NBA Fans are facing a harsh reality
Because of the pandemic that is sweeping through the world, the NBA has indefinitely suspended their ongoing season. To make matters worse, there is now growing chatter that the 2019-2020 season might be cancelled for good.
That’s such a shame. The NBA was supposed to be heading to the best part of the season. The final two or three months of the regular season is usually the perfect opportunity for players gunning for individual awards to make their cases. Those games sure would’ve helped the voters this season, with the majority of the award races being tightly contested this season.
With the season on the brink and the Playoffs supposed to have started April 18, now is a good time to break down the 2020 NBA Awards.
Coach of the Year
Contenders: Mike Budenholzer (MIL), Nick Nurse (TOR), Frank Vogel (LAL)
Winner: Nick Nurse (TOR)
Key Statistics: 104.9 DRtg (2nd), 3.1 Bench Net Rating (3rd), 6.4 Net Rating (tied for 3rd)
This award isn’t up for debate.
Nurse has faced two major challenges in his quest to defend Toronto’s title: losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in the off-season, and missing six of his seven players from last season at various points this season to injury. Most people counted out Toronto as a contender this season, but Nurse has done a tremendous job in completely demolishing the pre-season expectations for the team.
Credit has to go to Nurse for getting the best out of the team, unlocking Pascal Siakam’s potential while getting key contributions from his newer players like Terence Davis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. He deserves the same praise for his unorthodox but effective defensive schemes that led to Toronto having the league’s second-ranked defense. Coach Bud has been amazing as the Bucks’ head coach this season, but Nurse has done a lot with way less than him. That deserves to be acknowledged with this award.
Rookie of the Year
Contenders: Ja Morant (MEM), Zion Williamson (NOP), Kendrick Nunn (MIA)
Winner: Ja Morant (MEM)
Key Statistics: 17.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 6.9 APG, 49.1% FG , 3.4 Win Shares
On the surface, this Rookie of the Year contest feels like déjà vu for some.
This season’s Rookie of the Year race is similar to the 2016-2017 race where Joel Embiid was up against Malcolm Brogdon. Despite having better overall production, Embiid’s injury-shortened season had a big asterisk that led to Brogdon taking the trophy. The same thing is happening this year, with Zion Williamson and Morant in the place of Embiid and Brogdon, respectively.
But while Brogdon’s victory sparked numerous debates, Morant won’t be facing the same backlash. After all, his blend of athleticism, finesse, and playmaking is the engine behind Memphis’ surprising playoff push this season. Morant has also been producing consistent numbers for nearly the entire season, which is impressive for a rookie starting at the point guard spot, the most stacked position in the league.
Sixth Man of the Year
Contenders: Lou Williams (LAC), Dennis Schröder (OKC), Montrezl Harrell (MIA)
Winner: Dennis Schröder (OKC)
Key Statistics: 19.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 4.1 APG, 6.0 NetRtg (2nd in the team), 46.8% FG, 38.1% 3PT FG
This award was the hardest to judge.
All three contenders for this one had equally compelling cases. There’s Williams, the perennial winner of the award (who will likely have the award named after him in the future) and Harrell, the analytics darling that doubles as Williams’ sidekick in leading the top-rated Clippers bench.
The other contender, Schröder has been magnificent for a resurgent Thunder team. He has spearheaded the Thunder bench with his efficient scoring and playmaking, while also playing as a closer for the team in a unique yet deadly three-point guard lineup. His contributions for the Thunder’s unexpected playoff push should give the Thunder their first Sixth Man of the Year awardee since James Harden back in 2012.
Most Improved Player
Contenders: Devonte Graham (CHO), Bam Adebayo (MIA), Brandon Ingram (NOP)
Winner: Brandon Ingram (NOP)
Key Statistics: 24.3 PPG (+6 from last season), 6.3 RPG (+1.2 from last season), 4.3 APG (+1.3 from last season), 38.7 3PFG on 6.6 attempts
The list of contenders for the Most Improved Player award seems to grow every season.
Aside from the aforementioned players, Luka Doncic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are also dark horses to win the award. But out of all of these players, Ingram’s ascent has been the most impressive out of all of them.
BI has finally delivered on the potential that everyone has been expecting since he entered the league. He has morphed into a bona-fide first option for the Pelicans after being traded for Anthony Davis in the off-season. A switch to the PF position (62% at PF, 19% last season) and a more polished and modern game (less long twos, more threes) have been the catalyst for Ingram’s breakout season. All of his improvements have come with a larger usage rate as well (28.2 USG).
His drastic improvements while being given a larger role make him worthy of winning this award.
Defensive Player of the Year
Contenders: Rudy Gobert (UTA), Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), Anthony Davis (LAL)
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)
Key Statistics: 99th percentile isolation defense, 96.5 DRtg, 2.1 deflections per game (2nd in team), 4.8 Defensive Win Shares (1st in league), 4.1 Defensive Box Plus-Minus (1st in league)
With the rise of analytics, it’s been more difficult to determine the Defensive Player of the year winner. How much stock should you take in the advanced metrics? How about raw steal and block numbers? What about the eye test?
This year, however, there is one player who has hit all those three three factors: the Greek Freak. Antetokounmpo has proved himself to be a defensive menace this season.
While his defensive counting stats are good-but-not-great (just a steal and block per game), a look into advanced metrics and his game footage will reveal his defensive prowess. His Go-Go Gadget limbs and incredible athleticism allow him to be a switchblade on defense, able to go from guarding all five positions on the perimeter to protecting the rim to playing like a free safety in certain matchups.
This versatility on defense puts Antetokounmpo above Davis and Gobert in the race for the award.
Most Valuable Player
Contenders: Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), James Harden (HOU), LeBron James (LAL)
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)
Key Statistics: 29.6 PPG, 13.7 RPG, 5.8 APG, 31.6 PER (1st in league)
In the history of the NBA, only two players have won the Most Valuable and the Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season: Michael Jordan in 1988 and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994.
Antetokounmpo is bound to join that list this year.
His defensive impact has already been highlighted, but his offensive impact is on another level. The Greek Freak is a matchup nightmare for most defenses. Put a larger player on him, and he’ll use his athleticism to get to the rim. Switch a smaller defender on him, and that opponent is just asking for trouble. Let him get to the paint? That’s an easy bucket for him. If the defense collapse on him, he’s ready to kick it out to the open man. And he’s even added a nice little turnaround jumper to punish anyone who drops too low on defense.
The Greek Freak’s dominance is real, and he’s ready to win it all.
Individual stats are taken from Basketball Reference, Team Stats and Player rankings are taken from stats.nba.com.