The NBA season is entering its final stretch. Most teams have around 20 games remaining, which means players have one final sprint to make an impression on awards voters. With so much parity across the league, every big performance will count as leading your team to the three-seed looks a whole lot better than leading your team to the play-in tournament. So with that, here are the favorites for each major NBA award.
(Note: Stats are current as of February 27, 2023)
1 of 24
MVP: 1) Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
? David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 24.8 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 10.0 APG, 63-40-82 shooting splits
In addition to averaging a triple-double, Jokic is leading the NBA in just about every advanced stat known to man – True Shooting Percentage, Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares, Box Plus/Minus, Value Above Replacement Player, Offensive Rating, etc.. His net on/off numbers (plus-23.5) are particularly outrageous – Denver’s rating when Jokic is off the court is the same as the lowest-ranked Spurs (-10.5 per 100 possessions); Denver’s rating when Jokic is on the court (plus-13.0 per 100 possessions) is better than the 2016-17 Warriors (plus-11.4 per 100 possessions). He’s simply one of the best offensive players in NBA history in his prime, and his team is comfortably in first place in the West. He’s certainly deserving of his third consecutive MVP award. And while everyone with a podcast loves to suggest that voter fatigue will play a part in the MVP award, I’m thinking that the exact opposite is going to happen: groupthink. Everyone is so aware of the concept of voter fatigue that they’re going to rebel against it and vote for The Joker (and a recent ESPN MVP straw poll supports this notion – 77 of 100 picked Jokic as the MVP so far).
2 of 24
MVP: 2) Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
? Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 33.1 PPG (1st in NBA), 10.4 RPG, 4.1 APG
If Joel Embiid finishes in second place for the league MVP this season, he’ll be the first player since Larry Bird to finish runner-up in the MVP vote for three consecutive seasons (which is ironic because if Jokic wins the MVP this season, he’ll be the first player since Bird to win three consecutive MVP awards). Embiid won’t be thrilled if that happens because he’s posting another dominating, MVP-worthy season, scoring a career-high in PPG and appearing in the top five in most of the important advanced statistics like PER, Win Shares, Box Plus/Minus and VORP. With Sixers sitting in third place in the East – four games behind Boston – he could potentially swing the vote in his favor for the first time in his career if he helps vault Philly to the top of the standings during the stretch run of this season.
3 of 24
MVP: 3) Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
? Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 31.8 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 5.4 APG
In the 11 games before he injured his wrist, Giannis was on an all-time heater, averaging 37.2 PPG, 13.4 RPG and 5.8 APG while getting to the free throw line over 14 times per game. He may not be the MVP at this point in the season, but if he continues to terrorize the league like that post-All-Star break, he’ll be holding his third MVP Trophy when the season comes to a close. While his advanced stats aren’t as ridiculous as Jokic’s, he’s still top-five in PER and VORP, and his traditional numbers are equally impressive and his team has a good chance at the top seed in the Eastern Conference and NBA, which would all bolster his claim.
4 of 24
MVP: 4) Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
? Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 30.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 4.6 APG, 46-36-86 shooting splits
The All-Star Game MVP deserves the fourth-place MVP spot two-thirds of the way through the season over some of the other candidates (like Luka Doncic, Damian Lilliard, etc.) because he has the Celtics at the top of the league’s standings. He’s also having one helluva a season on both ends of the court and is the most dependable two-way wing in the NBA. Best of all for Celtics fans, Tatum has continued to expand his game, in particular, his attacking – he’s upped his free throw attempts per game from 6.2 to 8.5 this season. This ultimately probably won’t be the year he wins the MVP, but it’s coming at some point.
5 of 24
Rookie of the Year: 1) Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
? Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 19.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.6 APG
From the moment he stepped on an NBA court, Banchero looked like the best player in his rookie class. His size (6-foot-10, 250 pounds), his first step, his ability to draw fouls (7.5 FTA/game) – it was all reminiscent of a stud forward in his prime, not a rookie who isn’t old enough to drink a beer. Unless he suffers a season-ending injury in the next few games, he’s an absolute shoo-in to take home the Rookie of the Year honors.
6 of 24
Rookie of the Year: 2) Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
? Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 17.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 5.9 FTA/game
If Banchero weren’t such a special rookie, Mathurin would be the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year honor. He’s the prototypical two-guard for the modern NBA with his height (6-foot-6), elite athleticism and sweet shooting stroke. He’s already good at getting to the free low line as well with 5.9 attempts per game. He’ll need to improve his consistency – he’s had the usual rookie ups and downs this season – and his playmaking (only 1.5 APG) to become the All-Star-level, possibly All-NBA-level prospect he could be with his skill set. That said, Indiana has to be thrilled with their sixth overall pick.
