The NBA awards are always hotly contested and the campaigns to win them feature fans arguing to their wit’s ends about who should take home each accolade.
Below, we break down which player on each team makes the best claim to win an end-of-year award for the 2019-20 season. In some cases, obviously, it’s the longest of shots.
TRAE YOUNG: MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
After a strong rookie campaign that nearly culminated in him securing Rookie of the Year, Trae Young followed that up this season by improving across the board, including averaging 10-plus more points per contest and taking major leaps in each of the most important advanced metrics.
Young averaged 29.6 points (fourth league-wide) and 9.3 assists nightly (second in the NBA) this season, making him just the fifth player in league history to post a campaign averaging 29-plus points and nine-plus assists per game. The only other guys to do it to this point are James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson and Tiny Archibald, making it a rather presitigous list Young would be joining.
Young’s absurd season wasn’t enough to improve the Atlanta Hawks much in the win column, but it was still one that deserved Most Improved Player consideration.
JAYSON TATUM: MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Following a slightly disappointing sophomore campaign relative to expectations, Jayson Tatum has made the jump this season that many thought he would last year.
On the year, Tatum is averaging 23.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest while leading the Boston Celtics to a Top 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. His defense has also taken a jump in 2019-20, as the Duke product uses his length and athleticism at a high level on the point-denying end of the floor.
Tatum’s leap as a player hasn’t been quite high enough to legitimately place him in the MVP conversation, though (he ranks merely 17th in Box Plus/Minus, or BPM, this year), so we went with Most Improved Player as what could have been Boston’s best shot at an individual award for 2019-20.
SEAN MARKS: EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Brooklyn Nets, featuring Kyrie Irving being in and out of the lineup due to injury, Kevin Durant not suiting up for a minute yet as he recovers from an Achilles tear and the team losing most of their rotation due to COVID-19 prior to hitting the bubble.
Even so, Nets general manager Sean Marks should be mentioned for Executive of the Year anyway after an offseason that saw him sign Irving, Durant and DeAndre Jordan, as well as extending Spencer Dinwiddie, which has given them a potentially elite nucleus for the 2020-21 season and beyond, depending on how Durant and Irving look returning from injury.
DEVONTE GRAHAM: MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Despite market size and the Charlotte Hornets team struggles this season, Devonte Graham legitimately makes a strong case for Most Improved Player, nearly as good as any, making it shocking that he wasn’t named a Top 3 finisher for the award.
As a rookie in 2018-19, Graham spent his time shuffling between Charlotte’s main roster and their G League squad, averaging 4.7 points and 2.6 assists during his time with the Hornets. This year, his numbers exploded, putting up 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per contest while shooting 37.3 percent from three. He’s one of just eight players this season putting up over 18 points and seven assists nightly, placing him on an elite list with some seriously talented company.
Opportunity and usage rate can partially explain that, but there’s no doubt Graham deserves a ton of credit for taking himself from being a fringe NBA player to one of the better young floor generals in the East. And if he were in a bigger market, he’d be getting a whole lot more national recognition from his borderline absurd Year-1 to Year-2 leap.
COBY WHITE: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
There’s no chance Coby White actually wins Rookie of the Year this season, not with the campaign put up by another elite young point guard in Memphis, but if we had to choose one person that gives the Chicago Bulls their best chance at an end-of-season award, it’s him.
White, a lightning-quick ball-handler with hops and a solid pull-up jumper, averaged 13.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists this year, shooting 35.4 percent of his outside opportunities.
It was a solid inaugural campaign for White – though maybe not a special one – and the future appears bright for the UNC product, who was merely 19 years old in his first season of NBA action.
COLLIN SEXTON: MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
It was a brutal season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, leaving us with few options as far as who gives them their best chance at an end-of-season award.
As such, we were pretty much just left with Collin Sexton and Most Improved Player as their likeliest potential match, though it’s not going to happen
Granted, Sexton did improve this campaign, upping his points per game (16.7 to 20.8), his steals per contest (0.5 to 1.0) and field-goal percentage (43.0 to 47.2 percent), just not nearly enough to receive Most Improved Player consideration.
