By Cameron Buford, Whatsgoodinsports.com

It’s a well-known fact COVID-19 has severely hampered the 2019-2020 season of the NBA. The NBA was the first professional sports league to shut down due to the Coronavirus, and they have finally resumed their season, over four months later, on the campus of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Since their season restart, they have not recorded one positive test in the over 350 players and personnel that have taken up residence in “the NBA’s bubble of Orlando”.

Because of the uniqueness of the bubble scenario, the play of these final games will not impact the voting of the annual NBA Award nominations. Typically, the MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year Awards account for player’s performance throughout the entirety of the NBA Season, however, the league has announced players should only be considered for these awards based on their performances before the March 11 shut down.

The candidates for this season’s Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) Award are Utah Jazz Center Rudy Gobert, Los Angeles Lakers Center Anthony Davis, and Reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Jazz Center Gobert is a 3-time All-Defensive Team Member and is currently the 2-time defending DPOY. He has averaged 2.0 blocks this season along with being the consistent enforcer in the paint for the Jazz. Gobert is also third in Defensive Win Shares (which is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense) and third in Defensive Box Plus-Minus (which is a box score estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team). He is third only behind either of this season’s likely winner Antetokounmpo or Davis.

Lakers Forward Anthony Davis has been named All-Defensive Team Member 3 times as well as been named Block Champion 3 times, though he has never been awarded DPOY; before the season, he committed himself to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Davis finish this campaign with 2.4 blocks on the season; his versatility has also made him a force in the paint for the Lakers. A deeper dive into his season shows he has a Defensive Win Share of 4.5 this season and a 2.6 Defensive Box Plus-Minus, which is the highest of his career.

While both Gobert and Davis have had tremendous seasons, their overall impact on their teams hasn’t matched that of, Antetokounmpo’s. Giannis has shown the ability to guard everyone on the court, from point guards to centers. His Defensive Win Share total was the highest in the league at 5.0, and his 4.1 Defensive Box Plus/Minus was nearly twice as high as anyone else’s number in the league this past season. Once you couple these stats with a Win Share (An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player) number of 11.1, that is higher than Davis or Gobert and clinches who the league’s 2019-2020 Defensive Player of the Year should be, in my opinion.

The Rookie of the Year Award was pretty simple to decide this season. The Rookie of the Year Award should be a much easier decision this season. While newcomer Zion Williamson came into the league with more hype than LeBron James did his rookie season, due to injuries and/or load management, he didn’t play as many games and wasn’t nearly as impactful as the probable winner Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies Ja Morant. Zion played in 24 games in comparison to Ja Morant’s 65 games. Where Williamson averaged more points and rebounds per game at 22.5 and 6.3 to Morant’s 17.8 and 3.7, Morant averaged more assists per game at 7.2 to 2.1, while nearly doubling Zion’s Win Shares at 3.7 to 2.0 and playing more games throughout the season. Morant is the clear 2019-2020 NBA Rookie of the Year in my book.

Identifying the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year is much more subjective! My initial inkling would be to give the award to last season’s winner, Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakim, for the growth and development we’ve seen from him this season. Considering all of his numbers are up – points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals – not to mention his team has climbed to number 2 spot in the Eastern Conference, even after having lost Kawhi Leonard the 2020 Finals MVP from last season.

Since that’s never been done before, I’ll focus on Dallas Mavericks’ Point/Forward phenom, Luka Doncic, and New Orleans Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram are among the front runners for this award, however, here’s why I don’t think it’s much of a competition between the two.

Luka leads in each of the following categories: 24.7 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game, 7.3 assists per game, 1.1 steals per game, along with leading the Mavericks to the 7th seed in the tough Western Conference. While the pelicans are on the outside looking in on this season’s playoffs, Brandon Ingram’s averaging 16.9 points, 5.1 rebound, and 3.2 assists per game.

Upon looking into the advanced stats, Luka has a 23.3 PER (A measure of per-minute production standardized such that the league average is 15) in comparison to Brandon Ingram’s 13.5 PER. Pair that with a Win Share of 13.7 for Luka vs a 9.6 for Ingram, there’s not a comparison between their seasons.

Further evidence of this mismatch between Doncic and Ingram is seen in the improvements in their stats from last season to this season; Luka’s stats rose from 21.2 to 29.1 points per game, 7.8 to 9.5 rebounds per game, 6.0 to 8.9 assists per game in addition to a Win Share of 4.9 to 8.8 and a PER of 19.6 to 27.6. Whereas Ingram’s numbers went from 18.2 to 23.8 points, 5.1 to 6.1 rebounds, 3.0 to 4.2 assist per game before mentioning his PER growth of 13.4 to 18.8 and Win Share growth of 2.1 to 5.1 which are solid numbers and quality growth, just not award-winning compared to Luka’s growth.

This season’s Most Valuable Player Award is certainly a much tighter race. I think Lebron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the leaders in the clubhouse for Leagues Most Valuable Players Award this season, though Luka’s and James Harden’s accomplishments shouldn’t go unrecognized.

Harden is averaging 25.1 points a game, 5.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. His PER is 24.8, though that stat has him in this race is his 134. 7 Win Share total. However, coming into the final week of the season James Harden’s Houston Rockets have 44 total wins vs 51 wins for the Lakers and 55 wins for the Milwaukee Bucks’

Though these are very solid numbers from Harden, they pale in comparison to James’ and Antetokounmpo’s production this season. LeBron is averaging 27.1 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game and 7.4 assists per game in addition to 27.5 PER and a mind-blowing 236.4 Win Share. In comparison to Giannis’ 20.1 points per game, 8.9 rebounds per game, and 4.3 assists per game paired with 23.0 PER and 64.4 Win Share. In an unexpected twist, my research leans to LeBron James being named this season’s MVP due to his leadership untouchable 236.4 Win Share.

If there ever is a time for dual awards for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, it should be this season. Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams should be awarded for their production this season becoming the first teammates to win this award.

Where Mike Budenholzer deserves some consideration for The Coach of the Year Award for earning the league’s best record, Frank Vogel should also be considered for having the second-best record in the league and managing the league’s MVP. While I believe Budenholzer and Vogel deserve recognition and have their names thrown in the ring, I believe 2020 Coach of the Year Award belongs Toronto Raptors Nick Nurse for the job he’s done to get his team in the same position they were in last season without the 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and the playoffs dominance he showed before leaving in free agency.

When naming these awards winners, one needs to be objective. As I had Giannis initially for MVP, though while researching the data for this article, it’s fairly clear that LeBron James has earned his 4th MVP Award for his performance that past season. who does have to win these NBA postseason awards? Let me know if your mind changed after comparing the factual and objective stats provided. Also share your thoughts on which team has the best chance to be named champions this season, reaching out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or forward your thoughts to info@whatsgoodinsports.com.

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