The NBA announced the finalists for each of the major regular-season awards. The voting was solely based on games before the four-month hiatus, so any action in Orlando won’t be taken into consideration. Each award category has three players from which the winner will be chosen from. Here’s who got the nod as 2019-20 award finalists.
All statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com
Most Valuable Player
The trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and James Harden headlined the MVP finalists. Antetokounmpo and James are the clear frontrunners, leading their teams to the top seeds in their respective conferences. Both players also are putting up unbelievable numbers on the year.
Antetokounmpo continued his rise to superstardom with a historic campaign. The Greek Freak has been virtually unstoppable on both ends of the floor and looks superhuman at times. If he can continue his dominance, his single-season Player Efficiency Rating of 32.0 will go down as the best in NBA history.
Also in legitimate contention for the award is LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers. In year 17, James is still playing some of his best basketball, defying father time like never seen before. He’s leading the league in assists and has had an enormous offensive impact. Without LeBron on the floor, the Lakers have struggled on offense all year long. This is a testament to how valuable James has been for his team.
Harden, though not as much of an MVP favorite, is scoring the ball at a ridiculous rate this season. He’s averaging nearly 35 points per game, his third straight year of averaging above 30. While his 3PT percentage is not eye-catching (35.3%), he has continued to get to the free-throw line with ease, knocking them down at an 85% clip
Defensive Player of the Year
Antetokounmpo was also named a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year award, along with Anthony Davis and reigning winner Rudy Gobert.
The Greek Freak is anchoring an all-time great defense in Milwaukee as an ultra-versatile beast on the defensive end. He’s been tasked with guarding several positions on the perimeter and paint and has thrived in doing so. The numbers suggest this, as Antetokounmpo leads the NBA in defensive rating, defensive win shares, and defensive box plus/minus.
Davis has reminded fans yet again that he’s one of the league’s best two-way players with a strong showing this year. Aside from his offensive prowess in 2019-20, Davis has been the focal point of the Lakers’ stifling defense, averaging 2.3 blocks per game with the league’s second-most defensive win shares.
In what’s become the norm every year, Gobert is in the midst of another elite defensive season. The 28-year old Frenchman ranks third in defensive rating while posting 2 blocks per game for the sixth straight season.
Rookie of the Year
Ja Morant of the Grizzlies, Zion Williamson of the Pelicans, and Kendrick Nunn of the Heat made the cut as finalists for Rookie of the Year.
As the top two picks in the 2019 Draft, Williamson and Morant were far-and-away the preseason favorites to contend for the award, and have shined in their first season.
Williamson played just 19 games before the season’s suspension but made the most of limited playing time. He lived up to the expectations both visually and on the stat sheet, throwing down sensational dunks while putting up very efficient numbers (22.4 points per game on .588 from the field).
The same can be said for Morant, who’s averaging a solid 17.8 points per game with equally as impressive highlights. The difference is that he’s played in far more games than Williamson.
Contrary to the two other candidates, Nunn’s appearance is something that no one expected. An undrafted rookie out of Oakland University, Nunn ranks third among rookies in points per game. He’s a key contributor for the Miami Heat and will likely play a massive role in the playoffs.
Sixth Man of the Year
The Clippers duo of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, along with Thunder point guard Dennis Schroder were named finalists for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
This is familiar territory for Williams. He’s won the award for the last two years and has three Sixth Man of the Year trophies overall. Even in his 15th year, Williams is producing at a very high level with the championship-contending Clippers, scoring 18.2 points per game and dishing a career-high in assists.
Unlike Williams, his teammate Montrezl Harrell is a newcomer to this shortlist, but has been just as impactful for the Clippers’ success. He’s brought extra energy and tenacity for Los Angeles all season long, specifically on offense.
Just as deserving of the award is Dennis Schroder, enjoying a career year as an integral piece of Oklahoma City’s surprise season. His 18.9 points per game lead all candidates.
Most Improved Player
In a race without a clear frontrunner, Brandon Ingram, Bam Adebayo, and Luka Doncic are the finalists for the Most Improved Player award. Each player made their first career All-Star appearance this year and has a strong case for winning the trophy.
Ingram’s 23.9 points per game average is up over 5 points from last year, even though his playing time has hovered around the same mark. He’s transitioned from a solid support scorer in Los Angeles to the Pelicans’ first option in just one season.
Luka Doncic has also vastly improved from last year, without a huge increase in minutes. In just his second NBA season, Doncic boasts an insane stat line of 29.0/9.4/8.8. It’s also worth mentioning he’s leading a Mavericks offense that’s one of the most efficient single-season teams in NBA history.
Miami big man Bam Adebayo doesn’t compare to the other two candidates as a scorer but does more than enough to make up for it elsewhere. Adebayo’s been instrumental for Miami as a versatile defender with a great combination of size, quickness, and strength. Offensively, he’s been an efficient scorer (16.1 points per game on 56 field goal %) and a capable passer (5.1 assists per game that ranks second amongst power forwards).
Coach of the Year
Rounding out the group of finalists were those for Coach of the Year: Mike Budenholzer, Billy Donovan, and Nick Nurse.
Based on record alone, Budenholzer seems like the obvious choice. His Milwaukee Bucks have locked up the East’s top seed for the second straight season with little to no weaknesses. He has them right where they need to be with the playoffs coming up.
Although their success hasn’t been as profound, Donovan and Nurse deserve just as much, if not more consideration for the award. Donovan’s Thunder weren’t much more than an afterthought once Russell Westbrook and Paul George left in the offseason. But against all the odds, the Thunder have clinched a playoff spot in a competitive Western Conference.
Nurse also lost a top player before the season began in reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Despite that loss and virtually no roster upgrades, Nurse leads a Raptors team that looks poised to go deep in the playoffs once again. They should enter the postseason as the East’s 2-seed for a consecutive year.
The winners of these awards will be announced sometime during the NBA playoffs.