Every season, the NBA hands out hardware for Regular Season achievements, ie. MVP, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, etc. And every year, there are snubs for certain awards, as well as teams/players that don’t get the recognition they deserve, whether good or bad.
It’s time to add some alternative awards to recognize the teams and players that earned some recognition.
The Biggest Surprise of the Season: Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC was expected to be a borderline playoff team by optimists. Just about everyone else saw them as a lottery team looking to trade away their vets. This team was coming off a devasting 1st round loss, followed by a loss of 2 Star players in Paul George and Russell Westbrook.
They only returned 8 players from last season’s roster, none of which were All-Stars. George and Westbrook were essentially swapped for Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Not a terrible haul, but definitely a downgrade from the star-power they had on the court.
The team was now guard-heavy and filled with awkward fitting puzzle pieces. Paul was expected to somehow be dealt away by All-Star break (despite his monstrous contract).
Steven Adams was also rumored to be on the move as he didn’t seem to fit OKC’s rebuilding timeline, despite being only 26 years old. Gilgeous-Alexander was the lone promising player they had, along with a plethora of 1st round picks they now held. Fast forward to March, and this lottery-bound team is 40-24 and tied with the Houston Rockets for the 5th-seed in the Western Conference. No one can truly say they saw this coming.
Honorable Mention: Memphis Grizzlies
The Biggest Disappointment of the Season (Team): Minnesota Timberwolves
This award was a little tough to decide. Several 2019 playoff teams have underperformed this year (76ers, Trail Blazers, Spurs), and a few teams were expected to improve upon last year’s performances (Kings, Suns, Hawks). But the Timberwolves fit this award the best.
Karl-Anthony Towns, entring his 5th season and receiving a massive contract extension, and Andrew Wiggins, once again expected to put things together and become a star wing he was drafted to be. That is a pairing that should have been good enough to help make the Wolves a playoff contender. Add in a solid 3-and-D forward in Robert Covington and several solid role players like Gorgiu Dieng, Josh Okogie, and Jeff Teague, and you have a team that should surely be in the 38-45 win vicinity. Instead, the Wolves are 12.5 games out of the 8th spot and on a 6-game losing streak before the hiatus.
Towns has only played 35 of the team’s 64 games, which you’d think would be the primary cause of their poor record. But they are 10-25 in games he has played this year; not a promising start to Towns’ extension years. The team finally moved on from Wiggins and parted ways with Covington, Teague, and Dieng. They were able to bring in Towns’ longtime friend D’Angelo Russell and also brought in a resurged Malik Beasley. Yet this team is still a huge disappointment; landing them the title of Biggest Disappointment.
Honorable Mention: Philadelphia 76ers
The Biggest Disappointment of the Season (Player): Mike Conley
Mike Conley has long been dubbed as one of the NBA’s most underrated players. He’s never made an All-Star team, even after averaging 20.5 points and 6.3 assists in 2016-2017. He’s known as a high impact PG that does all the right things with little to no flash to his game. So when the Jazz landed him this offseason, many believed the Jazz had found a perfect backcourt mate for a young and promising Donovan Mitchell.
Conley started this season with some of the worst performances we’ve ever seen from him. Through his 1st four games of the season, Conley averaged 7.8 points, 4.3 assists, and 2.8 turnovers on 20% shooting from the field and 15% from 3. Although he was able to improve those numbers as the season went on, he never returned to the player the Jazz believed they were receiving to help make a title push.
He was able to raise his season Field Goal shooting above 40% 4 games before season’s end, capping off a highly disappointing season for the 13-year vet.
Honorable Mention: Kyrie Irving
Empty Stats King: Andre Drummond
Rebounding the basketball is Drummond’s big claim to stardom in the NBA. He led the NBA in rebounds per game (15.2) for the 3rd straight year (4 of the past 5 years) and put up a career-high in points per game with 17.7. Yet we’ve only seen Drummond and the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs twice since he’s been on the team. It took career-best numbers from Reggie Jackson, along with Tobias Harris figuring out his game, for the Pistons to reach the playoffs in 2015-2016.
The 2018-2019 playoff Pistons were led by Blake Griffin and his career-high 24.5 points per game. Drummond’s numbers those years? 15.5 points and 14.7 rebounds. His numbers in the non-playoff years? 14.1 points and 13.8 rebounds. And those numbers are dragged down by his rookie season playing behind Greg Monroe.
Right before the All-Star break, the Pistons traded Drummond away to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a minimal return. Despite Drummond’s rebounding numbers and career-high in scoring, teams weren’t willing to give up any valuable pieces to land the big man. His ineffective numbers coupled with rumors of him desiring a max contract this offseason led to a very small market. To be fair to Drummond, the Cavs did manage to go 4-4 in games that Drummond played, while the Pistons went 1-12 in his absence.
Honorable Mention: Trae Young
Mr. Underrated: Dennis Schroder
Every year, ESPN and several other sports news outlets release their rankings for the top 100 players leading into the season. And every year, Schroder is either unlisted or ranked in the 90s (peaked at #80 on Sports Illustrated’s 2018-2019 rankings). Meanwhile, Schroder has averaged 17.8 points and 5.2 assists in his past 4 seasons; 2 of which were as a backup PG behind Russell Westbrook (‘18-’19) and Chris Paul (‘19-’20).
This season, Schroder served as one of the catalysts for OKC’s surprising season. He managed to average 19.0 points and 4.1 assists off the bench and also hit several game-winning shots for the Thunder. We’ll have to wait and see if Schroder gets any consideration for Sixth Man of the Year, or if he gets any higher on any 2020-2021 Top 100 NBA Player Ranking lists, but Schroder deserves recognition for his play this season.
