An Insider's Look at the 2020 NBA Awards

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Issue 17, Volume 110

By Aidan Look, Deven Maheshwari 

Cover Image

Coach of the Year: Nick Nurse

The Toronto Raptors were coming off of a 58-win season and the franchise’s first NBA championship led by arguably the best player in the NBA: Kawhi Leonard. But the summer of 2019 would dramatically change the landscape of the league, with many superstars teaming up to form duos. Anthony Davis would leave the New Orleans Pelicans to join LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. James Harden and Russell Westbrook would team up again on the Houston Rockets. Kawhi Leonard was no different, as he would leave Toronto to join Paul George in L.A. in hopes of securing a title for the Clippers. Even without their former star player, the Raptors showed the same championship mentality and playstyle from their prior season. Before the season was suspended, the Raptors achieved a 46-18 record, good for second place in the Eastern Conference. This success was not expected at all. The vast improvements of Pascal Siakam among others certainly played a significant role in the team’s record, but the success of the Raptors would not have been possible without the stellar coaching of Nick Nurse.

Nurse was able to adjust to the loss of Leonard and other players by using new rotations. This season, he began to start Marc Gasol over Serge Ibaka at center. With the loss of Danny Green, Nurse decided to play Kyle Lowry at the shooting guard position, with Fred VanVleet taking over as the point guard. To combat the loss of Leonard, he started OG Anunoby at the small forward position. These changes would be worthless if Nurse had not disciplined his team well. The trust and respect the Raptors have for Nurse is truly remarkable, especially in late game situations. For example, the Raptors were trailing by 30 points to the Dallas Mavericks on November 16, with two minutes and 32 seconds left in the third quarter. Nurse settled his team down and organized a full-court press. They rallied on to score 47 points in the fourth quarter because of their aggressive, fast-paced defense. Nurse knew how to put his team in the best possible position to win games, and the team’s record this season proves how crucial his coaching was for success.

Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant

The second overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft, Ja Morant, has proved himself to be one of the league’s best point guards in just his first year. Morant has propelled the Memphis Grizzlies into being a playoff team, securing the eighth seed in the Western Conference before the shutdown. The Grizzlies even reached as high as the fifth seed during the regular season. This is a huge accomplishment for a Grizzlies roster that was projected to win only 32 games—with a six percent chance of making the playoffs before the 2019-2020 season. Morant’s supporting cast of young stars such as Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. has also fueled the team’s success, but it is clear that Morant has had the most impact on this effort.

Morant leads his team in points per game with an average of 17.6. Morant’s intensity, scoring ability, and ability to distribute the ball well has had an amazing impact on the team’s offense, not to mention his consistent highlight-reel plays. Due to their pace factor this season ranking seventh in the league, the Grizzlies were able to improve their points per game by about seven from last year. Morant’s explosiveness allows him to blow by defenders and change speeds in the blink of an eye. This, coupled with his ability to find holes in the defense, sets him apart from many other players in the league. His main competitor for the award is his former teammate in middle school, and the number one overall pick, Zion Williamson. However, Williamson’s injuries forced him to sit out for a majority of the season and Morant was able to showcase his potential in more games than his competitor.

DPOY: Giannis Antetokounmpo

There aren’t many players who have the same physical build as Giannis Antetokounmpo. His lanky body and long arms allow him to stay in front of almost anyone he guards and get to shots that aren’t reachable by a normal person. He’s the undisputed leader of arguably the best defensive team in the NBA. The Milwaukee Bucks allow their opponents to score an average of 107.4 points per game, tied for fifth place with the Denver Nuggets for least points per game allowed. The Bucks also limit their opponents’ field goal percentage to an average of 41.3 percent, ranking them first in the league in this category. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since they are headed by Giannis, who takes over the entire court on defense, closing out on shooters on the perimeter while still going after the defensive rebounds. Luckily, his effort is not done singlehandedly as other forces such as Brook Lopez, who leads blocks with an average of 2.4 per game, work together to form the ultimate defense. Antetokounmpo has taken the role as the defensive leader, however, leading the team in defensive rebounds per game with an average of 11.5, as well as averaging one block per game. Their aggressive and efficient defense with Giannis in charge has played a significant role in the Bucks’ record, only losing 12 games while winning 53. Antetokounmpo is the clear choice for DPOY.

