The Sam Smith 2019-20 NBA Awards

The NBA is back. Remember the NBA? You know, James Harden dribbling 14 times between his legs before faking being fouled? Just jokes; stay off Twitter! Sports is reappearing and that's time for a smile. Perhaps not for the Bulls, who with the other bottom seven teams from the March 11 pause of play have been ordered to continue sheltering in place. The rest of the NBA has decamped to the happiest place on earth. No, not Finland, which generally wins that happiest country rating. Disneyland, where the NBA is conducting its version of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party ride starting this week with inter-squad scrimmages commencing Wednesday. And then a series of eight games that are not regular season but not playoffs before the playoffs start August 17. Assuming, you know, no fever and cough. With maybe or maybe not a play-in game for eighth place. Depending, of course, if Zion gives his permission.

And away we go…Most of them, anyway.

The NBA did finally decide officially the regular season ended with Rudy Gobert's touchy-feely evening. Which does seem like a season ago. Still, there's much unfinished business, like 76ers internal discord, Kyrie Irving's reflections on his latest trip outside the earth's atmosphere and who the heck decided the Washington Wizards still should be playing. And, by the way, what happened to those regular season awards?

The NBA reminded everyone last week we still haven't debated why LeBron was cheated out of another Most Valuable Player award. So it's time to announce those winners with voting to be completed by the July 30 restart.

Which is only fair given that Ian Mahinmi and Jabari Parker don't get to enhance their MVP prospects with Bismack Biyombo not playing.

The Bulls actually could get one winner. The official individual season statistics will include the eight so called seeding games leading to the playoffs. Kris Dunn is second in steals behind Ben Simmons. There's been talk of Simmons playing power forward and shooting more-especially from Joel Embiid—so maybe his steals diminish. The other individual champions figure to be Harden scoring, Andre Drummond rebounding, LeBron assists and Hassan Whiteside blocks.

So the 2019-20 NBA awards. Unofficial.

Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks.

This will be the most debated even though there really shouldn't be much debate. Khris Middleton is his best teammate and they led the league in wins again, in winning margin, in pregame dancing. But given the average American's—media included—attention span is now about as long as it takes Twitter to change headlines, LeBron leaped into the lead among many with a televised Friday/Sunday home sweep of the Bucks and Clippers. That the Lakers next were outplayed in their last game by Caris LaVert and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and lost doesn't matter since it wasn't on national TV. LeBron's had a remarkable season settling more into a facilitating role and leading the league in assists. The Lakers with the West's best record are a surprise. So you can make a LeBron MVP case. Just that Giannis has been remarkably consistent and dominating all season with the winningest team. LeBron gets second place. And he has won four MVPs. That's right. It was Derrick Rose who stopped him in his prime. Harden doesn't make my top five. Heck, Russell Westbrook was better the last two months. I've got Chris Paul third getting that Oklahoma Thunder team tied with the Rockets, Luke Doncic in his first top five vote before he actually starts to win the award and Nikola Jokic fifth. Kawhi just takes too many games off to be the winner.

Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies.

Seriously, you can't put Zion in the top three even though he already doesn't need a last name. He doesn't even qualify in NBA statistical categories having played just 19 games because of injury. Though he'll end up likely second in the voting after a rookie scoring high for this season. But this season was a long time ago. Morant had a slow start. But the Grizzlies quietly may have had the most surprising season, eighth in that "powerful" West ahead of the Spurs and Trailblazers (Warriors, too). Quick, name another Grizzly other than Smoky. Did you know Dillon Brooks was their third leading scorer? And Memphis wasn't even sure which Brooks they had in that aborted three-team trade last year. Or someone didn't. The runner-up should be Simeon's and Illinois' Kendrick Nunn, another remarkable story for the season he had with Miami after being undrafted. Coby White deserves some consideration, at least for being rookie iron man and not missing a game. But the Bulls didn't let him play—or start—enough and third probably should go to RJ Barrett for having to endure the Knicks and that roster as their latest hope.

Defensive Player of the Year: Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers.

There's a lot of sentiment this season or whatever season we're actually in for Anthony Davis. Perhaps because he'll never get the MVP now with LeBron on his team. Finally the overrated Gobert goes off the list because so many are mad at him about trying to infect everyone's tape recorders. Though having engendered sympathy for the media does seem worthy of some award. This is another of those awards subject to varying definitions. Defense cannot be aggregated like offense. If rebounds, blocks and steals were the measure, it would be Andre Drummond, who is top 10 in all three and top five in rebounds and steals. Though he also eases through a lot of games. I prefer the individual defenders who take on the toughest players, like Jordan and Pippen did, and now players like Leonard. LeBron used to, though occasionally. Now rarely, though he can be excused with everything he has to do including making up new dance and handshake routines. Not sure where that goes now, which is a whole other reason to watch the NBA's return. Kawhi's the only player I ever saw who took Jimmy Butler out of his game. Probably Marcus Smart second and then Kris Dunn before Patrick Beverley. Though the Bulls didn't win much and Dunn won't get many votes, he took on the best players and had an impact. But that's the problem with being a great defensive player on a bad team. If you lose by 12 instead of 25, you still lose and no one notices how many points you saved.

Sixth Man: Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers.

We just got tired of giving it to Lou Williams, who's won three of the last five and two straight. Sixth man also can be complicated because, yes, they don't start. But they're often not exactly reserves since Williams generally finishes games and often has been the prime scorer at the end of games. Harrell doesn't fit the classic definition of the scorer to supply bench support. Though the first winner, Bobby Jones, wasn't that type of player, either. You like to give some recognition to a fierce player like Harrell, who doesn't fit many categories. Oklahoma City's Dennis Schroder is the favorite as the league's leading scorer off the bench. Though he really plays starter minutes at more than 30 and about the same as Chris Paul. I'd go with him second and Derrick Rose third. It's a remarkable transition for a former league MVP. Rose was fourth in bench scoring and averaged more points per game than Schroder in five fewer minutes.

Most Improved Player: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

This should be good news for Wendell Carter Jr. What, you can't be like that guy? There's multiple definitions of this award as well. Some measure improvement of great to really great, like with Luka Doncic. Though I tend to eliminate top three draft picks because they supposedly had the superstar potential already. I prefer the guys who you can't believe are doing what they are doing. Brandon Ingram made that Luka jump to many this season and is considered a favorite. But he also was that high draft pick. Some would favor Pascal Siakam. Can you most improve two straight. Who expected Adebayo to be an All-Star? Though I almost would put another Miami player ahead, Duncan Robinson. Here's the from nowhere guy, Division III and undrafted into the starting lineup and averaging double figures. Heck of a scouting job Miami did. Then another from nowhere guy, Charlotte's Devonte' Graham, third just before Shai Gigeous-Alexander.

Coach of the Year: Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors.

Heck, I wasn't even sure they were a playoff team. OK, I did think they might tank the season after losing Leonard. But Nurse from Iowa City of the D-league has been very impressive in a tough spot, the surprise replacement for a successful coach in Duane Casey. And no one's come up with as good a plan to defend Giannas as Toronto did in last year's playoffs. I go with Erik Spoelsta next as he gets to coach without LeBron and the Others and has shown how good he is. Then Nate McMillan for somehow continuing to keep the Pacers highly competitive.


  • First team: LeBron James, Chris Paul, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic.
  • Second team: Pascal Siakam, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler.
  • Third team: Bradley Beal, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid, Zach LaVine.