2019-20 NBA Awards: Handing Out Hardware If the Season Ended Today

With the rest of the season in doubt due to the coronavirus pandemic, SI writers make their 2019-20 NBA award picks.
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It seems unlikely that we will see the NBA return anytime soon. Adam Silver identified three conditions to Rachel Nichols in an interview that would be needed for a restart of the 2019-20 season: Can they operate with fans in the arena? Should they consider restarting without fans and what would that mean? And perhaps the most innovative approach—the possibility that a group of players could compete in a tournament to raise money. There is still not a clear sign of when the season will start or if it will return at all this year. With that in mind, The Crossover staff decided to hand out awards as if the season ended today.

Chris Mannix

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

LeBron James was making a run at Giannis’s crown when the season was stopped, but this is an easy call. Antetokounmpo posted numbers not seen since Shaquille O’Neal’s NBA season, and he might be the league’s best defensive player. He’s also playing on the NBA’s top team, which should sew the award up. Props to James—we have never seen an age-35 season like that one. But Giannis earned his second straight MVP.

Coach of the Year: Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors

Easy call. The Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard and still had a winning percentage at the All-Star break that topped last season. Toronto has done it with players totaling 219 games lost due to injury, including key stretches missed by Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry. Nurse has overseen the NBA’s best player development system, which has molded Siakam into an MVP candidate and a rotation filled with once unheralded talent. Just a brilliant season from Nurse.

Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Morant has been as good as advertised, blending the speed and power of a Russell Westbrook with the calm playmaking of ex-Grizzlies guard Mike Conley. Morant was a prolific scorer (17.6 points) while shooting a more than respectable 36.7% from three. Sorry, Zion fans: Can’t win Rookie of the Year with a 19-game resume.

Most Improved: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

Annual disclaimer that voters often see this award through different lenses, that Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, even Luka Doncic can—and will—get consideration. For me it’s Adebayo, a mid first round pick in 2017, a solid but not spectacular part time starter in the Heat’s frontcourt in his first two seasons who made the quantum leap to All-Star in this one. Adebayo is a defensive wrecking ball, strong enough to bang with centers and quick enough to switch out on perimeter players.

Sixth Man: Dennis Schröder, Oklahoma City Thunder

This is brutally close. By default you want to give the award to Williams, a three-time sixth man winner who has won the last two and who submitted another superlative worthy season. But Schroder—who the Thunder acquired for Carmelo freaking Anthony two summers ago—has been outstanding. He’s a tick ahead of Williams in scoring while besting him in field goal (46.8%) and three-point percentage (38.1%). He’s a better defensive player, too. Williams is great, but would the Clippers be where they are without him? Maybe not. Would Oklahoma City be having the kind of season its having without Schroder? Definitely not.

Greg Nelson

Greg Nelson

Rohan Nadkarni

MVP: Giannis Antetokoumpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Two days before the season was suspended, I wrote “if the season ended today” that Giannis would be the MVP. So, uh, I guess I have to give this award to The Greek Freak. LeBron would finish second in this scenario, with simply not enough time to make up the gap.

COY: Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors

This is a tough one! I think Frank Vogel absolutely deserves a look here, as well as Mike Budenholzer. But for the Raptors to lose Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, then deal with a ton of injuries, only to end up right back in second place in the East is remarkable. Nurse does not enjoy coaching the same level of superstars as some of his contemporaries. And his coaching job—combined with the improvement of guys like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet—has helped stave off a rebuild in Toronto. There are always many coaches deserving of this award. Nurse would be a worthy winner.

ROY: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Zion is appointment television but he just didn’t play in enough games to wrestle this award from Ja. Morant’s play improbably led the Grizzlies to the eighth seed in the West, and he’s plenty exciting to watch himself. He also leads rookies who’ve played in at least 40 games in points and assists. There’s no need to overthink this one for the sake of a talking point.

MIP: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

I give Bam the edge over someone like Jayson Tatum because a) we are in the endtimes and I won’t pretend not to be a Heat fan and b) Tatum was a much more highly touted prospect, so his rise is a little less unexpected. I’ve said this a million times now, but Adebayo went from athletic curiosity to offensive fulcrum and one of the best defenders in the NBA. He impacts the game in myriad ways, and he’s arguably the most important player on a team that also includes Jimmy Butler. His leap since becoming Miami’s starting center has changed the Heat’s trajectory.