6MOTY: Montrezl Harrell

Sure, the Clippers have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Yeah, they also have Lou Williams to come off the bench. But it’s hard to ignore what Montrezl Harrell has done as their sixth man. Harrell is a dominant force on both the offensive and defensive end of the court. Though he can be considered an undersized player at the forward and center positions, his impact on the court says otherwise. He averages 18.6 points per game with a 58 percent field-goal percentage. Harrell’s game does not represent that of the “modern-day” center, because unlike many centers nowadays like Karl-Anthony Towns or Kristaps Porzingis, Harrell does not shoot three-pointers often. Instead, he takes advantage of his ball-handling skills, driving to the basket and finding the opportunity to take floaters. Harrell’s defensive skills greatly complement those of Patrick Beverly, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George. He has aided the Clippers in maintaining a stellar defensive rating of 104.8, the fifth best rating in the league. This statistic shows how many points teams allow per 100 possessions, and the Clippers are only below the Milwaukee Bucks, the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Denver Nuggets in this category. Harrell has proved to be a major boost on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court for the Los Angeles Clippers off the bench, good enough for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.

MIP: Bam Adebayo

The newly named All-Star, Bam Adebayo, is our pick for the Most Improved Player of the 2019-2020 season. He averages a little more than 34 minutes per game, which is an 11-minute increase from last season. This increased playing time has also come with increased production. This season, Adebayo’s average points per game jumped to 16.2—compared to last season’s 8.9 points per game. He has also solidified his position in the league as one of the best passing centers, averaging 5.1 assists and taking second place in assists per game by centers—behind only Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. He has proved to be a threat on the defensive end as well, averaging eight defensive boards a game, around a block per game, and one steal per game.

Adebayo is one of the league’s rising all-around centers. He can hit a 10 to 14 footer consistently and distribute the ball to his teammates, all while maintaining an active defensive presence. Bam Adebayo even won the Taco Bell Skills Challenge during this year’s All-Star Weekend, where stars are able to display their versatility in the game of basketball. The contestants shoot three-pointers, take layups, pass basketballs through tires, and cross over around cones. Adebayo is one of the few big men to have won this challenge. The other winners who were either forwards or centers are Kristaps Porzingis and Karl Anthony-Towns, who have become stars in the league. Adebayo has worked to become a more well-rounded player during his third season in the league, and he has greatly improved in almost all major categories. His efforts to become a better player make him deserving of the Most Improved Player Award.

MVP: LeBron James

The King never lost his crown—he just wanted you to think that he had. LeBron James should be the NBA’s most valuable player this season, and in the coming weeks as the league enters our lives again, he will prove his case even further. Entering the 2019-2020 campaign, James had been coming off a groin injury from the prior season and turned 35 years old in December. Now, with Anthony Davis leading the team in scoring, James chose to try something new in his 17th season. He leads the league in assists at a clip of 10.6 assists per game, at the same time averaging 25.7 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game. Now, the Los Angeles Lakers sit atop the Western Conference, boasting the second best record in the entire NBA. Combining stats, considering team record, and simply just watching him play, LeBron James has done it all this season, and he’s on his way to MVP number five.

However, his main competition, Giannis Antetokounmpo, also has a similar case. The reigning MVP leads the Milwaukee Bucks with the best record in the NBA, while also putting up significant statistics on a nightly basis, especially on the defensive end. But on the night of March 6, before the league’s hiatus, the Lakers had played the Bucks and LeBron James pushed ahead in the race. Through his heroic efforts on both the defensive and offensive ends and the playoff-esque feel of Staples Center, James showed the entire world that he can turn it on and off whenever he likes. And he will not be turning it off anytime soon. Having this fifth MVP would put James on the same level as Michael Jordan in terms of MVPs, as well as tie him and Karl Malone as the oldest players to win an MVP. A motivated and rested LeBron James is something the world has not seen in some time.