will be in a great position to win the title.
The King will be the oldest player in NBA history to lead the NBA in a major statistical category. Even though the narrative for LeBron is stronger than Giannis, that does not make him more deserving of the MVP award. The improvement from an MVP season last year and his clear impact on both sides of the ball and the team’s success should make Giannis the MVP for the 2019-20 regular season.
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