Crystal Ball: 2019-20 NBA Awards Predictions

Will Giannis Antetokounmpo take home MVP again? Could Joel Embiid corral his first Defensive Player of the Year? What about Zion Williamson and the Rookie of the Year race? The Crossover staff makes predictions for every award.
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Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA season is almost here, which means prediction content is here to flood the internet. We asked our writers to predict who will take home hardware this upcoming year. Will Giannis Antetokounmpo win his second consecutive MVP award? Will Zion Williamson win Rookie of the Year by a landslide? Check out our awards predictions for the 2019–20 season below.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Rob Mahoney: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks. Tempting as it is to pick a gunslinging Stephen Curry, the case for the incumbent is just too strong. Giannis will have the production, the defensive credentials, and the team success to solidify his case—all without walking the tightrope that Curry will, puzzling through a new dynamic like James Harden, or pacing himself like some other stars might. In some ways, the MVP race is as wide as the title race. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, or Anthony Davis walk away with the award, or perhaps even Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokić under the right circumstances. Antetokounmpo is just the roundest, safest choice: a proven MVP in his prime, coming back from a 60-win season with something to prove.

Chris Mannix: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks. Hard to bet against Antetokounmpo going back-to-back. He’s 24—seriously, how the hell is he still 24—and returning to a team that is both really good and built around him. He’ll have a second season playing in Mike Budenholzer’s system and another summer to work on his three-point shot, which fell to 25.6% last season. His workload will have to be monitored, but Antetokounmpo picked up the MVP last season playing 32.8 minutes per game—a four-year low. A true two-way player, Antetokounmpo has all the tools for a lengthy MVP-winning run. 

Jeremy Woo: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets. Really, this shouldn’t be considered a hipster pick anymore. [Takes long drag of cigarette.] Jokic might be the league’s best passer, he’s already one of its most productive players, bar none, and as he enters his age-24 season, I have a feeling there’s another uptick in store. The way the Nuggets rely on him (and with Russell Westbrook and James Harden sharing one ball), there’s a fever-dream scenario where Jokic leads the league in assists, averages close to a triple-double, the Nuggets win 60 games, and he does it while appearing to sleepwalk through the season. I am happy to ride this wagon.

Rohan Nadkarni: Stephen Curry, Warriors. Let’s get weird! I think Steph is going to win the scoring title, the Warriors will win more games than expected, and Curry will gather some nostalgia votes en route to an MVP. Curry is less polarizing than James Harden, so he can steal some votes there. The Bucks may take a step back after maxing out last season, so Giannis isn’t a lock to repeat. And the Dubs will need more from Curry than say, the Lakers will need from Anthony Davis or the Clippers will need from Kawhi Leonard. If Curry averages over 30 a game and the Warriors finish top-five in the West, I think the award is his.

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie of the Year

Rob Mahoney: Zion Williamson, Pelicans. I’m sure there will be speed bumps somewhere along the way for Williamson. I’m just not sure they’ll have much bearing on a runaway train, hurtling toward the rim and anyone brave enough to stand in his way. Players need opportunity to win Rookie of the Year, and Zion will have it. They need the consistent attention of the voting body, and at this point Zion couldn’t lose it if he tried. Not only is Williamson already goodawfully so, if the preseason is any indication—but he’s interesting. It’s just harder to beat the best prospect in the field when he also manages to capture the public imagination.

Chris Mannix: Zion Williamson, Pelicans. Watch college basketball. Watch the preseason. The hype is real. The end. 

Jeremy Woo: Zion Williamson, Pelicans. Watching Williamson in preseason has been all the proof anyone should have needed to understand how cleanly his brute strength and natural finesse around the basket are going to translate on an NBA floor. He’s a better ball-handler and passer than most people realize, he’ll make an impact on the glass, and he’s already close to unstoppable with a full head of steam. The volume of free throws and easy buckets he’s going to rack up is hard to fathom. Ja Morant can turn this into a conversation, but this is Zion’s award to lose, and if he turns in a healthy season, it’s hard to see this going any other way.

Rohan Nadkarni: Zion Williamson, Pelicans. I don’t need to explain this one.

Sixth Man of the Year

Rob Mahoney: Spencer Dinwiddie, Nets. This feels like a season where Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell might split the Clipper vote, opening up the Sixth Man race to a new swath of candidates. Dinwiddie should have a compelling case as a creator stylistically similar to Williams on a team that, frankly, needs him more. Beyond Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert, Brooklyn is short on playmakers – not to mention the ability to make something out of nothing when a possession goes sideways. Dinwiddie is big enough to play with Irving, as he did D'Angelo Russell, and skilled enough to carry a second unit.

Chris Mannix: Terrence Ross, Magic. You almost reflexively vote for Lou Williams here, and that remains a safe pick. But with more firepower in LA—and perhaps more of a need for defensive minded Patrick Beverly late in games—the door is open for a new winner, and Ross is poised to do it. Ross thrived coming off Orlando’s bench last season, and was rewarded with a rich contract this summer. Another year in the same system should mean another year of big numbers for Ross. 

Jeremy Woo: Lou Williams, Clippers. This is far and away the most boring award to predict every single year. With the Clippers as relevant as they’ve ever been, I’ll take Lou Williams and you can have the field.

