Cleveland Cavaliers 2019-20 Team Awards
It was a mess of a season in Cleveland. High hopes for the development skills of John Beilein were dashed with a racially tinged incident in early January, and then his relinquishing the head coach position over the All-Star break. One of the Cavs’ three first round picks, Dylan Windler, was shelved with a stress fracture before the season began, and has yet to play in the NBA. When play halted, Cleveland found itself looking up at the entirety of the East, with only a star-less draft to look forward to. Swell. Oh well; it’s awards season!
6th Man of the Year: Larry Nance Jr.
The Cavs still don’t quite know what to do with Nance, who started the first year of his 4-year, $44 million extension this year. Though many speculate that he’s a ‘5’ in the downsizing NBA, he started towards the end of the season as the ‘3’ in jumbo-sized lineups under new coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Most of the year he brought his high-energy game off the bench, though, which is why he locks up this award. He did become a double-digit scorer for the first time in his career, even if his rebounds and assists were off career-high paces. Perhaps a ‘first big off the bench’ role is where he tops out; he filled the role admirably this season.
Most Improved Player: Darius Garland
Now stay with me. If you’re wondering how a rookie could possibly be the most improved player when he doesn’t have a previous year to improve upon...just look at Garland from beginning to end. In October, he opened shooting 37% from the field, 33% from three, and scored 9.5 points to go with 3.5 assists per game. Not great. In February, that’s 43% from the field, 37.5% from downtown, and 12.6 points to go with 4.8 assists -- much better! And those per game stats aren’t even as juicy as January’s 14.4-5.3 stat line. If the Cavs drafted a 20-year-old point guard who jumped into the league and put up a 15-5, they’d be jumping for joy! He only did that in one of the months, but he got better as he went. Much better. MIP better.
Rookie of the Year: Kevin Porter Jr.
But that didn’t make Garland the most exciting first year player on the Cavs. That honor belongs to KPJ, who didn’t have the stats of Garland, but electrified the Cavs in a way that’s a little harder to quantify. If it’s numbers you want, though, you only need look at his 6 for 9 from three, 24 point performance in the Cavs near-upset of Houston to see his capacity for filling the bucket, and with the exception of a January 2nd game against the Hornets, scored in double-digits every time he got 20 minutes on the court in 2020. He passes the eye test more than anything else: when you watch him play, you know the Cavs got a steal at the end of the first round. A 2019 re-draft wouldn’t see him make it out of the lottery.
Defensive Player of the Year: Andre Drummond
Did he only play eight games for the Cavs? Yes. Was he even that good defensively? Hard to say. Were the Cavs so god awful on defense that I refuse to give it to anyone else? Bingo.
Most Valuable Player: Collin Sexton
Plying his trade in an NBA backwater (it seems like a long time ago that the Cavs were playing in four straight Finals and were the co-center of the basketball universe), Sexton is doomed to be under-appreciated for as long as the Cavs struggle, but he’s a good player. 21-3-3 as a 21-year-old second-year player is good. Pair that with 47-38-85 percentages (FG-3P-FT) and you’re looking at an extremely capable scorer if nothing else. He’s a noted gym rat who sets the tone for a young team, and though I think he has more of a future as Lou Williams than anything else (high scoring point off the bench who can energize a second unit), he was the no-doubt leader of this version of the Cavs, and someone who Cavs fans hope continues to be undervalued, because that chip on his shoulder may just catapult him into something more.