B/R Staff Roundtable: Predictions for Every Major NBA Award
Selecting the 2019-20 NBA regular-season award winners with nearly 100 regular "seeding" games spread across 22 teams remaining may appear a bit unusual, but let's be real. What's been normal this year?
On Friday, Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported the NBA's rationale in deciding to exclude seeding games.
"The decision to exclude seeding games from awards voting ensures a fair process in which players and coaches from all 30 teams will have the same opportunity to be honored,” Shams tweeted.
There's plenty of sample size to draw from with each franchise having played a minimum of 63 games. After all, each team played just 50 games in 1999, and 66 in 2011-12.
So let's take the data we have and assemble predictions for this year's major award winners.
Coach of the Year
This time last year, the Toronto Raptors' title seemed destined to be remembered as a one-hit wonder. With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green departing and numerous key players set to hit free agency in the 2020 offseason, a full-on fire sale didn't seem out of the question.
Even more obstacles have been thrown Toronto's way since the season began, yet nothing has slowed down coach Nick Nurse. Despite a revolving door of injured rotation players (only Terence Davis and OG Anunoby have played more than 60 games this year), Nurse and the Raptors coaching staff have kept the team near the top of the Eastern Conference from the beginning. He's made NBA contributors out of undrafted players like Davis and Chris Boucher, resurrected the career of 2015 first-round pick Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and extracted the most out of players like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet.
All of that has combined to create a 46-18 record and the Eastern Conference's second seed.
The best part? Toronto may not be done yet. When the season halted in March, few considered this team a title contender, but with four months off, a slimmed-down Marc Gasol and recent championship experience, anything's possible.
Executive of the Year
When deciding the Executive of the Year award, the inclination may be to look at the top teams and reward on-court production. Certainly, Jon Horst (Milwaukee Bucks), Rob Pelinka (Los Angeles Lakers), Masai Ujiri (Toronto Raptors) and Lawrence Frank (Los Angeles Clippers) deserve consideration for putting together legitimate title contenders. But the standings don't tell the whole story. The Raptors are still great, but they lost their best player to the Clippers (Kawhi Leonard). Both Los Angeles teams gave up significant future considerations, in both young talent and draft picks, to build what both teams hope will be enough to win immediately.
Meanwhile, Sam Presti of the Oklahoma City Thunder parted with not one, but two All-Stars, and his team somehow got better. The Thunder may not be on the same level as the elite teams, but by trading away Russell Westbrook and Paul George, Presti added so many draft picks that there's not enough space here to list them all. He found a starter in his two-way player (Luguentz Dort, recently signed to a standard contract) and got one of the league's most exciting young guards from the Clippers in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Looking at his moves for both the present and the future, Presti is the Executive of the Year.
Most Improved Player
From trade chip to All-Star, Brandon Ingram's seismic leap in his fourth season has put him in rare company. Not only has Ingram become one of the NBA's leading scorers (15th), but he's also been efficient as one of just four players to score 24.0 points per game with a three-point percentage of 38.7 or better (KAT, Irving, Lillard).
With the length to shoot over defenders and the patience to navigate a pick-and-roll with aplomb, Ingram's ability to get buckets from every area of the court has allowed him to score six more points per game than in 2018-19. His ability to draw contact has helped him rank in the 84th percentile in points per 100 shot attempts despite often attracting opponents' best perimeter defenders. He's in the 90th percentile in PIPM, according to Bball-Index.
Ingram was critical to the Pelicans' early-season 6-22 survival and the 22-14 run that followed. With 81 games lost to Zion Williamson, Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball and Derrick Favors, Ingram shouldered much of the load and did so in impressive fashion, going for 30-plus points on 11 different occasions, including his electrifying 49 points on just 25 shots in an overtime January 16 victory against the Utah Jazz. And Ingram has become a part of the best starting lineup in the NBA based on net rating (minimum 180 minutes).
The Pelicans' win-loss record may prohibit voters from selecting the Slenderman, but he did enough to distance himself from the other candidates.
Defensive Player of the Year
The 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks have one of the most dominant defenses in NBA history, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is their most dominant and versatile defender. That's a pretty good recipe for Defensive Player of the Year.
When the season was suspended on March 11, the Bucks had a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) that was 8.5 points better than the league average. If you're wondering how rare that is, the 1963-64, 1964-65 and 2007-08 Boston Celtics and the 2003-04 San Antonio Spurs are the only teams in league history with better relative defensive ratings.
Their leader is in exclusive company too. He's currently the only player in NBA history to average 12.7 defensive rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals per 75 possessions.
And these aren't just empty box-score numbers Giannis is collecting. He leverages them toward that league-best defense. When he's on the floor, Milwaukee allows just 97.7 points per 100 possessions, compared to 109.0 when he's off, giving him an 11.3-point defensive rating swing that ranks in the 98th percentile.
Giannis can guard on the perimeter, protect the rim, grab steals, swat shots and clean up the boards with just about anyone in the league. And that wide-ranging skill set has helped the Bucks put together a historic defensive season.
Rookie of the Year
Will all due respect to Zion Williamson, his 19 games should disqualify him from this award. He's played in a smaller percentage of his team's games (29.7) than Joel Embiid did for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2016-17 (37.8 percent) when he lost the award to Malcolm Brogdon despite far superior numbers.
Even if I didn't disqualify Williamson, Ja Morant should still take home the award based on his personal and team success.
Among all qualified rookies, Morant ranks first in scoring (17.6 points), first in assists (6.9), first in usage percentage (26.0 percent), second in value over replacement player (1.1), third in win shares (3.4) and sixth in field-goal percentage (49.1 percent, first among guards).
With the Memphis Grizzlies projected to be among the worst teams in the NBA without Mike Conley or Marc Gasol on the roster for the first time since 2007, Morant stepped in as the leader from day one and has the Grizz 3.5 games ahead of the nearest competitors for the final playoff spot in the West.
This may be the easiest award to name a winner, as Morant should be a runaway favorite.
Sixth Man of the Year
It's Lou Williams' award to lose—every year.
Also the home of two of Jamal Crawford's awards, the Los Angeles Clippers seem to have cornered the market on the NBA's top "Sixth Man of the Year" awardees. Williams first earned the honor in 2014-15 with the Toronto Raptors. He's gone back-to-back the past two seasons and is due for a three-peat.
The Clippers (44-20) have a top-four record and a legitimate shot at a title. Williams is key to that, scoring 18.7 points with 5.7 assists a game off the bench. The Clippers need All-Star production from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but Williams is just as important.
Teammate Montrezl Harrell should be considered as well, scoring 18.6 a night, but it's Williams' attack on the perimeter that sets up Harrell for so many easy shots. Others in the running (but falling short to "Sweet Lou") include Dennis Schroder of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz. Both are vital scorers off the bench for playoff teams. Derrick Rose had a great season in Detroit with the Pistons, but the team's lackluster record drops him down the list.
Giannis Antetokounmpo took home MVP honors last year, and then he came back even better.
Even without a three-point shot, Giannis was the most unstoppable player in the league this year. He was unguardable attacking the basket while also setting up shots for his Bucks teammates, all on top of being arguably the NBA's best wing defender.
In addition to putting up career-best individual stats, Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to the best record in the NBA before the shutdown, and with the defending champion Raptors losing Kawhi Leonard, Milwaukee is the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference when the season restarts.
A rejuvenated LeBron James and an upstart Luka Doncic created some worthy competition in the race, but it would be a shock if Giannis doesn't repeat.