The NBA enjoyed six exciting months of basketball before abruptly suspending the 2019-20 season. This has put a freeze on debating the league’s traditional end-of-season award rivalries, such as LeBron James vs. Giannis Antetekoumpo for MVP and Zion Williamson vs. Ja Morant for Rookie of the Year. Instead, The McGill Tribune is taking the league back to high school with a list of superlatives for the NBA.
Class Clown: Giannis Antetekoumpo
When Giannis steps on to the floor, it’s difficult not to laugh at how easy the game seems for him. With a league-leading 31.71 player efficiency rating, comparable to that of LeBron and Michael Jordan in their primes, Giannis is sure to put on a show every night. Giannis makes a circus out of the league with his unguardable moves, including a comically unstoppable drive to the rim and a three-point shot that is much-improved from last season. Most importantly, his personal success has translated into yet another dominant season for the Bucks, who are beating teams by an average of 12.4 points, the highest point differential in NBA history.
Cutest Couple: D’Angelo Russell and Karl Anthony Towns
On the surface, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ trade for D’Angelo Russell, which saw them part ways with former first-pick and Ontario native Andrew Wiggins, looked to be a last-ditch attempt at setting up a comeback by a team that has made the playoffs just once in the past 15 seasons. However, D’Angelo Russell was not acquired purely because of his skills as a basketball player: This was a trade for friendship.
Russell and Towns are close friends, a fact reflected in Towns’s personal greeting when Russell first landed in Minnesota. Since their days at the University of Kentucky, these two players, along with Phoenix Suns all-star guard Devin Booker, have maintained a solid friendship off the court that promises tremendous potential for Minnesota. In fact, these three former Wildcat stars have publicly announced their desire to eventually play as a trio. For now, as their respective teams continue to struggle, Russell and Towns can dream of a better, playoffs-filled future together.
Most Rebellious: The Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have always been a forward-thinking organization, especially with respect to their early reliance on analytics and unwavering trust in the three-point shot. However, their recent trade of big man Clint Capela and subsequent investment in a pure small ball system is their most rebellious move yet.
Since this trade, the Rockets have experienced both an initial encouraging winning streak followed by an alarming losing streak, plagued by a 125–123 loss to the always-struggling New York Knicks. With an overall record of 40–24 prior to the NBA suspension, the Rockets comfortably hold a playoff spot. Now, the real question remains: Will they finally be able to make the NBA Finals?
Biggest Drama King: Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers seems to make headlines every week for his fluctuating performance and self-centred attitude. This season, his dramatic tendencies attracted criticism from Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, who were disappointed with Embiid’s lack of seriousness and dedication.
Amid this drama, and despite a lacklustre regular season, the 76ers are still viewed as championship contenders. With an elite starting lineup on paper, the window is open for Embiid and the 76ers to capture their first title since 1983.
Most Athletic: Ja Morant
In a league of professional high-flyers, it seems odd to include this category. But, after Ja Morant nearly jumped over Kevin Love on a dunk attempt in December 2019, there is no question that the likely Rookie of the Year is an athletic phenom, not to mention a rising star for the Memphis Grizzlies. Morant currently leads his team in both points and assists, which has surprisingly helped the Grizzlies plant themselves in the eighth seed of a competitive Western Conference. Once the season is resumed, however, Morant will have to remain dominant, as Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans, as well as Damian Lillard and the Portland Trailblazers, are following closely behind in the standings.