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NBA Awards 2023: Nikola Jokić Leads Crowded MVP Race

Checking in on the leaders in the top award categories midway through the season.

Big offensive performances continue to add up as the NBA hits the halfway point of the regular season this week. The headline outings, along with notable injuries, are making an impact in looking ahead to this season’s award winners.

The Crossover will be checking in on the leaders in the top six award categories throughout the NBA season. This is where we see the races currently standing.

Most Valuable Player

1. Nikola Jokić, Nuggets: A chance at a three-peat is very much alive for Jokić, though others are threatening to close the gap. The Nuggets have maintained their winning ways, standing tied with the Grizzlies atop the West as Jokić averages nearly a triple double. Denver will have to preserve success to keep Jokić in the lead for MVP.

2. Luka Dončić, Mavericks: Dončić is the biggest threat to Jokić for MVP honors at the midpoint of the regular season. Dončić’s case has only improved alongside Dallas’s recent success, with the team winning seven of its last 10 games and moving up to a tie at fourth in the West. Dončić leads the league in points per game (34.2) while also averaging 8.9 rebounds and 8.7 assists.

3. Jayson Tatum, Celtics: Tatum and the league-leading Celtics continue to knock on the door of a crowded MVP race. Tatum is putting up career highs in points (30.8) and rebounds (8.2) per game while setting the tone for the NBA’s best offense.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks: Antetokounmpo’s 31.0 points per game have helped keep Milwaukee’s offense afloat, despite his dip in three-point efficiency. Khris Middleton’s absence has loomed large for the Bucks, but the team’s defense is helping it hang around in the East.

5. Kevin Durant, Nets: Durant is likely to drop out of the top five of MVP consideration as he misses at least two weeks with a sprained MCL. The time off may do Durant some good in the long run, but how Brooklyn performs without him will be a testament to his worth and MVP standing.

Rookie of the Year

1. Paolo Banchero, Magic: The top of the rookie race remains unchanged, with Banchero firming his hold on the No. 1 spot. Banchero is averaging 21.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and living up to expectations so far.

2. Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers: The biggest threat to unseat Banchero for Rookie of the Year is Mathurin, who is also a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Mathurin is averaging 17.2 points as the Pacers stand tied at No. 6 in the Eastern Conference standings. The gap is still relatively large between Banchero and Mathurin for ROY, but Indiana’s rookie is making it interesting.

3. Jaden Ivey, Pistons: The No. 5 pick is averaging 15.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists so far in his rookie campaign. His consistency has not been on par with Banchero and Mathurin, but Ivey has been impressive among the rookie class.

Defensive Player of the Year

1. Jaren Jackson Jr., Grizzlies: Jackson Jr. has had a pronounced impact on Memphis's defense since his return to the court. Once he plays enough games to qualify, he stands to be the NBA leader in blocks per game (3.2) while helping to elevate the Grizzlies to the top defensive rating in the league (109.7). He’s adding 16.8 points per game as the Grizzlies share the top spot in the West with the Nuggets.

2. Brook Lopez, Bucks: Lopez has been the favorite to win the award during the first half of the season, but Jackson is giving him a run for his money. Lopez is currently tied with Nic Claxton for the league lead in blocks per game (2.6) among players who qualify and is an anchor for Milwaukee’s defense, which is keeping the team competitive while the offense struggles.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks: Though Jackson Jr. and Lopez are setting themselves apart for the award, former DPOY Antetokounmpo is also in the running. Other players making a case for themselves are Evan Mobley, OG Anuoby, Bam Adebayo, Jarrett Allen and Joel Embiid.

Sixth Man of the Year

1. Russell Westbrook, Lakers: Westbrook continued his production off the bench as the Lakers went on a five-game winning streak from Dec. 30 to Jan. 7. Westbrook is averaging 15.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 7.9 assists for a Lakers team that stands at No. 12 in the West.

2. Malcolm Brogdon, Celtics: Brogdon has been a boost for the Celtics off the bench, averaging 13.6 points on 47.6% shooting. His health is often a concern, but he has largely maintained his availability for Boston this year.

3. Jordan Poole, Warriors: Poole is back to coming off the bench after starting in Stephen Curry’s absence. In that time, Poole improved his scoring to 20.8 points per game on 42.8% shooting. He will have to prove he can continue his production while reverting to his bench role.

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Most Improved Player

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is most likely to make his first All-Star Game this year. 

1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder: Gilgeous-Alexander still stands as the favorite for Most Improved Player with his All-Star–caliber season. His averages of 30.8 points on 50.1% shooting continue to impress, even while the Thunder stand at No. 13 in the West.

2. Tyrese Haliburton, Pacers: Haliburton leads the NBA with 10.2 assists per game to go along with his 20.2 points. He’s thrived in Indiana, but his left knee injury suffered Wednesday night puts his immediate availability in question.

3. Lauri Markkanen, Jazz: Markkanen continues to put up big numbers for Utah, including a near-career-high 49 points against the Rockets on Jan. 5. His production this season has been fun to watch and keeps him in the running here.

Coach of the Year

1. Joe Mazzulla, Celtics: The Nets are knocking on the Celtics’ door in the standings, but Boston still stands above the rest of the NBA with its top record (30–12) and hot offense. Mazzulla has done a great job of leading Boston this season on short notice, but he may soon have company as favorite for Coach of the Year.

2. Jacque Vaughn, Nets: Vaughn is quickly making a case amid Brooklyn’s surge up the standings. The Nets have won 18 of their last 20 games, with their turnaround coming after Vaughn took over as head coach. If Brooklyn keeps up its success, and potentially surpasses Boston, Vaughn will be a serious candidate.

3. Willie Green, Pelicans: Despite losing Zion Williamson from the lineup, the Pelicans are still hanging around the top of the Western Conference standings. Green has done a great job of getting success out of his lineups despite the injuries the Pelicans have had to deal with this season.