LUKA DONCIC: MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Dallas Mavericks playmaker Luka Doncic is wrapping up one of the greatest sophomore campaigns in NBA history, averaging 28.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists per contest while shooting 46.1 percent from the floor, taking Dallas from a 33-49 season to firmly in the playoff picture this year.
His jump from Year-1 to Year-2 was impressive enough to shockingly put him in the Top 3 for Most Improved Player this season when many didn’t expect him to be among the main candidates for that award, since he was so good as a rookie anyway.
Regardless, Doncic is just the third player in league history to post a 28/9/8 season, joining Robertson and Westbrook on the list, and is the only player to do so in their age-20 campaign.
The Slovenian ball-handler isn’t a perfect product quite yet, averaging over four turnovers per game and shooting 31.2 percent from three but the fact he still has room for improvement speaks to how ridiculous his ceiling is. And even with room to grow, Doncic will still secure multiple MVP votes this season. Scary.
NIKOLA JOKIC: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Even with a slightly slow start to the 2019-20 season, Nikola Jokic has wound up posting a spectacular campaign overall, including averages of 20.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists nightly, to go with a very impressive 60.2 true shooting percentage.
Jokic ranks quite high in the catch-all advanced metrics, placing fifth in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), seventh in BPM and seventh in Win Shares (WS), making him a legitimate MVP contender and not just a good candidate from the Denver Nuggets.
He won’t win the award, but Jokic has without a doubt developed into one of the most valuable players in the league over the past few years.
CHRISTIAN WOOD: MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
After multiple seasons spent dominating at the G League level without getting much of an opportunity in the NBA, Detroit Pistons big man Christian Wood finally got his chance to shine this season, and he did not disappoint.
Wood, who averaged 5.3 points over 51 career games prior to 2019-20, put up 13.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in 62 appearances this season while shooting 38.6 percent from three, a very healthy mark for a floor-spacing power forward like him. What’s more, Wood ranks in the ‘excellent’ range as a spot-up shooter, as a pick-and-roll roller and on put-backs, per Synergy Sports, which speaks to the well-diversified nature of his game.
Wood’s athleticism, ability to handle the rock, intensity as a rebounder and shooting touch give him quite the ceiling, and the Pistons should do what they can over the next few rebuilding seasons to help him reach it.
Golden State Warriors
DRAYMOND GREEN: DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
The Golden State Warriors were without a doubt the worst team in basketball this season, making choosing a potential end-of-year award-winner for them nearly impossible, so we settled on Draymond Green and Defensive Player of the Year.
Green had a down year in 2019-20, clearly due to him taking it easy until Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson get healthy, but even so, the big man made a solid impact on the defensive end, averaging 0.8 blocks and 1.4 steals per contest.
For what it’s worth, Green did rank 16th in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) and 21st in steal rate this season, so it’s obvious he’s still got elite potential on the point-stopping side of the floor. It’ll probably present itself next year, when the Warriors are fully operational again.
JAMES HARDEN: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
The league’s leading scorer three years running, James Harden has put together yet another special season in 2019-20, pouring in 34.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game while sinking 86.1 percent of his 11-plus nightly free-throw attempts.
There have only been two 34/6/7 seasons in league history. They both belong to Harden.
And better yet, it’s translated to team success, as Harden’s Houston Rockets remain one of the most dangerous teams in basketball. With their new pure small-ball lineup strategy, they’re going to be one tough out come 2020 playoff time.
He probably won’t win the award this season, but Harden is set to receive another Top 3 finish in MVP voting for his 2019-20 contributions.
DOMANTAS SABONIS: MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Although they were originally dragged through the mud for their Paul George trade haul back in 2017, part of that haul, Domantas Sabonis, has developed into an All-Star player, making the deal look much more even than it originally appeared.
This year, Sabonis averaged 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists per contest before going down to injury, and he has looked every bit the low-post scoring, rebound-vacuuming, distributing big man that many thought he could become coming out of Gonzaga.