Sixth Man: Dennis Schröder, Oklahoma City Thunder

This may be a little bit of a swerve but I want to show the Thunder some love and give this award to Denis Schroder. The point guard leads all players who’ve come off the bench in at least 45 games in scoring. He’s an integral part of the Thunder’s best lineup. And unlike say Montrezl Harrel or Lou Williams, Schroder does not have the benefit of playing off two superstars. While Schroder may not be the center of attention on a team featuring Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, I find his impact to be more valuable—and of higher stakes—than some of his competitors. OKC’s surprising success is mostly due to Chris Paul, but Schroder’s steady play has also been hugely important.

Greg Nelson

Greg Nelson

Jeremy Woo

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks were the best regular-season team, and Giannis was arguably the best regular-season player. As much as I would like to recognize LeBron in some fashion.

COY: Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors

Toronto hasn’t really missed a beat without Kawhi Leonard, and Nurse has held it all together. For me, this is more a testament to what the Raptors have done as a team than simply foisting an award onto Nurse for the sake of it. There were people who thought they’d fall off in a big way, and that never happened.

ROY: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

This is an easy one. The only argument I would hear for Zion here would be if New Orleans found a way to overtake Memphis for the eighth seed. But Morant is for real, and highly deserving.

MIP: Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

I go back and forth between Ingram and Bam Adebayo here. I would argue that in Bam’s case, his breakout was much simpler to predict, simply from a minutes perspective and understanding what he brought to the table. With Ingram, both statistically and visually, there’s been a much more pronounced leap forward that nobody could have fully predicted. The uptick in efficiency, three-point shooting (from 33 to 38 percent on more than three times as many attempts is no joke), free throw shooting and overall productivity is pretty astounding for a player who was traded away from the Lakers facing a good deal of uncertainty. Ingram made the leap, and gets my vote here.

Sixth Man: Dennis Schröder, Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder exceeded expectations across the board this season, and Schroder stepped up in a major way off the bench as one of three natural point guards in their rotation. Honestly, I’m also just tired of voting for Lou Williams.

Elizabeth Swinton

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

While the NBA's future is filled with uncertainty, it is all-but-decided that Antetokounmpo has clinched his second-straight MVP award while leading the Bucks.

COY: Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors

Many coaches have led their teams to perform at higher levels than expected this season, but none have done so more than Nurse with the post-Kawhi Leonard Raptors.

ROY: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Ja Morant has earned Rookie of the Year as the Grizzlies have played themselves into the playoff picture.

MIP: Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

Meanwhile, Ingram has blossomed in his time with the Pelicans, raising his average six points in his fourth year after being included in the Lakers' Anthony Davis trade.

Sixth Man: Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers

Three-time Sixth Man Williams has helped the Clippers to the No. 2 spot in the West and has done an admirable job complementing Paul George and Leonard. How the NBA season will be decided is yet to be seen, but if it ended today, these five have earned their recognition.

Greg Nelson

Greg Nelson

Mark Bechtel

MVP: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

As discussed earlier, what sets LBJ apart from Giannis is the reinvention factor. At 35, he’s become a jacked-up Magic Johnson. We all knew Golden Years LeBron was going to be a point guard; I don’t know that anyone thought he’d be this good this soon, leading the league in assists and guiding a new-look team to a comfortable lead over their co-tenants in the West.

ROY: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies 

This one could have swung to Zion had the season carried on, but you can’t give the award to a guy who played 19 game—in which his team had a chance to make a run at the eight seed but made up zero ground on the team led by his competition. That competition is, of course, Morant, who has been brilliant running the Grizzlies’ effective-enough offense.

COY: Taylor Jenkins, Memphis Grizzlies 

Memphis was on pace for 40 wins, which would only be a seven-game improvement. But given that the team has traded its two cornerstones since last February and appeared to be in full-on teardown mode, what Jenkins has done has been nothing short of remarkable. This looked like a 20-win team coming into the season.

MIP: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat 

Brandon Ingram’ scoring numbers are sexier, but he left a team where he shared the court with LeBron James (in his pre-point guard phase) and joined one where the presumptive best player missed the first half of the season. Of course he was going to score more. That’s not to knock him; it’s just that Bam has added an offensive dimension while seamlessly fitting in with high-volume new guy Jimmy Butler.

Sixth Man: Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers 

Parsing this one is giving me a massive headache. Not because the arguments are complex, but because the fact that the top two candidates, Lou Williams and Harrell, are from the same team creates a sort of existential confusion and angst that I just can’t deal with now. How can they both be sixth men? The existence of each one as a sixth man negates the existence of the other in some sort of weird Schrödinger’s Cat offshoot. I’m half-tempted to DQ then both and give it to Dennis Schroder, but I’ll go with Harrell, because Williams always wins. Let him be the Seventh Man of the Year.

