USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt breaks down the race for every major NBA award this season, and who he thinks would win if awards were given out now.
Nothing is more important than everyone’s health and for the coronavirus outbreak to be contained.
The NBA learned that the hard way when the league continued play until Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. But once the NBA suspended its season for what commissioner Adam Silver said would be at least 30 days, the league, teams, players and fans pondered this question: Will the NBA eventually resume its season?
It appears more and more unlikely after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended Sunday that all gatherings of at least 50 people be canceled for the next two months.
Since NBA teams have suspended all team practices, it would make sense that even if the CDC gives a more hopeful recommendation after two months, a resumption of games would still be a ways off.
Let’s hope this virus is contained sooner. Should the NBA cancel the rest of its season, here are your regular-season award winners:
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
James maintained he did not care about this award just over a week ago. But James deserves what would be his fifth regular-season MVP honor.
I initially leaned toward voting for Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo because of how he has built on his 2018-19 MVP season and won the first head-to-head matchup against James this season. I changed my mind, though, after James out-performed Antetokounmpo in their second meeting 1½ weeks ago. Not only did James lead the Lakers to a win with his scoring and playmaking, he held Antetokounmpo to a combined 2-of-10 clip after defending him in the second half after Anthony Davis got in foul trouble.
I marveled at how James, 35, delayed Father Time in his 17th year after missing a combined 27 games last season because of a strained left groin, averaging 25.7 points per game and a league-leading 10.6 assists. But I also should have credited James more for his intangibles. James immediately empowered Davis, elevated his new supporting cast and supported coach Frank Vogel and his staff. James also helped bring the Lakers together following the death of NBA icon Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna.
Rookie of the Year
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
Sorry, Zion Williamson. The New Orleans Pelicans star should not receive this award after missing the first 44 games because of his injured right knee.
Sure, Williamson revitalized the Pelicans’ playoff chances by becoming the first rookie since Michael Jordan to have games of 20 points or more in 16 of their first 20 appearances.
But Morant has shown a larger body of work. Morant was on pace to become the fourth rookie guard in history to average at least 17 points per game while shooting at least 47 percent from the field, a feat that only Jordan, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson accomplished. He also had posted at least 20 points and 10 assists in seven games, something only Johnson, Chris Paul, Luka Dončić, and Trae Young did.
Defensive Player of the Year
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Davis had stated he wanted this award before the season started, and he has earned it in every way.
According to NBA.com’s tracking data, Davis held his opponents to a combined 38.5 percent from the field. He has ranked third in the NBA in blocks (2.4).
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And he has helped hold his teammates accountable on defense, including James a season after he was often disengaged on that end.
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What I’m Hearing: In a surreal decision the NBA suspended the season after it was discovered Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, otherwise known as coronavirus. Mark Medina details the nightmare day for the league.
Sixth Man of the Year
Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City Thunder
Behind Paul’s leadership and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s quick development, Schroder is arguably the third biggest reason why the Thunder has competed for a playoff spot instead of the draft lottery. Schroder has averaged a league-leading 19.1 points among reserves and has led his bench in scoring in 57 of 62 games.
Because of those numbers, Schroder is the biggest reason the Thunder bench outscored opposing team’s benches in 57 of its 62 games. Since Nov. 25, Schroder was also part of a five-man closing lineup that helped the Thunder go 25-5 in games decided in crunch time.
Coach of the Year
Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors
A season after winning the NBA championship, Nurse has helped the Raptors remain a title-contender despite the departures of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
It helped that the Raptors’ core roster of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet remained. But Nurse had to manage 15 different starting lineups to account for key injuries to Gasol (out 27 games), VanVleet (15), Ibaka (14), and Siakam (11). Despite those overlapping ailments, the Raptors cemented a franchise-record 15-game winning streak from January to February.
Most Improved Player
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
When he played for the Lakers in his first three NBA seasons, Ingram neither become burdened with the expectations nor did he become consumed with the city’s distractions. But Ingram should thank the Lakers they traded him to New Orleans as part of the Davis deal.
Ingram would not have had the right atmosphere needed to grow organically. Ingram was on pace this season to cement career-highs in points (24.3), 3-point shooting (38.7%), rebounds (6.3), assists (4.3) and minutes (34.8). After posting at least 17 points, five rebounds and five assists in a combined seven games through his first three NBA seasons, Ingram accomplished that feat 17 times this season.