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NBA Awards Watch: Tight MVP Race Following All-Star Break

The NBA regular season resumes Thursday with plenty of story lines to watch. Among them are the leaders for MVP and Rookie of the Year. This is how the awards races stand coming out of the All-Star break.

Luke Dončić tries to fire a pass past Nikola Jokić.

Can Dončić (77) catch up to Jokić in the MVP sweepstakes?

Most Valuable Player

1. Nikola Jokić, Nuggets

Jokić’s production and Denver’s success are going to be difficult to deny when it comes time to vote for MVP. Averaging a triple double on the West’s best team, the Serbian superstar enters the final stretch of the regular season with an MVP three-peat within view.

2. Joel Embiid, 76ers

The top of the East remains tight, with three games separating the top three seeds. If Embiid can power the Sixers to the top of the conference by the end of the regular season, he will have rounded out a great case for MVP. His head-to-head performance against Jokić plays in his favor, too, with another matchup looming in March.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Antetokounmpo also has the chance to carry the Bucks, the NBA’s hottest team heading into the All-Star break, to the top of the East. The Greek Freak once again showed his value during Milwaukee’s 12-game winning streak and is making a final push for MVP, though a wrist injury will cause him to miss some time.

4. Jayson Tatum, Celtics

Tatum has continued his strong and steady performances this season with the Celtics holding a half-game lead atop the East. Coming off his record All-Star Game MVP performance, Tatum will be tested by the Bucks and Sixers knocking on Boston’s door.

5. Luka Dončić, Mavericks

Dončić has been a top MVP favorite at times this season but has fallen off as of late while dealing with a heel injury. His chemistry with new teammate Kyrie Irving could help determine his MVP fate in the final stretch of the regular season with Dallas standing at sixth in the West.

Rookie of the Year

1. Paolo Banchero, Magic

This continues to be Banchero’s award to lose, though others have been making up the gap in the second half of the season. Banchero leads Orlando with 19.9 points per game, adding 6.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

2. Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers

Mathurin has put himself in the running for ROY and Sixth Man of the Year during his impressive rookie season. His case could be helped if Indiana pushes to make the play-in tournament.

3. Walker Kessler, Jazz

Kessler has taken a step up since being promoted to a regular starter, averaging 8.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game on 71.2% shooting. Though Utah has fallen off its early-season pace, Kessler has shown to be an emerging building block at center.

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Defensive Player of the Year

1. Jaren Jackson Jr., Grizzlies

The league leader in blocks per game (3.3), Jackson is the cornerstone of the Grizzlies’ second-best NBA defense (110.1 rating). The first-time All-Star has his work cut out for him with the Clippers and Suns potentially knocking on Memphis’s door at No. 2 in the West.

2. Nic Claxton, Nets

Claxton entered the All-Star break first in field goal percentage (72.2) and second in blocks per game (2.6) in the NBA. He no longer has Kevin Durant and Irving to play alongside, but he can continue to thrive with Brooklyn’s new roster.

3. Bam Adebayo, Heat

All-Star Adebayo is averaging a career-high 21.6 points per game to go along with 10.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals while anchoring Miami’s fourth-best defense (111.3). Adebayo, and new teammate Kevin Love, will have a chance to move Miami up from seventh in the East down the stretch.

Sixth Man of the Year

1. Malcolm Brogdon, Celtics

With Russell Westbrook’s role changing after his move to the ClippersBrogdon has emerged as the new favorite for Sixth Man of the Year. Brogdon leads the NBA in three-point percentage (45.5) and has been big for Boston off the bench, averaging 14.7 points per game.

2. Norman Powell, Clippers

Powell is averaging 17.0 points per game off the bench for a Clippers team looking to make a push in the West. L.A. is third in the NBA in bench points (42.0), and Powell is leading that key effort.

3. Tyrese Maxey, 76ers

Maxey has had his fair share of starts this season and has missed some time, but he has excelled lately in a bench role. Maxey is averaging 19.8 points with Philadelphia standing at third in the East.

Most Improved Player

1. Lauri Markkanen, Jazz

Coming off his first All-Star appearanceMarkkanen currently holds the edge over Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for Most Improved Player. It will be a tight race down the stretch, but The Finnisher, averaging 24.9 points after recording 14.8 last season with Cleveland, continues to get better—and can keep the Jazz in play-in contention.

2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder

The Thunder hold a half-game lead over the Jazz in the West thanks to another first-time All-Star and MIP candidate. Gilgeous-Alexander stands fifth in the NBA with 30.8 points per game and is getting to the free throw line an average of 10.5 times per game, making an impressive 91.2% of his attempts.

3. Jalen Brunson, Knicks

Despite not making the All-Star Game this year, Brunson continues to raise his game, averaging 23.9 points and 6.2 assists for the Knicks. Brunson’s MIP case can rise if he helps to propel New York up from sixth in the East.

Coach of the Year

1. Joe Mazzulla, Celtics

This is becoming a tight race, but Mazzulla still stands as the favorite with Boston owning the best record coming out of the All-Star break (42-17). Recently rewarded with the removal of his interim coach tag and given a contract extension, Mazzulla and the Celtics will have plenty of opportunity to prove themselves with the Bucks standing at just a half-game back in the standings.

2. Mike Brown, Kings

Brown has the Kings on the verge of ending the longest playoff drought in NBA history (16 years). That feat speaks for itself, especially if Brown can keep Sacramento at third in the West heading into the postseason.

3. Michael Malone, Nuggets

Malone and the Nuggets have built a solid five-game lead atop the West. If they can hold that lead through the rest of the regular season, Malone will have a strong case for Coach of the Year.