Rohan Nadkarni: Kyle Kuzma, Lakers. The Lakers are almost certainly going to bring Kuzma off the bench this season, but he should close a lot of games if/when Anthony Davis shifts to center, and that gives him a great chance at winning this award. I think there’s going to be some fatigue surrounding Lou Williams, and while Kuzma will never be that high usage, he’ll have a chance to be a first or second option for the Lakers when he’s playing against second units.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Most Improved Player

Rob Mahoney: Jonathan Isaac, Magic. The theme of Isaac’s first two seasons was locating the rhythm of the pro game: how to make use of his speed without rushing, how to make impact plays without compromising the integrity of a scheme, and how to pick his spots on offense without having the ball in his hands or a knock-down jump shot. There’s a lot to cover, but it does seem like Isaac—who really popped at times for Orlando last season—is on the brink of something.

Chris Mannix: Terry Rozier, Charlotte. Rozier struggled last season, but he proved in a short stretch at the end of '17-'18 that he has legit talent. Rozier will step into Kemba Walker's role in Charlotte, and while Rozier isn't Walker, he will be afforded a lot of the same offensive opportunities on a Hornets team that lost its top two leading scorers. This won't be a very good season in Charlotte but it could be a great one for Rozier, who will make his case that he should be among the top half of NBA point guards. 

Jeremy Woo: Anfernee Simons, Blazers. Since it’s always a pain to predict, I like to use this award as an excuse to earmark young players on the verge of a breakout. I don’t know yet if Simons sees quite enough minutes to win this award, but I do know I’m extremely excited to watch him play. The 20-year-old guard is positioned for a real role, crucial to Portland sustaining its success, and there wasn’t a more impressive player at summer league. He’s one of the league’s better-kept secrets, but don’t expect that to last too long.

Rohan Nadkarni: Bam Adebayo, Heat. Bam is going to thrive now that he’s the Heat’s full-time starting center. In a much more defined role, as well as a superstar offensive creator to play off of, Adebayo’s life should become much easier in Miami. He also has the potential to anchor would could be a top-five defense. The most underrated part of Adebayo’s game, and something I hope a national audience gets to see more of this year, is his defensive versatility, especially when it comes to guarding taller perimeter players. I fully expect him to be unleashed now in his third year in the league. I also think Ben Simmons should win this award if he hits 50 threes.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Player of the Year

Rob Mahoney: Joel Embiid, Sixers. The best defensive player on the best defensive team always has a place in this particular award conversation, particularly when his influence is as broad as Embiid’s. Few players do more to shape an opponent’s habits and confidence. Other bigs panic into pump fakes when Embiid lurks about. Guards steer clear when they might otherwise try for a drive. This could be a monster season for Embiid and the Sixers both, most of all on defense where one of the league’s most stifling rim protectors has both the high-leverage role and the support he needs for award candidacy.

Chris Mannix: Rudy Gobert, Utah. This award regularly goes to big men and there is simply no more impactful big man defensively than Gobert. The Jazz center has won the last two awards and there is no obvious threat to him winning a third. He’s a prolific shot blocker whose numbers would be better if teams hadn’t given up trying to shoot over him. Until further notice, this award is his to lose. 

Jeremy Woo: Rudy Gobert, Jazz. I personally always hate picking this award, which feels like an annual coin toss between Gobert and Draymond Green, but the Warriors’ defense might be a complete mess this season, and the Jazz are still the Jazz. Hence, Gobert.

Rohan Nadkarni: Joel Embiid, Sixers. The Sixers are going to have a hellacious defense this season , and I think it’s more than time for Embiid to be formally recognized for his contributions on that end. Health will be an issue, but Embiid appears to be lean and ready to go this year after a bitter playoff defeat. If Philly finishes with a top-two defense and Embiid plays...64 games-ish, I think he’s more than worthy of stealing the crown from Rudy Gobert.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Coach of the Year

Rob Mahoney: Quin Snyder, Jazz. Whereas Utah will be not just impeccably prepared this season, but damn good overall; so good, in fact, as to improve on its 50 wins from last season; and all without anything resembling a traditional superstar, Snyder stands to make a strong case for Coach of the Year on the merits and narrative alike.

Chris Mannix: Doc Rivers, Clippers. Rivers earned consideration last year, when he kept a team stripped of its leading scorer (Tobias Harris) at midseason in the playoff mix. Rivers has an influx of talent to work with, but he will have to manage workloads and manage egos—two things he did exceptionally well in Boston. LA may not finish with the NBA’s best record, but they won’t need to for Rivers to walk away with this award. 

Jeremy Woo: Mike Malone, Nuggets. I have a feeling even better things are in store for Denver, and Malone should be able reap the benefits. No Western Conference team is more cleanly positioned for a huge regular season, and the Nuggets have already proven capable.

Rohan Nadkarni: Mike Malone, Nuggets. I’m sorry, but how didn’t Malone win this award last season? He took an injury ravaged Nuggets team (seriously! look it up) that hadn’t made the playoffs with its current core and led them to a second-place finish in the West. Malone was able to coax reliable performances from guys like Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, and Torrey Craig, while also having a steady hand with his more accomplished players. Malone obviously doesn’t deserve all the credit for Denver’s success. But the Nugs fight incredibly hard for him, and they play a fun style to boot. I think the Nuggets are going to surprise people again this year (don’t sleep on Michael Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant!) and hopefully this time Malone is properly honored.