Best of SI: Obscure Honors From the 2019-20 NBA Season
The NBA’s coronavirus suspension has put a slate of on-court conversations on hold, including those surrounding the end-of-year awards races. LeBron James was trying to chase down Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP, while Zion Williamson led a desperate charge at Ja Morant for Rookie of the Year. Both the Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year battles are filled with impressive candidates, with Toronto in position to steal both awards. If the world wasn’t in the midst of a pandemic, the end of the regular season would have provided great drama. A thrilling playoffs awaited.
We could still have a return to play for the 2019-20 season, but if we don’t get any more games, it’s time to hand out some hardware. Let’s dive into some end-of-season honors with The Crossover’s 2019-20 Alternative Awards.
Leap of the Year – Jayson Tatum, Celtics
The third-year forward is unlikely to win Most Improved Player, but Jayson Tatum’s leap for enticing scorer to near-superstar has been one of the key developments of the 2019-20 season. The Celtics stalled out in round two last year as Tatum and Jaylen Brown regressed, and swapping Kyrie Irving for Kemba Walker provided no guarantee of a return to the Eastern Conference finals. But with Tatum ascending to All-NBA status, the Celtics are now arguably the best threat to the Bucks in the East.
Tatum is shooting a hair under 40% from three this season, an impressive number considering his significant increase in attempts. But it isn’t just the percentages that separate this year’s Tatum from the 2018-19 version. Tatum’s free-throw rate has seen a solid uptick in 2019-20. 37.7% of his shot attempts are three pointers, up from 30% last season. The Duke product is an effortless scorer off the bounce, and his mid-range game is elite. There’s no need to eliminate that from his game. But Tatum has found a happy medium between comfort and efficiency.