Honorable Mention: Serge Ibaka
Best Addition of the Year: G Kendrick Nunn
The Miami Heat started the season 24-9. Though many expected them to surprise the league and be able to compete for a lower seed in the East, no one saw the Heat landing at the 4th seed in the East. The team features several overachieving players, but Kendrick Nunn may just be the best overachiever on the roster; sorry Duncan Robinson.
Nunn went undrafted in the 2018 NBA draft and went on the scorch the G-League before making noise with the Heat summer league team. Even with those solid performances, Nunn wasn’t expected to perform this well for a now-contending Heat team. Nunn managed to capture the starting PG positioned over the higher profile Goran Dragic and started all 62 games that he played this year (out of Miami’s 65 total games).
Nunn’s ability to get to the rim and finish as a 6’2 combo guard impressed NBA fans around the globe. That, combined with his shooting touch (mid-range and from 3), made Nunn one of the most impressive rookies of the season. The one setback that Nunn seems to have had this season is his performances on the road versus his performances at the AmericanAirlines Arena.
Nunn seemed to be a completely different player on the road. At home, he averaged 17.3 points on 47.9/40.2/89.3 shooting splits. On the road, those numbers slipped to 14.2 points on 42.1/32.6/75.0 shooting splits in only 1 less minute per game. Either way, Nunn proved to be a great find by the Heat scouting department.
Honorable Mention: Bojan Bogdanovic
Ja Morant, Zach LaVine, LeBron James,
Zion Williamson, Giannis Antetokounmpo
This year was filled with thousands of posters, ankle breakers, passes, and game-winners. But these 5 players seemed to be the most consistent highlight reels through the season. Yes, Zion Williamson only managed to play 19 games this season, but he easily had some of the most impressive highlights of the season in his limited time on the court. He exhibited power with his explosive dunks, blocks, and snatch-away rebounds. And also exhibited finesse with his crafty layups and improving post-moves.
Ja Morant entertained us with several coast-to-coast finishes, ankle-breaking dribbles, and nifty passes. He also hit several big shots in his rookie season. Some of his most impressive, jaw-dropping plays weren’t even completed (attempted fly-over dunks over Kevin Love and Anthony Davis).
Zach LaVine put together an impressive 2019-2020 season, filled with several Vince Carter-Esque dunks. Whether on the break of darting through traffic, LaVine finished his dunks with finesse and authority. The 2 vets in this highlight team impressed in several ways as well.
LeBron re-ignited talks of Lakers’ showtime basketball with this flashy passes and powerful dunks. Meanwhile, Giannis continued to drive through defenders and posterize anyone attempting to stand in his way.
Honorable Mention: Derrick Jones Jr.
Early Draft Bust Candidates (Lottery):
Tie - Romeo Langford & Cameron Johnson
The Boston Celtics selected Romeo Langford 14th overall largely due to his potential and not for what he immediately adds to the team. Langford had a nearly impossible route to get meaningful minutes with Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown in the rotation at the guard positions. Even with that said, seeing Brad Wannamaker receive the Celtics remaining minutes at guard proved that Langford is not NBA-ready yet.
In his limited time on the court, Langford showed a few flashes of skill with his playmaking ability against rotating defenders. But the same questions regarding his shooting remained the same as he shot 21.7% from 3 in 27 this season.
Cameron Johnson isn’t necessarily a bust. It was seen as a reach when the Suns traded up to select the 5th-year UNC senior at 11th overall. He’s a solid shooter, as expected, but doesn’t do much else on the court. Standing at 6’8”, Johnson is a below-average defender and a poor rebounder. His playmaking ability is also non-existent.
Why the Suns selected Johnson in the lottery remains unanswered. His distinction as a draft bust may play out similarly to Jerome Robinson being selected 13th overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2018.
Honorable Mention: Darius Garland
Steal of the Draft: Eric Paschall
The Golden State Warriors fell far from grace this season, very far. They went from one of the league’s best to the league’s worst team. With that said, they still managed to find a stud in this year’s draft. The Warriors took a flyer on Paschall with the 41st pick in the draft.
Paschall may become the antithesis of Draymond Green. The 2 forwards are nearly the same size as both stand at 6’6” and weigh around 230 pounds. While Draymond is a stout, versatile defender who was a solid playmaker on offense in his prime, Paschall is a versatile forward with average defense but very good scoring ability. It would be interesting to see these 2 players operating on the court together with the Warriors at full strength.
Paschall had an incredible start to the season, finally cooling off around mid-December. He is a strong scorer who can take larger, slower forwards off the dribble and overpower more nimble forwards. He showed flashes of potential as a floor spacer as well but has a ways to go before he adds to the elite floor spacing of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Porter Jr., Daniel Gafford
Poster of the Year: DeMar DeRozan Annihilates Chris Boucher
DeMar DeRozan’s dunk on willing defender Chris Boucher was violent. That is the best word to describe it. One would’ve thought that there was a personal vendetta between the 2 players. Nonetheless, the frustrations DeRozan took out on Boucher were directed towards the Toronto Raptors organization and fans. DeRozan already made his 1st return back (February 22nd, 2019) to the Scotiabank Arena following his shocking trade.
However, this return meant more. DeRozan was now returning to a team that just won an NBA Championship without. Many fans and analysts emphasized how this team couldn’t win without DeRozan, and how Kawhi was a large improvement over DeRozan. That irked DeRozan as he not only led his team to a road win against his former team, but he also carried out one of the most vicious posterizations in NBA history.