NBA Award Predictions 2019-2020

Staff contributors Joe Eckstein and Eric Fenstermaker make their picks for who will be taking home hardware this NBA season.

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Joe Eckstein and Eric Fenstermaker

After the most hectic offseason in recent memory, the 2019-2020 NBA season is primed to be one for the ages. For the next eight months, basketball’s finest will be showing off their talents nightly, duking it out for the coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy. Teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers have emerged as new favorites to bring home the title, while the usual suspects remain at play. But if your team isn’t fortunate enough to reach the zenith of basketball, perhaps someone on your favorite squad might bring home some individual hardware. Here are some predictions for who will be hoisting a banner come next season, as well as picks for MVP, Rookie of the year and other awards.

1. NBA Champion

Joe Eckstein: Los Angeles Clippers over Philadelphia 76ers; Kawhi Leonard Finals MVP

Last season, the Clippers went from a team on the brink of a rebuild after trading away Tobias Harris. They somehow managed to scrape up the 8th seed, only to face the powerhouse of the Golden State Warriors. Many were shocked to see Los Angeles take the Dubs to six games, despite not having a true superstar. Fast forward a couple of months. The Clippers have gone from an 8th seed to the best team in the loaded Western Conference. With the addition of both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, this team houses one of the best two-way duos in the league. Combine that with key role players like Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and Patrick Beverley, the title is theirs to lose. While Philadelphia houses one of the best defensive teams we’ve seen in years, the Clippers are able to go 12 deep, have arguably the two best perimeter defenders in the league, and quite possibly the best head coach in the league. The Clippers are no longer the little brother in L.A., and Kawhi is coming for the crown.

Eric Fenstermaker: Los Angeles Clippers over Philadelphia 76ers; Kawhi Leonard Finals MVP

When it comes down to it, Kawhi Leonard won the NBA Finals. Pascal Siakam and others contributed, but, ultimately, Leonard is the reason The Raptors have an NBA Championship. Leonard elevated an entire roster of perennial losers to NBA fame. Now, Leonard has a stacked roster and the chance to cement his legacy even further. The Clippers needless polishing than the 76ers and I think they will need less work to reach their best form. I think the series will go six games, but if the Clippers emerge after being tested all season in the Western Conference, they will find a way to get it done.

2.  Most Valuable Player

Eckstein: Nikola Jokić

While it may seem like an unorthodox pick compared to the usual favorites like the Hardens of the world, Nikola Jokić is the ringleader for the rise of European players in the league. With a game quite similar to the likes of Vlade Divac or Arvydas Sabonis, Jokić acts as the Denver Nuggets’ primary source of playmaking. With the ability to stretch the floor, the man simply known as The Joker is a triple-double threat every night he steps on the floor, posting 20-10-10 like it’s nothing. With players like Jamaal Murray and Gary Harris at his side, a deep bench, and solid coaching in Mike Malone, Jokić has the ability to lead Denver to a top-three seed. Defensively, Jokić is a step behind the pack of other centers in the NBA, but we have seen many former MVPs struggle on the other side of the ball. But with the direction the NBA is going in terms of sacrificing defense for floor spacing, Jokić should have no worries about his impact defensively with the work he does on the offensive end.

Fenstermaker: Stephen Curry

Steph Curry will have to do something that he hasn’t had to for many years: carry the team on his back. Yes, the Warriors have Draymond Green and D’Angelo Russell, but neither athlete is anywhere near the caliber of either Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant. Curry is in danger of missing the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference. The Warriors don’t have a prayer if Curry can’t perform at peak levels. Curry is a prolific scorer, and the Warriors can still pull off an upset or two, but not if their superstar can’t be that catalyst. Curry should have just enough support to register a tremendous statistical season, but it won’t be enough to get to a title.

3. Rookie of the Year

Eckstein: Ja Morant

After an incredible sophomore year at Murray State, Ja Morant could have been a possible number one overall pick if it weren’t for Zion Williamson. The Memphis Grizzlies were the beneficiaries of the explosive playmaker, who had dazzling highlights during the NCAA Tournament. Despite being in a loaded draft class, Morant looks to be more NBA ready than his peers. While his outside shot is in need of work, Morant possesses intangibles that most rookies take years to develop. His basketball IQ and playmaking are already at an elite level and can act as a great slasher with his above-the-rim play. He has the makings to be the next John Wall. While Zion and RJ Barrett both were more touted during their collegiate play, Morant looks to be a future star in the league, as well as the answer the Memphis Grizzles were in search of.

Fenstermaker: Ja Morant

Ja Morant exploded onto the scene with his high-flying dunks and crazy athleticism. After registering a blowout upset in the 2019 March Madness tournament, Morant became a top-3 lock in the upcoming NBA Draft. Even if Zion Williamson played the full season, which we now know he won’t, Morant is still the easy pick for ROTY. Morant joins the Memphis Grizzlies, and he is already the best player on the roster. Morant will rack up great numbers, and he will be the #1 option all season long to score for the Grizzlies. With his handles, speed, and court IQ, Morant is an offensive and defensive force. Morant will be a perennial all-star, and it starts with an incredible rookie year.

