NBA Season Preview 2019-20: Predictions for each individual award

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Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images /
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  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
  2. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
  3. James Harden, Houston Rockets
  4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
  5. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Right now, Giannis Antetokounmpo has to be the favorite to win the Maurice Podoloff trophy in 2019-20. The field is wide open, but it looks like it could be a repeat (which, honestly, is part of the reason AD got the nod in a neck-and-neck DPOY race with Giannis on the last slide).

In his first MVP season, the Greek Freak posted a gargantuan 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals per game for a 60-win Bucks team. Despite shooting 25.7 percent from deep, he attacked the rim with ruthless efficiency, shooting 57.8 percent from the floor overall.

In fact, despite knowing exactly where he was trying to get to on the floor, defenses couldn’t stop him anyway. A whopping 604 of his 721 made field goals came from right at the rim, where he shot an absurd 69.3 percent. If he adds even a semi-competent 3-point stroke to his game — he shot 32 percent from deep from Jan. 1 onward and looked good from long range in preseason — it’s over for the rest of the league.

The Bucks won’t be the only NBA team approaching 60 wins in 2019-20, however. This campaign should have “redemption” written all over it for the Brow, who still averaged 25.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals per game in a tumultuous season. All that drama was solely on his (and his agent’s) shoulders, but as he arrives in L.A. to ease the burden on an aging LeBron, he could have something great in store now that he got what he wanted.

Giannis’ and AD’s cases rest on their two-way dominance, but James Harden is so singularly spectacular on offense his candidacy remains strong year in and year out. Russell Westbrook might complicate things, but it feels like people continually sleep on the Beard in this conversation. He’s been in the top two of MVP voting in four of the last five seasons. Overlook him and the Rockets in a wide-open Western Conference at your own risk.

The Warriors are officially the Steph Curry Show again, and that should be thrilling. The last time he played a full season without Kevin Durant, the two-time MVP put up 30.1 points, 6.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds in just 34.2 minutes per game, joined the 50-40-90 club and shattered the NBA’s single-season 3-point record with 402 made triples on an absurd 45.4 percent shooting.

However, he’s also 31 years old now, and he doesn’t have KD, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston to help boost his team’s win total. Dating back to Moses Malone in 1981-82, Westbrook (2016-17) is the only MVP winner to play for a team that didn’t win 50 games or finish in one of the top three seeds of his respective conference. It’d take something historic for Curry to insert himself into that category or carry this Dubs team to a top-three spot out West.

Joel Embiid is the dark horse candidate more people should be talking about. He averaged a mammoth 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.9 blocks per game last year, and this season, he’ll be the best player on one of two juggernauts in the East. If he can be a little more efficient (particularly from 3), this could be a true coming-out party for Embiid and the Sixers.

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Nikola Jokic just missed our cut as the best player on a team that earned the 2-seed in the West last year. If the Denver Nuggets prove last season was no fluke, he’ll be in the conversation. Damian Lillard could force his way in if the Portland Trail Blazers continue to stubbornly defy expectations. Kawhi Leonard will obviously be near the top if load management doesn’t sideline him for too many games. The same goes for LeBron James, even on a team that also has AD.

Ultimately, though, Giannis leads the pack. He’s only 24 years old, so it’s unlikely we’ve seen his best on either end of the floor yet. If he somehow improves and overshadows the loss of Brogdon on an even better Bucks team, nobody’s MVP case will come close.