Michael Shapiro

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

LeBron James was charging hard to make this one a race with 20 games to go, but the gap is currently too wide to give the MVP to anyone but the Greek Freak. The Bucks were the best team in the league before the coronavirus suspension. Antetokounmpo was averaging nearly a point per minute. Awarding anyone else with the MVP would be frankly ludicrous with one month to go.

COY: Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat

The Heat's head coach was frankly underrated during the LeBron James era, but there's no mistaking how effective Spoelstra is, regardless of roster. The two-time champion has molded a group of underachievers into a strong, cohesive unit, one that is as tough as any Miami roster in recent memory. Watch the success of Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson, and it's hard to see anyone else winning this award.

ROY: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies 

Congrats to Zion Williamson for a dominant 19 games, but Morant ran away with this one before the No. 1 pick took the floor. One out of the box idea: delay the award! Give Williamson and Morant a full season to battle it out, then give out the Rookie of the Year. We can even double the trophy size for good measure. This could emerge as one of the West's great rivalries in the coming seasons.

MIP: Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

We always knew Ingram could score, but this is completely different player than the one we saw in Los Angeles. The silky scorer now gets to the line at a reasonable rate, shoots better from three and his overall shot diet is far healthier than previous seasons. Ingram and Lonzo Ball's development makes David Griffin's deal look better by the month.

Sixth Man: Dennis Schröder, Oklahoma City Thunder

Chris Paul gets the credit for reviving Oklahoma City, but the Thunder's sixth man has been instrumental in keeping his team in the playoff race. OKC's three-guard lineups–add Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to CP3 and Schroder–are outscoring teams by a whopping 28.6 (!) points by 100 possessions. Nobody will be looking to match up with the Thunder in the first round if we ever do resume the 2019-20 season.

jayson-tatum-robert-covington

Ben Pickman

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

As we discussed last week, Antetokounmpo likely has a slight lead over LeBron James in the overall MVP race.

COY: Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors

There a number of deserving candidates for Coach of the Year, from Frank Vogel to Erik Spoelstra to Taylor Jenkins, just to make a few. But prior to the stoppage, Nurse and the Raptors were the East’s second best team, which is a true testament to the culture he’s help build with the franchise. A number of Raptors have shown sizeable improvement and the defending champions still look true contenders despite losing Kawhi Leonard. 

ROY: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

While Zion Williamson has looked every bit as good as advertised since making his debut, the totality of Morant’s production thus far makes him the obvious choice. They are in the playoff picture largely because of his production

MIP: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

A number of players are deserving of Most Improved honors, including Luka Doncic, Pascal Siakam, Bam Adebayo and Brandon Ingram among others, but Tatum went from a 16 point per game scorer to 2018-19 to looking like one of the league’s elite players just before the stoppage.

Sixth Man: Dennis Schröder, Oklahoma City Thunder

The Sixth Man of the Year race also could go a number of ways, with both Clipper options being worthy candidates, but Schröder is having one of his best career seasons, playing an integral role on a 40-win Thunder team that has grossly over-performed preseason, public expectations.

Robin Lundberg

MVP: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
I think deep down we all know no player provides more value than LeBron James. And his ability to elevate a team to contender status has been on display again in L.A.. Yes they have Anthony Davis but he’s the sole creator for the Lakers and was leading the league in assists while scoring more than 25 a game when play was halted. Plus he’s doing it in the West. Do we believe the results would've been the same if literally anyone else was in his place? Giannis has been a beast but no one is more valuable than an in his prime LeBron. Incredibly he still is.

COY: Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors

Nick Nurse deserves some recognition for what he's done with the Toronto Raptors. After they won the championship, I doubt many expected them to hardly miss a beat, at least in the regular season, without Kawhi Leonard. Having the third best record in the NBA after losing their best player is an accomplishment for both the players and the coach.

ROY: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Zion Williamson was behind the curve starting the season injured. He won't be able to catch up without playing more games. Meanwhile Ja Morant has had an excellent rookie campaign in his own right complete with highlights and has put the Grizzlies in playoff contention.

MIP: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

When the season started I don't think anyone considered Bam Adebayo would be the key cog he is for a winning team like the Heat. Bam winning the Skills Competition was a public display of his improvement. The big man is a versatile piece for Miami and along with Jimmy Butler their most important one.

Sixth Man: Dennis Schröder, Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have been a surprise story on the season and while that is due in large part to Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroder has also played a key role off the bench. Oklahoma City's third guard has given them scoring punch scoring 19 points a game for the unexpected squad near the top of the West standings.