As we enter the final quarter of the National Basketball Association (NBA) year, awards season is officially upon us.
In a year where storylines are of great importance, the awards discourse has seemed to lack substance. NBA fans appear far more focused on LeBron’s chase of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record and Ja Morant’s descent into madness than the awards themselves, and maybe rightfully so.
Let’s change that.
Writer’s Note: At the end of each section, the player’s odds to win the award will come in parentheses. If the player has a (-), they are favored to win the award by Vegas Insider. If they have a (+), they are not favored to win. The higher each value goes is the higher chance of them winning (with a -), or losing (with a +). Each player will have their team abbreviation after their name. All odds are as of Mar. 1, 2023. All stats courtesy of StatMuse, unless otherwise noted. All stats’ abbreviations can be found here.
MVP discourse nowadays is painfully boring. It may be an unpopular opinion, but centers running the league is a dull state of the art for basketball and is of partial blame for the lack of MVP debates in the 2020s. Nonetheless, three players currently have a chokehold on the league’s MVP award: Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and reigning MVP, Denver’s Nikola Jokić. Antetokounmpo has his own trophy already, while Embiid has come close numerous times.
Unfortunately, the award is too often given to the best player on the best team by regular season record. Despite my own gripes with this paradigm and my feeling that LeBron James has been the single most valuable NBA player every year since 2006, most NBA voters do not feel the same. Because of this, Jokić would appear to be the clear winner again for 2022-2023, making him the first back-to-back-to-back MVP winner since Larry Bird in the ‘80s. Again, the MVP discourse is so boring; when you have a dominant player on a No.1 seeded team in the best conference, it is almost impossible to beat that.
Odds On Favorite: Nikola Jokić, DEN (-350)
Dark Horse: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (+900)
My Pick: Nikola Jokić, DEN
A more fresh discussion is held yearly around the Rookie of the Year (ROY) award. This trophy, given to the most outstanding first-year NBA player, is my personal favorite accolade.
This year’s rave has a clear frontrunner: Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic. The most recent No.1 overall pick has been a 20.0 PPG scorer as the main piece for Orlando in another year of rebuilding for the young squad. It has been a largely successful season for the young forward, with the exception of poor shooting splits and issues taking care of the ball at times as the primary ball handler for the Magic.
Conversely, Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Jalen Williams has been hyper-efficient in recent weeks and has been gaining ground quickly on the Magic forward. The combo guard from Santa Clara has flourished since the turn of the year, averaging 15.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game on a solid 60.4% true shooting. Scoring nearly as much as Banchero on less volume with more supporting stats has vaulted Williams into ROY consideration, and rightfully so. The 12th overall pick in the 2022 draft has more than exceeded expectations for a late-lottery rookie.
Other rookies deserving of consideration for the award include Indiana Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin (16.9 PPG, 56% TS) and Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler (8.4 PPG, 2.3 BPG, 69.9% TS), both of whom have largely contributed to playoff caliber teams. Despite the notable value put up by many non-Banchero rookies this year, it is still his award to lose. No other rookie is putting up 20 points a night, and that is likely to remain the same through the end of the season.
Odds On Favorite: Paolo Banchero, ORL (-1400)
Dark Horse: Jalen Williams, OKC (+10000)
My Pick: Paolo Banchero, ORL
The NBA’s most prestigious award for a substitute is always a fun topic. The irony that many of these players can and should be starting in the league is fascinating in itself.
But they’re not. That’s why they’re on this list.
Starting with Malcolm Brogdon — a former rookie of the year. The Celtics mini-star has made a serious impact off the bench for the reigning East champions. In just 25 minutes a night, the guard has averaged 14.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 3.7 APG as the main facilitator of the Celtic’s second squad. Brogdon’s season has Sixth Man of the Year written all over it. He has continued to put the ball in the basket at a high clip (62.8% TS) and lead a second unit which ranks seventh in net rating (1.1).
Brogdon’s main competition is Los Angeles Clippers guard/forward Norman Powell, who has a 16.6 PPG campaign cooking for himself. Powell’s game is simple: put the round ball in the basket, defend the best player opposing him and worry about everything else later. However, the athletic wing who shot 41% from three in 2022-2023 has seen a production decrease since star guard Russell Westbrook joined the fold. Nonetheless, Powell is the type of player who can play off the ball and still carry a large load, hence his high three point percentage.
