Portland Trail Blazers’ 2019–20 Team Awards
Though the NBA is gaining momentum towards a completion of the 2019-20 season, the regular portion is mostly complete. Even if there are a few "tune-up" games before the playoffs get underway, what's already happened will effectively count as the entire regular season.
That means that we can do awards for said season. I've already compiled my 2019-20 First, Second and Third All-NBA teams, and now it's time to celebrate the rest of the league's achievements. To get the whole league involved, OTG Basketball will be producing award ballots for each individual team. That will include each team's Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Rookie of the Year (if applicable) and Most Improved Player from the 2019-20 season.
I'll be doing the Portland Trail Blazers, who had a bit of a rocky season to say the least. Their expectations were to at least make the playoffs, seeing as how well Damian Lillard has carried them in the past. But the losses of Al-Faroq Aminu and Moe Harkless proved to be too much for the team to handle, as 35 year-old Carmelo Anthony wound up starting 50 games. Not good!
That being said, there are still some bright spots to take from this somewhat disappointing season.
Most Valuable Player: Damian Lillard
Does this need an explanation? At times Lillard was the only dude keeping the team from collapse. And even in a year where he had to do almost everything offensively, he still maintained a high level of efficiency.
We've almost become numb to Lillard's greatness, seeing as though it seldom gets the Blazers far in the postseason, but 28.9 points and 7.8 assists a night are incredible figures. Maintaining a true shooting percentage of 61.9% at such volume is even more impressive, a figure that ranks second among players with a usage rate of at least 25% (first is Karl-Anthony Towns).
Lillard is often one to dazzle us with bursts of greatness, and his six-game stretch in late January (48.2 points and 10.8 assists per game) almost put him in the league-wide MVP discussion.
Defensive Player of the Year: Hassan Whiteside
Hassan Whiteside experienced a career renaissance of sorts in Portland, keeping the defense afloat like no one else. Whiteside was basically the only positive contributor on D for the Blazers, so he wins this award by default.
Of Blazers who played at least 1000 minutes, Whiteside was one of two to have a positive defensive box plus-minus (DBPM) this season, at 0.7 (the other was Kent Bazemore at 0.4). Whiteside's always been one to hunt for blocks, and he broke through to lead the league in rejections this season with 187 (3.1 per game).
Considering the big man's previous struggles with Miami, him becoming an above-average defender once again is great for him as he enters free agency. This is also a testament to Portland, as they have revived yet another distressed asset.
Sixth Man of the Year: Anfernee Simons
Like many aspects of the 2019-20 Blazers, depth was severely lacking. Second-year guard Anfernee Simons wins this almost by default, as the next-best bench contributor for Portland, Bazemore, only played 43 games.
Nothing about Simons' stat line this season will open eyes, but he did have some really nice flashes as a scorer in year two. The results were pedestrian, but the Blazers drafted him knowing he would take a while to blossom.
Hopefully by next season, he wins this award by merit, rather than by default. Or maybe he even wins the next award...
Most Improved Player: Hassan Whiteside
The Blazers bought low on a guy with upside, and it worked. Whiteside's career took an upward turn in Portland, and it could be what gets him a big contract, even in this uncertain cap climate.
Along with his defensive contributions, Whiteside also produced at a high level offensively. His true shooting percentage of 64.1% ranks 11th in the league this season, likely because he improved his shot profile. A career-high 55.8% of Whiteside's field goal attempts were within three feet of the rim, and 65.2% of his makes were assisted, a proportion he hasn't reached since his breakout season in 2015-16 (feel old yet?).
Whiteside truly leaned into being a roll man this season, and it might just get him a long-term deal.