There may be are other, better candidates for Most Improved Player this season, but any time a player goes from a solid complementary piece and turns into All-Star one campaign to the next, they deserve consideration for that award.
Los Angeles Clippers
LOU WILLIAMS: SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams has had a stranglehold on Sixth Man of the Year for the last two seasons – and 2019-20 might not be any different, as the undersized bucket-getter continues to produce at a high level for a reserve. We already know he finished Top 3 in voting for the award.
Williams is pouring in 18.5 points and 5.7 assists per game this campaign, and doing so for one of the best teams in basketball, which makes his case even stronger.
It won’t be a cakewalk for Williams to take home Sixth Man of the Year as it has been in seasons prior, however. He’ll have competition from his teammate, Montrezl Harrell, who Williams says should share the award with him this season, and from another high-scoring reserve guard in Oklahoma City.
Los Angeles Lakers
LEBRON JAMES: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
He may not be the player he was at his absolute athletic peak anymore, but LeBron James is still one of the very best basketball players in the world, one whose 2019-20 campaign has been nothing short of masterful.
James leads the league in assists this season at 10.4 and is also putting up 25.4 points and 8.0 assists nightly while shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor. What’s more, his Los Angeles Lakers earned the West’s No. 1 seed and boast a 73.9 percent win rate through 69 games.
Sure, James has been aided a bit this year by having arguably his most talented teammate ever in Anthony Davis, who has a case in his own right for MVP, but No. 23 is still the engine that makes L.A. go. Even so, it probably won’t be enough for James to win the award, who faces steep odds to take MVP back from a certain wing in Milwaukee.
JA MORANT: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
The heavy betting favorite to win Rookie of the Year, and rightfully so, Ja Morant has produced one of the most breathtaking first-year campaigns by a young point guard in league history.
Not only is he lightning quick in the open floor and a fantastic table-setter for teammates, he’s also able to throw down outrageous, awe-inspiring dunks that shouldn’t be possible for a player generously listed at 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds. Morant’s been so exciting that the rookie-season comparisons between he and former league MVP Derrick Rose are more than warranted.
Morant is one of just seven players in NBA history to average at least 17 points and seven assists as a rookie, a list that includes Robertson, Magic Johnson and Allen Iverson, so expectations on him are going to be massive going forward.
BAM ADEBAYO: MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
If it weren’t for a certain swingman in New Orleans, Miami Heat big man Bam Adebayo would be this season’s runaway favorite for Most Improved Player.
Yes, he’s received greater opportunity this season, leading to a huge jump in his individual statistics, but still, there’s no doubt Adebayo has greatly improved every offseason since he reached the NBA, and that was especially true heading into 2019-20.
Adebayo is posting career-best marks across the board this campaign, in points (16.3), rebounds (10.5), assists (5.1), steals (1.2) and blocks (1.3). In addition, Adebayo’s game is super unique in that he can handle the ball and run a fast break as a big man, create plays for others and defend nearly every position on the court.
An argument could even be made that he, the third-year center, is Miami’s most important player, not his All-Star teammate, Jimmy Butler. Adebayo has been that good.
GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
For the second year running, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the big favorite to win Most Valuable Player, and it’s easy to see why.
Not only is Antetokounmpo one of the most disruptive lockdown defenders in the sport (he’s one of the two top candidates for Defensive Player of the Year this season, along with Anthony Davis), an elite rebounder and a solid playmaker, he also pours in nearly 30 points per game for good measure.
Few players in league history come close to matching Antetokounmpo’s nightly impact, as he – along with Chamberlain and Baylor – is one of just three players ever to post a 29/13/5 stat line for an entire season. For what it’s worth, those two legends did it in a less competitive, higher paced era of the NBA, too.
In all, it’d be a huge upset if Antetokounmpo wasn’t named 2019-20 MVP.
JARRETT CULVER: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
A miserable campaign for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2019-20 made it nearly impossible to pick an even theoretical end-of-year award candidate for them, so we were left with no choice but to go with Jarrett Culver as Rookie of the Year.
In reality, Culver won’t pick up a single first-place vote for the award, but that doesn’t mean his inaugural campaign was all that bad.
