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Fantasy Basketball Awards: Harden, LeBron among MVP choices — your vote determines who wins!

By Nick WhalenRotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

There’s still plenty to be decided over the final month of the NBA season, but in season-long fantasy leagues, the playoffs are nearly upon us.

That means it’s time to hand out our official NBA Fantasy Awards!

This season, the NBA is giving you — the fans and fantasy players — the opportunity to decide the winners. Cast your vote now for the 2019-20 Most Valuable Fantasy Player, Fantasy Sleeper of the Year, and Fantasy Pickup of the Year.

Voting runs through Friday, March 25, with the winners announced during the final week of the regular season.

[Fantasy Basketball Awards: Vote for MVP and more for a chance to win exclusive prizes]

Voters will be entered into a drawing to win exclusive NBA prizes, including the grand prize: A VIP trip to the 2020 NBA Draft in New York City!

The NBA will also give away four pairs of tickets to a 2020-21 regular season NBA game, in addition to a number of gift codes to the NBA Store.

Here are the nominees — and my personal picks — for all three awards:

*Note: All stats/rankings are as of March 10 and refer to the NBA’s official fantasy scoring system*

Most Valuable Fantasy Player

The player who meant the most to your fantasy league this season.

James Harden, Houston Rockets

The case: The league-leader in total fantasy points, Harden is well on pace to finish inside the top-five in eight-category leagues for the eighth consecutive season. This isn’t a lifetime achievement award, but Harden’s 2019-20 season is just as impressive as the ones that preceded it. Harden is averaging a league-best 34.3 points per game to go with 7.4 assists, 6.4 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 0.9 blocks. If your league counts free throw shooting, his mark of 86.4 percent on 11.8 attempts per game has been invaluable.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

The case: While eight missed games have cost the reigning MVP the lead in overall fantasy points, he still leads the league in fantasy points per game (57.3). Antetokounmpo’s struggles at the free throw line have hampered his value in many formats, but his combination of elite scoring (29.6 PPG), rebounding (13.7 RPG), assists (5.8 APG) and defensive stats (2.0 blocks/steals per game) is unrivaled. He’s even added 1.5 made threes per game this season — up from just 0.7 a year ago. Most impressive? Antetokounmpo is doing it all in less than 31 minutes per game.

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

The case: The argument for James is all about production relative to expectations. No one expected James to fall off a cliff in his age-35 season, but some regression was expected as he entered uncharted territory in terms of career mileage. Instead, James has responded with one of the best fantasy seasons in his career. He ranks fourth in fantasy points per game while leading the NBA in assists (10.6 APG) for the first time in his 17 seasons. As usual, James is providing his elite complementary stats, while posting 40 double-doubles and 13 triple-doubles as of March 10. Most importantly, James has missed only three games after playing in a career-low 55 games a season ago.

Is LeBron James your fantasy MVP? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

The case: After getting off to a slow start, Jokic rounded into form as one of the most unique players in fantasy basketball. With averages of 20.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.7 blocks, Jokic ranks 15th in fantasy points per game (45.3). However, the fact that he’s yet to miss games vaults him up to fourth overall in total fantasy points. Jokic’s 71 made threes are as many as the next four centers below him in the rankings combined. His 438 assists are well over 100 more than any other center.

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

The case: Despite switching teams and adjusting to playing alongside LeBron James, Davis has not missed a beat. A top-eight per-game fantasy player in each of the last six seasons, Davis is on pace to extend that streak to seven thanks to averages of 26.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.5 blocks. Davis ranks fifth in total fantasy points and is tied with James for fourth in fantasy points per game (52.2). He’s also improved at the free throw line (84.5% FT) while leading all of fantasy basketball in ever-valuable stocks (steals + blocks).

Whalen’s pick

It’s Harden. Giannis has missed some time, and his production on the defensive end has fallen off a bit compared to last year. Meanwhile, Harden is nearly averaging a block per game, while providing more steals, more assists, more points and more games played.

Fantasy Sleeper of the Year

The best player with a preseason rank of 80 or higher.

Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers

The case: With a preseason rank of 81st, Whiteside was something of a dart-throw in many leagues with his role — and ability to stay healthy — very much in question as he transitioned from Miami to Portland. He responded with an elite fantasy season, ranking 16th in per-game value and 11th in total fantasy points. As of March 10, Whiteside is averaging 16.3 points, a career-best 14.3 rebounds, and a league-leading 3.1 blocks per game. His 208 stocks are second only to Davis’ 215.

Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

The case: With a move into the starting lineup, Sabonis was expected to take a step forward this season. But even the most optimistic projections wouldn’t have placed Sabonis 14th in total fantasy points and 20th in fantasy points per game. A first-time All-Star, Sabonis has significantly boosted both his scoring (18.3 PPG) and rebounding (12.5 RPG) output, while adding a career-best 5.0 assists per game. Not bad for a player with a preseason ranking of 82nd.

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

The case: Has anyone made a bigger leap this season than Ingram? Whether we’re talking fantasy or real life, Ingram’s emergence as an elite, efficient scorer caught nearly everyone by surprise. Ranked 120th in the preseason, Ingram currently sits nearly 100 spots higher (tied for 27th), as of Mar. 10. The All-Star wing is putting up 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.0 steals per game on strong efficiency for a high-usage player. His improvement at the free throw line — 85.8% FT, up from 67.5% last season — is particularly impressive.

Brandon Ingram should take a bow for his performance this season. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets

The case: Ranked outside the top 125 in the preseason, Dinwiddie has climbed his way up to 31st in total fantasy points. With Kyrie Irving injured for most of the season, Dinwiddie leads the Nets in total minutes, points, field goals, free throws, and assists. For the first time in his career, he’s averaging north of 20 points per game, while Dinwiddie’s 6.7 assists per game are also a career-best.

Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors

The case: With a preseason rank of 115, Wiggins stock wasn’t exactly at a premium back in October. But he got off to a hot start in Minnesota and, now as a member of the Warriors, ranks inside the top 45 in total fantasy points. As of March 10, Wiggins has 19 games with at least 40.0 NBA Fantasy Points, and he’s averaging career-bests in rebounds (5.1 RPG), assists (3.7 APG), blocks (1.0 BPG) and made threes (2.0 3PM) per game.

Whalen’s pick

Brandon Ingram. Thinking back to October, Ingram’s stock really couldn’t have been much lower. Not only was he adjusting to a new roster loaded with young talent, but he was coming off of a serious blood clot issue that, at the very least, clouded his outlook for this season. No other player on this list demonstrated the complete transformation we’ve seen from Ingram, who needed only 13 games to make more three-pointers than he had all of last season.

Fantasy Pickup of the Year

The best player drafted in fewer than 20 percent of leagues.

Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets (13% drafted)

The case: Graham’s story is one of the more memorable in recent fantasy basketball history. After going undrafted in 87% of leagues, he’s emerged as a top-40 player in terms of total fantasy points. A second-round pick in 2018, Graham went from appearing in just 46 games a year ago to ranking eighth in total minutes played, fifth in made three-pointers, and fourth in assists in 2020. 

Nemanja Bjelica, Sacramento Kings (2% drafted)

The case: Bjelica entered the season with more of a proven track record than Graham, but he was expected to take a significant step back on a deeper roster. Instead, Bjelica entered the starting lineup in the second game of the season and never looked back. As of March 10, he’s inside the top 70 in total fantasy points on the back of career-best scoring (11.9 PPG), rebounding (6.4 RPG), assists (2.8 APG), and made threes (2.0 3PM/G) figures.

Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic (12% drafted)

The case: Undrafted in almost nine out of 10 leagues, Fultz has proven to be a worthy investment for managers who plucked him from the waiver wire early on. Fultz’s rank of 75th overall in total fantasy points isn’t necessarily head-turning, but consider that he finished 371st in that category a season ago. The reclamation project is far from over, but Fultz has taken massive steps forward this season, including staying healthy for 63 of a possible 64 games as of Mar. 10.

Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat (12% drafted)

The case: You may remember hearing rumblings about Nunn during the preseason, but his 12% draft rate indicates that most managers weren’t sold. The 24-year-old rookie has made those who doubted him pay dearly this season, with his 14.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.0 stocks per game placing him inside the top 90. Nunn has 17 games with at least 20 points, and he’s missed only three games as of March 10.

PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets (11% drafted)

The case: The Kentucky product has been one of only a few fantasy-viable rookies this season. He ranks just outside the top 100 in total fantasy points — the highest among all rookies not named Nunn or Ja Morant. For a player some considered likely to spend more time in the G League than the NBA this season, Washington has been among fantasy basketball’s most pleasant surprises.

Whalen’s pick

This is the easiest of the three: It’s Devonte’ Graham by a mile. I tip my cap to The 13 Percent who got him on draft night, but I can say with full confidence that he was not on my radar. Not only has Graham been a fantastic points/assists/threes contributor, but he’s also adding more than 1.0 stocks per game. Graham is one of only a handful of non-stars who have single-handedly shifted fantasy leagues this season.