The NBA Awards, 2023
What a year for basketball, Lebron broke the scoring record, Donovan Mitchell and Damian Lillard each put up 71 points in a game, KD and Kyrie bailed on Brooklyn, and Sacramento, yes Sacramento, is legitimately good. But when given the option between just admiring some great play and speculating about how award races go, most basketball fans seem to pick the latter option. And I’m no different.
This was probably the closest MVP race since Westbrook vs. Harden back in 2017. There are three great options for this award and it’s difficult for me to fault anyone for picking any of them. Nikola Jokić is having his best statistical year yet while leading Denver to the 1 seed in the West. Joel Embiid led the league in scoring while playing great defense. And Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to the best record in the league, averaging 31/12/6 along the way.
Before I give my vote, I know Giannis is the best player in the league. He strikes fear in opposing players in a way that Embiid and Jokić don’t. But he’s not the MVP this year. His team is stacked, he had a rough (for Giannis’s standards) start to the season, and he missed a decent amount of games too.
And Nikola Jokić is the best offensive player in basketball. His passing is incredible, his scoring so efficient, and he lifts up a team that is pretty bad without him. But Jokić’s defense is a weakness, and his lack of aggression costs his team games. I’m not voting for him either.
Joel Embiid has averaged 33/10/4 this season, and led a 76ers team that is not strong around him (plus Harden missed 24 games this year). His game against Boston solidified it for me. While his teammates floundered, Joel Embiid could not be stopped, controlling the game on each end. His defense edges out Jokić and the load he has to carry is much greater than Giannis. Finally, it’s time for Joel Embiid to win his long-awaited MVP.
Closing out the ballot, Jayson Tatum (still incredibly overrated) was good enough at the beginning of the season to take the 4 spot, and Donovan Mitchell beats out SGA, Luka, Fox, and Sabonis for that 5th spot on the ballot.
- Joel Embiid
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Nikola Jokić
- Jayson Tatum
- Donovan Mitchell
Coach of the Year
Mike Brown has taken the Sacramento Kings to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, ending the longest playoff drought in professional sports. He is an easy choice for this award. Mark Daigneault takes second for a great job with a young Thunder team. Will Hardy gets third place for overachieving with the assumed to be tanking Utah Jazz.
- Mike Brown
- Mark Daigneault
- Will Hardy
Rookie of the Year
Paolo Banchero has lived up to lofty expectations for the Orlando Magic this year, giving them hope for the first time since the Dwight Howard days. Jalen Williams has played a pivotal role on the play-in Thunder, putting him at a clear second place. Finally, Walker Kessler beats out Jabari Smith Jr for the third spot, adding insult to injury for Tim Connelly and the Timberwolves for that horrible Rudy Gobert trade.
- Paolo Banchero
- Jalen Williams
- Walker Kessler
Defensive Player of the Year
This race has tightened up as the year comes to a close, but Jaren Jackson Jr. is still the clear choice. He led the league in blocks and passed the eye-test with flying colors. Players wouldn’t even look at the paint when JJJ was patrolling down low. His fouling is a real issue though, which makes this race close. Brook Lopez was a revelation this year on defense, leading the league in pressures on a great Bucks team. But playing with Giannis and Jrue Holiday takes pressure off of him.
Evan Mobley has led the league’s best defense this year, and can guard 1-5 without a hitch. But Jarrett Allen deserves more credit than he gets for that defense, and he just isn’t as good as JJJ or Lopez down low for now (Mobley will win a DPOY in the next five years). Jrue Holiday has been incredible at guard defense and deserves credit for being the best in the league when it comes to shutting down the 1 and the 2.
JJJ gets my pick, even due to the fouling concerns, as he has clearly been the best defender this year when on the court. Lopez takes second for outstanding defense in the post, and his teammate Holiday gets third for fantastic defense against guards. I’m disappointed to be leaving Evan Mobley off but Jrue deserves a spot here.
- Jaren Jackson Jr.
- Brook Lopez
- Jrue Holiday
Most Improved Player
This is a two-man race between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lauri Markkanen. Lauri Markkanen went from a disappointing lottery pick bouncing around the league to the engine that drove Utah’s overachieving season. SGA averaged 31/5/5 this season on strong efficiency and good defense (for a guard). He’s probably going to make the All-NBA first team and end up on plenty of MVP ballots this year. And this is coming from a player who had never made an all-star game before.
Furthermore, SGA led his team to the play-in while Lauri’s Jazz fell short (due to some late-season tanking). Both choices here are valid but I’ve always liked to reward players who jump to superstardom with MIP. That’s why Ja Morant was the right choice last year (sorry Jordan Poole), and it’s why I’m voting SGA this year. While Lauri’s improvement was very impressive, the fact that the Thunder made the play-in breaks the tie in favor of SGA. Nic Claxton, Mikal Bridges, and Jalen Brunson also saw big jumps and deserve credit too.
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
- Lauri Markkanen
- Jalen Brunson
Sixth Man of the Year
While there are a lot of good candidates for this award, Malcolm Brogdon and Immanuel Quickley have separated themselves from the pack. Brogdon’s efficiency has helped Boston stay afloat in a tough Eastern conference while Quickley’s scoring has been invaluable for the Knicks while Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle have faced injury concerns. This is probably the tightest award race this year, but Quickley has to carry a larger load than Brogdon, which moves the arrow slightly towards Quickley. Malik Monk and Bobby Portis have also had great years off the bench, and deserve a shout-out!
- Immanuel Quickley
- Malcolm Brogdon
- Malik Monk