His first season was actually somewhat solid, as the defensive-minded guard/swingman was a respectable defender off the bat this season thanks to his length and athleticism, and he threw down the occasional eye-catching dunk throughout the year to capture our attention, too.
Culver finished 2019-20 averaging 9.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest.
New Orleans Pelicans
BRANDON INGRAM: MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Most people’s favorite to win Most Improved Player for 2019-20, Brandon Ingram was finally able to solve the issues with consistency that plagued him during his Lakers tenure to become a high-scoring, do-everything wing for the New Orleans Pelicans.
From being a player the advanced metrics graded extremely poorly through his first three seasons to being an All-Star this year, Ingram’s transformation has been awesome to watch unfold. Ingram turning into an accurate high-volume three-point shooter (he’s making 38.5 percent of his 6.3 three-point looks this season) has probably been the most important factor in his recent growth.
One of just eight players posting a 24/6/4 stat line in 2019-20, on a list with elite company, the sky is the limit for the player who is still merely 22 years old.
New York Knicks
RJ BARRETT: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
The advanced metrics paint an ugly picture of RJ Barrett’s rookie season, with a 521st ranking (not a typo) in Value Over Replacement Player, a 184th ranking in Box Plus/Minus and a 187th ranking in Win Shares per 48 Minutes.
But his raw statistics – 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists – weren’t quite as bad, and as long as Barrett is able to improve his finishing in the paint and outside shooting accuracy, he should blossom into a solid wing for the New York Knicks.
For what it’s worth, Rockets superstar James Harden spoke highly of Barrett back in March:
Players are usually pretty good scouts of their peers, too, so no need to panic about Barrett’s slow start just yet.
Oklahoma City Thunder
DENNIS SCHROEDER: SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
If Williams or Harrell aren’t this season’s Sixth Man (or Men) of the Year, then the honor will in all likelihood go to Oklahoma City Thunder backup guard Dennis Schroeder. He’s already been announced as a Top 3 finisher for the award.
The German floor general has been excellent coming off the bench for the Thunder, averaging 18.9 points and 4.0 assists while shooting 37.9 percent from beyond the arc. With him on the floor, Oklahoma City is actually 8.4 points per 100 possessions better as a team than they are when he sits, which goes to show the huge impact he’s making as a reserve.
Schroeder gives the Thunder an outstanding three-guard rotation including Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a trio that has pushed the Oklahoma City firmly into the Western Conference playoff picture in a season when many thought they could potentially tank.
JONATHAN ISAAC: DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Two major knee injuries derailed Jonathan Isaac’s 2019-20 campaign, which is truly unfortunate considering the season he was having before going down.
His scoring remains a work in progress, but Isaac has blossomed into one of the league’s top defenders as a member of the Orlando Magic, with elite instincts when jumping passing lanes (1.6 steals per game) and when protecting the paint (2.3 blocks nightly). The advanced metrics agree, as Isaac’s +2.9 Defensive Box Plus/Minus would rank third league-wide if he played enough minutes to qualify, trailing just Antetokounmpo and Kris Dunn.
Capable of defending multiple positions despite his thin frame, Isaac will still likely receive All-Defensive team honors once the season wraps up, though Defensive Player of the Year came just out of reach.
BEN SIMMONS: DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
The league-leader in steals per game at 2.1 nightly, Ben Simmons is the total package defensively.
Simmons is strong with quick feet and long arms, gives all-out effort on the less glamorous end of the floor and capable of defending all five positions without a problem.
Partially thanks to him, the Philadephia 76ers have improved to seventh defensively this season (they were 14th last year), per defensive rating, and though he won’t win Defensive Player of the Year this season, he should be a lock for a spot in one of the two annual All-Defensive teams.
MONTY WILLIAMS: COACH OF THE YEAR
It likely won’t happen, especially since what happens in the bubble won’t be taken into account for the voting, but Monty Williams deserves some love for Coach of the Year after what he’s done in his first season with the Phoenix Suns.
