Since there’s no basketball – or any other sport for that matter – to occupy our time, we thought the beginning of a virtual first round would be as good an occasion as any to make our picks for the this NBA season’s award winners. Let’s take a look at the results.
Rookie of the Year
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
While the likes of Brandon Clarke and Kendrick Nunn had outstanding seasons, and Zion Williamson may well be a once-in-a-generation talent, there really can’t be a dispute about the recipient of this award.
Ja Morant had a brilliant – in fact historically brilliant – rookie season, and was the primary reason for Memphis’ shock push towards a remarkable playoff berth in a stacked Western Conference. Morant was far, FAR in front of all rookies in total points and assists, and only eight other rookies in the history of the NBA were able to match his 17.6 points and nearly 7 assists. Of those eight, only Magic Johnson put up those stats while shooting as efficiently as Morant did this year (56.8% true shooting).
Williamson is one of the brightest stars we’ve ever seen enter the league, and his 24 points and 7 rebounds per game are eye-popping (only 12 rookies have ever put up those stats) but 19 games is nowhere near enough to win any awards.
Morant should and will win Rookie of the Year.
Runner-Ups: Zion Williamson, Kendrick Nunn, Brandon Clarke
Sixth Man of the Year
Dennis Schröder, Oklahoma City Thunder
Generally, this award tends to go to the player on a contending team who scored the most points off the bench. This year, that player is Schröder, and it’s not even close.
A three-pronged backcourt of Schröder, Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander propelled a plucky Thunder team in to a top-5 seed in the West, with Schröder averaging 19 points per game off the bench in a stunning career turnaround.
Now, there will be compelling arguments made for both Lou Williams (a three-time winner of this award) and Montrezl Harrell, his teammate on the Clippers. Williams averaged 18.7 points (on 42/36/86 shooting splits), 5.7 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 29.3 minutes, while Harrell put up 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds – both career bests – in under 28 minutes per game and shot 58.0% from the field.
There’s nothing really to differentiate Schröder from them on paper, it just feels strange to have two “Sixth Men” on the same team. For that reason alone, Schröder gets the nod.
Runner-Ups: Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell
Most Improved Player
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
For most of this season – at least until Jayson Tatum’s explosion to start 2020 – this was a one-man race.
Tatum blossomed in to a star after the All-Star break, averaging 23.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game, but Ingram’s consistency over the full season is what earns him the nod for this award. The Pelicans’ forward was forced – understandably – to take a slight step back after the emergence of Zion Williamson, but until that point was putting up career-highs across the board and significantly improving his efficiency in all aspects of the game.
Make no mistake, this was a stacked field this season. Devonte Graham, Bam Adebayo, Luka Doncic and Tatum all have convincing cases, but Ingram was able to consistently produce where those others occasionally faltered.
Runner-Ups: Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, Devonte Graham
Coach of the Year
Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors
What’s happened in Toronto this year is nothing short of miraculous, and Nurse deserves a huge chunk of the credit.
As we all know, the Raptors lost the reigning Finals MVP in the offseason and yet pre-COVID were on track to put up a better regular season record than they did last year. Kyle Lowry is balling out, Pascal Siakam looks like a future MVP candidate and the Raptors as a whole just play intelligent, attractive basketball in every game they show up to.
Most scoffed when Toronto said their aim was to repeat as champions this season, and yet Nurse had that goal looking like a distinct possibility. While other candidates like Frank Vogel steered a team of superstars to success, and a guy like Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City performed similarly-impressively despite low expectations, neither has the command over his players like Nurse does.
The Raptors were meant to be selling off their assets midseason, not adding pieces to push towards a title run. Full credit goes to Nick Nurse.
Runner-Ups: Frank Vogel, Billy Donovan, Erik Spoelstra
Defensive Player of the Year
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
This might just be the toughest of all the awards, but Davis gets the nod slightly ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert and Ben Simmons.
The Lakers currently have the third-best defense in the league. Here’s a hint; LeBron isn’t the reason for that. Davis is transcendent on the defensive end of the floor, with his two blocks per game not even going close to explaining the impact he has on opposing offenses.
The Bucks, meanwhile, have a similarly elite defense, but they also boast three of the top four leaders in Defensive Rating in the NBA this season, whereas Davis is the only Laker to appear anywhere near the top of the list.
Davis edges Antetokounmpo in blocks and steals, and he will also edge him just slightly for this award.
Most Valuable Player
Giannis Antetokoumpo, Milwaukee Bucks
From the hardest award to pick, to the easiest.
LeBron James may have had half a chance of stealing the MVP award had the season run its full course, but given where we appear to have finished, it would be impossible to mount a convincing argument for anyone but Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Greek Freak leads the league in virtually every insightful stat while averaging more than 29 points per game, 13 rebounds and 5 assists. He’s also a frontrunner for the DPOY award, while leading the Bucks to a league-leading record.
James, meanwhile, leads the league in assists and assists per game (by nearly a full assist per game) and there’s a case to be made that (technically at least) he’s more valuable than Antetokounmpo. The Lakers are outscoring opponents by 10.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and getting outscored by 1.4 points per 100 when he is sitting.
However, the stats are similar when Antetokounmpo sits and it’s frankly impossible to see the award going to anyone but the Bucks’ star. Luka Doncic, James Harden, Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic all had excellent seasons, but each was comfortably below the level of James and Antetokounmpo. Kawhi Leonard is also in the conversation, but missed too many games.
Runner-Ups: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Jokic
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Image by: Erik Drost