4. Defensive Player of the Year

Eckstein: Giannis Antetokounmpo

As an award that is mainly handed out to centers, Giannis acts as the Milwaukee Bucks’ best rim protector and their top perimeter defender. His 6’11, rangy build always him to disrupt layups and paint shots, as well as intercept and deflect passes. Giannis may not be the on-ball defender that Kawhi Leonard is, or the interior presence of someone like Rudy Gobert, but he can guard anyone one through five with no challenge. Averaging over one block and steal per game for his career and ranked second in defensive rating in 2018-2019 shows that Giannis is no stranger to wreaking havoc for opposing teams on the defensive end of the ball. He also is in the mix of some of the best rebounders in the league, which furthers his case.

Fenstermaker: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a terror when attacking the rim, but his powerful defense may be overlooked. Antetokounmpo is a great defender, and he is a dynamic rim protector and defender. He has enough quickness to stay with most guards, and his length is a major deterrent to passing lanes and cutters. His frame hampers opposing offensive systems, and he continues to improve defensively. I believe Antetokounmpo will make strides defensively next season, and despite not repeating as MVP, he will take home this prestigious award.

5. Sixth Man of the Year

Eckstein: Lou Williams

No one makes coming off the bench look any better than Sweet Lou Williams. As a three-time winner of the award in the past, Williams is no stranger to acting as instant offense the minute he steps on the floor. Averaging over 20 points per game the past two seasons for the Clippers, Williams leads one of the best bench units in the league alongside Montrezl Harrell, who also makes a case to win the award. Most players of Lou Williams caliber would scoff at the idea of coming off the bench, but instead, he has embraced the role. There are very few players who can drop 40 points any given night. Only Lou Williams can do it while coming off the bench.

Fenstermaker: Montrezl Harrell

Despite the fact he will get overlooked on a loaded Clippers roster, the Clippers need a player like Montrezl Harrell. Harrell adds a tremendous inside presence with both his scoring and defense. He averaged 16.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 1.3 BPG in just 26.3 MPG last season. The Clippers’ big man adds a much-needed presence off the bench, and he is an offensive and defensive playmaker every second he is on the court. Harrell is easily a starter on most NBA rosters, and it’s incredible to have an athlete like that not even starting.

6. Most Improved Player

Eckstein: Brandon Ingram

While Brandon Ingram may not have lived up to the expectations of the next Kevin Durant with the Los Angeles Lakers, the young small forward is in a new situation, with a brand-new role as scoring option number one. We’ve seen the potential, as Ingram has been branded as a professional scorer since his days at Duke. In his first four games this season, Ingram has averaged over 27 points per game along with nearly 10 rebounds. It may be early returns, but the player that was promised back in 2016 looks ready to prove naysayers wrong. It would also be a great comeback story after missing a chunk of the prior season due to blood clots. Alongside Lonzo Ball, Ingram has the ability to one of this season’s top bucket getters.

Fenstermaker: Markelle Fultz

Markelle Fultz was a #1 draft pick; his numbers, well, they don’t reflect that. Fultz had an incredibly underwhelming career with the 76ers. Fultz had tremendous confidence issues, and he even forgot how to shoot completely. Fultz is now with the Magic, and he has an opportunity to start over fresh this season. He is still incredibly athletic, and his workouts this offseason look promising.  This is easy because of how bad he has been. Fultz has the greatest range to improve. In an award titled “most improved,” Fultz has the widest range that he can improve. The sky is the limit for Fultz because he’s been scraping the bottom for a while.

7. Coach of the Year

Eckstein: Erik Spoelstra

Once again this might appear as an unorthodox pick, but Erik Spoelstra remains as one of the game’s best coaches. Many people might just look at Spoelstra’s career as a product of the Lebron-Wade-Bosh era, but he has proven himself in the past to take weaker teams further than expected. With great defensive schemes, Spoelstra looks to turn this year’s Miami Heat into a playoff contender. A good one at that. With Jimmy Butler as your number one option and solid depth with Bam Adebayo, Justice Winslow and rookie Tyler Herro, the Heat look to be a surprisingly legitimate team. And with Spoelstra at the helm of it all, Miami looks ready to give any team trouble every game.

Fenstermaker: Brett Brown

Brett Brown has the best roster the 76ers have seen in an incredibly long time. The Sixers have an incredibly tall and lengthy roster, and they also have the ability to improve greatly. Tobias Harris can improve his shooting. Ben Simmons, well, he needs to learn how to shoot. Joel Embiid needs to work on his health and continue to develop. Not only are the 76ers loaded with all-stars but also, they have young stars like Matisse Thybulle and Zhaire Smith. The 76ers compete in the Eastern Conference, which is much weaker than out West. The Sixers should only have one real opponent in the East to get past – the Milwaukee Bucks, – and after that, it should be smooth sailing. I don’t think Philadelphia has the best team in the league, but they should have the best record.