Tyrese Maxey, guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, is the other main frontrunner to capture the John Havlicek Trophy. Maxey, from a purely statistical point of view, is the clear winner: the Sixer has averaged 20.1 points, 3.5 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game this season. The most productive sixth man should certainly win the award, right? Unfortunately, Maxey is arguably not a true bench warrior: the Sixer guard has started nearly half of his total games played compared to 12% for Powell and no starts at all for Brogdon.
To me, the sixth man of a basketball team should be a spark-plug. The best player on the bench should come off of it and put the ball in the basket at the highest volume and efficiency possible. Even if Malcolm Brogdon is the better basketball player, Norman Powell is the better sixth man.
Odds On Favorite: Malcolm Brogdon, BOS (-165)
Dark Horse: Norman Powell, MIL (+350)
My Pick: Norman Powell, LAC
Defense has always been a polarizing topic amongst NBA fans for as long as I have been following awards discourse. The lack of consistent statistics other than blocks and steals plagues these conversations greatly. Despite this scarcity of statistics, some prevail over others. My personal favorite stat for Defensive Player of the Year consideration is Defensive Win Shares (DWS), an all encompassing defensive stat which values a player’s defensive output and how his team performs with him against without him.
This award is by far the clearest cut out of any NBA honor this year, and is Jaren Jackson Jr.’s trophy to lose. The Memphis forward has been a defensive freak this year, recording the highest DWS in the league at 0.151, per NBA Stats. Despite a small controversy regarding the legitimacy of his blocks, watching Jackson paints a very clear picture: he has a knack for blocking the ball. Averaging a combined 4.4 blocks and steals combined per game is absurd, even more so when a player is averaging under 30 minutes a night.
Antetokounmpo is the only player in the league who carries a similar load on defense, but where’s the fun in giving such a decorated man even more flowers?
JJJ is anchoring a top defense in the league and should be rewarded as such.
Odds On Favorite: Jaren Jackson Jr., MEM (-190)
Dark Horse: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (+3000)
My Pick: Jaren Jackson Jr., MEM
Potentially the most versatile award offered by the NBA, the Most Improved Player of the Year (MIP) always carries an interesting debate. Nearly every year there is a discussion over what constitutes the most improvement: is it the already established star who made even more refinements to their play and became a bona fide All-NBA caliber talent? Or, is it the former role player who made the jump to stardom?
This year’s debate largely centers around Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The former has transcended his role as catch and shoot big man and has turned into a legitimate 20+ PPG three-level scorer for his new team while the latter has become a top three guard, averaging 31.2 PPG and leading a new era for Oklahoma City.
Here, the award is a clear matter of preference for what defines improvement. Personally, I believe the star-to-superstar jump is the hardest leap for any player to make; in a league already so challenging, how does one at the top go even higher? A co-Most Improved Player could very well be awarded here, but the Thunder fan in me refuses to let that happen.
Odds On Favorite (Tie): Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, OKC/Lauri Markkanen, UTA (+130)
Dark Horse: Tyrese Halliburton, IND (+5000)
My Pick: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, OKC
The NBA Coach of the Year is such a hilarious concept. Certainly voters and fans know the ins and outs of each team’s locker room, player to player dynamics and practices enough to tell which coach is the very best. Historically, the award has acted as a team version of the Most Improved Player Award, usually given to a coach who took his team to greatness after a mediocre season with the same core.
Mike Brown, head coach of the Sacramento Kings, led one of the least likely resurgences of the season. His Kings currently sit as the third seed in the loaded west. The former Warriors coach has found success with a core of guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk paired with do-it-all big men Keegan Murray and Domantas Sabonis. A roster that is not massively loaded with talent has appeared to be maxed out with Brown newly at the helm. That’s good enough for me.
Joe Mazulla, coach of the Boston Celtics, is the only coach remotely close to catching Brown for the award. Mazulla’s story in itself is interesting: the first-year coach was thrust into the role after former Boston coach Ime Udoka was fired as the result of an internal scandal. Mazulla has done well for himself, leading the Celtics to another No.1 seed late in the regular season and positioning his squad for another deep playoff run.
Personally, I don’t find this to be impressive by any means. I probably could have led the Celtics and their loaded roster to a top three seed. With players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon, Mazulla is simply achieving the inevitable. The feat must have been easy for Udoka, and it is probably pretty easy for Mazulla too.
The Mike Brown agenda lives.
Odds On Favorite: Joe Mazulla, BOS (+175)
Dark Horse: Mike Brown, SAC (+250)
My Pick: Mike Brown, SAC
Jacob Ramos is an Opinion Apprentice for the winter 2023 quarter. He can be reached at email@example.com.