Which players and coaches will take home individual hardware in 2020? We’ll know soon enough. The NBA announced its award finalists Saturday, narrowing the field to three choices for MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year.
Saturday’s reveal didn’t produce many surprises with Giannis Antetokoumpo, James Harden and LeBron James highlighting the league’s three MVP finalists. Giannis and Harden were also finalists in 2019 along with Paul George of (at that time) the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Antetokounmpo, Harden and James each have strong claims to this year’s award. A four-time MVP (though he hasn’t won since 2013), James leads the league in assists (10.3 per game) while Harden is all but assured of his third straight scoring title. Meanwhile Antetokounmpo has arguably had a better season than he did a year ago when he won the award, becoming Milwaukee’s first MVP recipient since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974.
Giannis is also among the three finalists for Defensive Player of the Year. He finished runner-up to Rudy Gobert (who also won in 2018) for that award last year. Gobert and Lakers star Anthony Davis are the other two DPOY finalists.
Pelicans star Zion Williamson joins Ja Morant and Kendrick Nunn, who spent last year in the G League after going undrafted out of Oakland, as one three Rookie of the Year finalists for 2020. Zion has been tough to stop when healthy (22.4 points per game on fabulous 58.8-percent shooting), but his inclusion is somewhat surprising considering he’s appeared in just 23 games this season.
Two of the three Sixth Man candidates hail from the same team with “Lemon Pepper” Lou Williams (I’m doing everything in my power to make that nickname stick) and Clippers teammate Montrezl Harrell both up for the award. Coming off back-to-back wins, the 33-year-old Williams is hoping for a record fourth victory in the Sixth Man category.
The honor for NBA’s Most Improved Player will be waged between Bam Adebayo, Luka Doncic and Brandon Ingram, who were all first-time All-Stars in 2020. It’s hard to see anyone but Luka winning the award. The 21-year-old Slovenia native has been an absolute juggernaut for Dallas, ranking among the NBA’s top six in scoring (29.0 points per game) and assists (8.8) while also averaging over nine boards per game (9.4).
Mike Budenholzer of the Bucks won Coach of the Year in 2019, his second time winning the award after also claiming top honors with Atlanta in 2015. He stands a good chance of repeating in 2020, though don’t discount Toronto’s Nick Nurse or Billy Donovan of Oklahoma City, who has managed to keep the Thunder relevant despite losing Russell Westbrook and Paul George to offseason trades.
Shaquille O’Neal hosted the NBA Awards ceremony in Santa Monica last year, though with COVID-19 wreaking havoc across the country, a formal event appears unlikely in 2020. How players perform in the bubble won’t impact the awards, which are based on the regular season up to March 11th when the league shut down for the coronavirus.