Though the roster has improved a good amount, Williams has helped Phoenix begin to take the next step as a team in 2019-20 by empowering his players and putting them in the position to succeed.
In Year-1 with Williams at the helm, the Suns have a 44.3 percent win rate, their best mark since 2014-15, and a huge jump from their 23.2 percent win rate last season. If Williams is able to get Phoenix to make a similar jump in 2020-21, they’ll be in the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10 and Williams will get serious Coach of the Year consideration.
Portland Trail Blazers
DAMIAN LILLARD: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Arguably the best point guard in basketball today, Damian Lillard’s brilliance has continued into this season, where he’s averaging 28.8 points (No. 6 league-wide), 4.4 rebounds and 8.0 assists (No. 6 mark in the NBA) per game with a 61.6 true shooting percentage, an absolutely unreal mark considering the average degree of difficulty on his shot attempts.
If it weren’t for Lillard, there’s a good chance the Portland Trail Blazers’ season would have fallen apart prior to even reaching the bubble, so their losing record this campaign shouldn’t be held against the team’s explosive lead guard.
DE’AARON FOX: MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox has followed up a strong sophomore campaign with a slight improvement in 2019-20, seeing minor increases in his Win Shares per 48 minutes and Box Plus/Minus this season.
On the year, Fox is averaging 20.8 points and 6.7 assists per game, making him the third-youngest player to average at least 20 points and six assists this season.
The Kings may be on their way to missing the playoffs for a 14th-straight year, but at least they now have a piece in Fox to build around.
San Antonio Spurs
GREGG POPOVICH: COACH OF THE YEAR
Gregg Popovich won’t win Coach of the Year, but the San Antonio Spurs didn’t leave us many other candidates to win an end-of-year award, so we had to go with him.
Popovich, a three-time Coach of the Year, most recently in 2013-14, has done a great job this season by getting a lackluster Spurs roster just outside of the playoff picture with a chance to sneak into the postseason depending on how their last few games shake out.
Losing Kawhi Leonard was a massive blow to San Antonio’s chances of contention for the foreseeable future, so for Popovich to have them even in playoff contention is impressive in its own right.
NICK NURSE: COACH OF THE YEAR
On the other hand, there’s another coach in Nick Nurse who also had to deal with losing Leonard, except he has his team, the championship-contender Toronto Raptors sitting second in their conference with a 48-19 record.
The NBA Coaches Association held their own vote for Coach of the Year, and they went with Mike Budenholzer and Billy Donovan. Nonetheless, there’s a good chance the media vote goes differently, as according to our polling, Nurse should receive a strong majority of the first-place vote.
And he deserves it, as the job he’s done to keep Toronto in legitimate title contention – despite losing Leonard and the team making just minor signings to replace him this year – has been nothing short of incredible.
RUDY GOBERT: DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year the last two seasons, Rudy Gobert is certainly in the running to win the award in 2019-20, but he faces stiffer competition and makes a less convincing case than in years prior.
For starters, the Utah Jazz’s defense in 2017-18 and 2018-19, the two seasons Gobert won the award, ranked first and second in points allowed per 100 possessions, respectively. This year, they’re down to a disappointing (by their standards) ninth. That’s not good enough for a Utah team with a rim-protector like Gobert on their roster.
In addition, a player like Antetokounmpo, whose Bucks team is first in defensive rating this season behind his insane contributions on that end of the floor, is a tougher foe for Defensive Player of the Year than Gobert has ever faced.
Gobert, still 28 years old and in his prime, will have more chances to win the point-stopping accolade in the future. It just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this season, even though he did finish Top 3 in the voting for the award.
BRADLEY BEAL: MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal has been downright elite for the past few seasons, but this year is the first time we’ve seen him go from All-Star to All-NBA-caliber player.
His campaign wasn’t nearly enough to vault him into the MVP race, but according to our poll, he could be in the running for a 2nd Team All-NBA spot, which is an improvement from last season to this one for the talented 2-guard.
As such, we went with Beal as Most Improved Player as Washington’s best shot at an end-of-season award, even though it’s not that likely to happen, since he was already so good prior to this campaign.