The 2019-2020 Season’s ‘Unheralded’ NBA Award Winners
The races for NBA Awards officially ended on March 11, 2020, when the league was suspended due to players testing positive for COVID-19.
The league announced that seeding games will not factor into any of the end-of-regular-season awards. The decision certainly impacts some of the award races where multiple candidates are deserving of recognition for the award, but for the most part there are clear-cut favourites for each.
The favourites to win each award have been discussed over and over again, but there are many players, coaches, and executives that deserve to be recognized for the job they have done throughout the 2019-2020 season. The 2019-2020 ‘Unheralded’ NBA Award Winners will be comprised of players, coaches, and executives that will most likely not win the actual award, but still deserve to garner recognition when it’s time to vote on July 30.
Most Valuable Player
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Lowry has been the common thread among the Raptors resurgence during the 2010s, and was a key contributor to a memorable 2019 championship team. What Lowry has accomplished this past season is arguably the crown jewel in an incredible career. He, along with the defending champs defied all odds, maintaining one of the league’s top records despite the departure of Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
He upped his offensive production from last season, this year averaging 19.4 points, maintained his steady defensive play as he has drawn the most charges in the NBA (along with Montrezl Harrell), while also dishing out 7.7 assists. His stats certainly don’t jump out as an MVP-type season, but Lowry’s contribution to success is what supplements his case.
According to Basketballreference.com, Lowry is 19th in win shares and is the only Raptor among the league leaders in that category. The Raptors have maintained their success this season because Lowry’s veteran presence has proved invaluable, especially during the games where key rotation players were out due to injury, and Nick Nurse was forced to experiment with the younger and newer players on the bench.
Lowry, at his best is a player that anyone would want on their roster. Any team that is serious about competing for a title would covet the production and leadership Lowry brings to the hardwood, and he is certainly the most valuable player on a Raptors squad looking to repeat as champions without their former Finals MVP.
Luka Doncic, who will most likely win an MVP award at some point in his career. He had one of the greatest sophomore seasons in recent memory. Once the team success comes along it will be hard for him not to win the award.
Chris Paul, who has led a projected lottery team into the fifth-best record in the Western conference (prior to the restart), while also tying his former team, the Houston Rockets in the standings as a lead guard.
Rookie of the Year
Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies
Clarke has put together a terrific rookie campaign in Memphis, putting up solid averages of 12 points and 5.8 rebounds on an efficient 67% true shooting percentage. His teammate and fellow rookie Ja Morant will most likely capture the actual award, but Clarke’s contributions have been impressive as well.
It is also debatable that Clarke’s production should also warrant consideration for the Sixth-Man of the Year award, as he primarily came off the bench this season behind Jaren Jackson Jr. His production was key to Memphis’ surprise success, and he will without a doubt play a big part in the Grizzlies’ bright future.
Kendrick Nunn, who will most likely place second or third in the actual ROY race. He emerged as a scoring threat for a competitive Miami Heat team, and also surpassed Goran Dragic for the starting role. Nunn definitely deserves some votes for his contributions in South Beach.
Terence Davis II, who has cracked the rotation for the defending champs. His efficient play (similar to Clarke), along with his contributions to a winning team warrant his mention here, and he looks to be yet another diamond in the rough the Raptors have uncovered.
Defensive Player of the Year
Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Adebayo is one of the front-runners for the Most Improved Player award, but his defensive contribution is what is so intriguing about his game. At 6 foot 9, Adebayo isn’t the tallest centre, but he is one of the most mobile. He is able defend well in the post, utilizing his bruising strength, and he can also cover the perimeter with equal success, corralling guards and forwards alike.
His versatility on the defensive end is invaluable to Miami’s success, and will likely prove as an X-factor going into potential playoff matchups versus the Eastern Conference’s elite. Adebayo’s defensive ability is on full display, especially against MVP Favourite and DPOY favourite Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Marcus Smart, who continues to be a pest on the defensive end for the Boston Celtics. His hustle and activity, along with his versatility to defend guards and most small forwards is key to the Celtics’ success.
Ben Simmons, who led the league in steals this year. His ability as a versatile defender also deserves recognition.
Most Improved Player
Devonte Graham, Charlotte Hornets
Graham has surprised many around the league with his play this season. Upping his point average from 4.7 to 18.2 a game, he is one of the key offensive initiators and creators on the Hornets.
From being a bench player to starter-level contributor in one season is similar to the jump made by last year’s winner Pascal Siakam, and Graham’s production has been crucial for a team that lost its star player in the off-season.
Luka Doncic, who brought his game to new heights this year in a historic sophomore campaign.
Pascal Siakam, who continues to make leaps and strides in his game, as this year he became the Raptors’ number one option on offence.
Coach of the Year
Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder
Coach Donovan’s coaching career has been somewhat up-and-down, failing to meet high expectations for a Thunder squad that has featured the likes of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George. This season has validated his coaching pedigree, leading a Thunder team to the fifth seed in the wild Western Conference.
The Thunder also boast one of the most efficient three-man lineups with Chris Paul, Dennis Schröder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, on route to being one of the clutchest teams in the association. Beyond that, the Thunder also have their share of comeback wins this season. Safe to say Donovan and the Thunder have shattered the expectations experts had for them.
Erik Spoelstra, who continues to helm the consistently good Miami Heat. Spoelstra doesn’t always get the credit he deserves due to coaching the LeBron-led ‘Heatles,’ but he was able to transition from the big-three era so smoothly, and this season’s success is a testament to his coaching and leadership abilities being among the league’s best.
Sixth Man of the Year
Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons
Rose was one of the feel-good stories of last season, and this year he was one of the only bright spots for a disappointing Pistons team. His production off the bench this year on a per-36 minute average was a notch above his production during his 2010-2011 MVP season, according to Basketballreference.com and before Christian Wood’s emergence, Rose was the lone source of offence for the team.
Rose likely cannot beat out front-runners Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, or Lou Williams, but Rose definitely deserves consideration for returning to productive form while coming off of the bench.
Donte DiVincenzo, who was a solid contributor for the Milwaukee Bucks this season off the bench, and a big part in replacing the production that Malcolm Brogdon brought to team last season.
Executive of the Year
David Griffin, New Orleans Pelicans
Griffin was put in a tough situation when he was hired as the New Orleans Pelicans’ Vice President of Basketball Operations. A disgruntled Anthony Davis wanted out, and the future was looking bleak for the franchise. That all changed when the Pelicans landed the first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, signalling a youth-movement and rebuild.
After selecting a potentially generational talent in Zion Williamson, he helped engineer a trade which exchanged Davis for Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, and three first-round draft picks. The Pelicans then went out and traded for veteran big man Derrick Favors, and also signed sharpshooter J.J. Redick.
Despite missing Williamson for a majority of the season, the emergence of Brandon Ingram, along with contributions from their young players and veterans alike have them in the playoff hunt going into the Disney World Bubble. It’s amazing how much can change in a year, and with the moves Griffin and the Pelicans have made, it looks like their future for the next several years is set.
Lawerence Frank, who helped engineer the arrival of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the Clippers.
Sam Presti, who secured a TON of draft picks from the Clippers while also maintaining a competitive roster in the West.