7 of 24
Rookie of the Year: 3) Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
? Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 15.3 PPG, 4.7 APG, 3.9 RPG
Jaden Ivey has quietly had a nice rookie season, filling up the box score on the lowly Pistons. Obviously, the Pistons had originally hoped to pair their explosive rookie guard with their franchise guard, Cade Cunningham. Unfortunately, Cunningham only played in 12 games before injuring his shin and being ruled out for the entire season. At that point, Detroit became a “Brick for Vic” team (aka they’re tanking for a shot at Victor Wembanyama), so it’s difficult to assess just how inflated Ivey’s numbers are.
8 of 24
Rookie of the Year: 4) Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
? Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 8.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.2 BPG
Regarding impact, Kessler has a legitimate claim for the Rookie of the Year award as seen by his Player Efficiency Rating (21.1) and per-36 numbers (which closely resemble the man he was traded for, Rudy Gobert). However, the Rookie of the Year award traditionally goes to the player with the best counting stats as voters have to try to factor in the situation rookies find themselves in (e.g., Banchero is asked to do much more for the Magic on the offensive end than Kessler and, thus, is expected to be a less efficient player). Therefore, Kessler will probably have to settle for a spot on the first-team All-Rookie squad.
9 of 24
Defensive Player of the Year: 1) Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
? Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 3.2 BPG; 102.9 Defensive Rating; 10.7 Block Percentage
Despite only playing 42 games thus far, JJJ’s defensive impact has been massive this season for the Memphis Grizzlies, who currently have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA. Though he hasn’t played enough games to officially qualify, he leads the league, by far, in blocks per game. He also has the best individual defensive rating and block percentage in the NBA. So long as he plays enough games to qualify for the award in voters’ minds, he should be a nearly unanimous Defensive Player of the Year winner this season.
10 of 24
Defensive Player of the Year: 2) Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
? Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
Key Stats: 12.2 RPG; 107.0 Defensive Rating; 2.9 Defensive Win Shares
You’ll probably see Giannis’ teammate, Brook Lopez, mentioned a fair amount as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. While he’s certainly a great rim protector with excellent advanced numbers, let’s not kid ourselves – Giannis is the engine that makes the Bucks’ number two-ranked defense go. His combination of athleticism, length and effort are unmatched. He can switch onto guards, shut down wings and deter big men around the rim. His blocks and steals are lower than they typically are this season, but his defensive impact remains right near the top of the NBA as seen by his second-best Defensive Rating and seventh-best Defensive Win Shares.
11 of 24
Defensive Player of the Year: 3) Nic Claxton, Brooklyn Nets
? Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 2.6 BPG; 108.7 Defensive Rating
Per NBA University, Nic Claxton has only allowed 0.78 points per possession guarding isolations despite having to guard by far the most isolations possessions in the NBA this season. He’s also tied for the league lead in total blocks with 139 on the season thus far. The departures of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have taken Claxton and the Nets out of the title race and national spotlight, so it’s difficult to envision him winning Defensive Player of the Year, but he sure deserves some acknowledgment for the excellent season he’s having.
12 of 24
Defensive Player of the Year: 4) Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
? Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 9.9 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.8 BPG; 3.2 Defensive Win Shares; 109.0 Defensive Rating
Bam gets the nod here because he is the Heat’s defensive system. His versatility from the center position – he can protect the rim, he can guard wings, and he can even switch onto guards fairly easily – makes Miami one of the toughest teams to score on as seen by their fourth-ranked defensive rating. Adebayo also ranks fifth in the NBA in defensive win shares.
13 of 24
Sixth Man of the Year: 1) Norman Powell, Toronto Raptors
? Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 17.0 PPG; 48-42-80 shooting splits
While his current teammate Russell Westbrook (perplexingly) garnered Sixth Man of the Year attention earlier this season, it’s Norman Powell that has the real shot at taking home the honor. Powell is shooting the cover off the ball, averaging 17 points on less than 12 shots per game. He’s the rare “heat check” guy off the bench who doubles as a consistent and reliable offensive threat, and the Clippers should be careful to let Westbrook eat into any of Powell’s minutes the rest of the season.
14 of 24
Sixth Man of the Year: 2) Malcolm Brogdon, Indiana Pacers
? Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 14.7 PPG, 3.7 APG, 49-47-89 shooting splits
Malcolm Brogdon is currently the Vegas favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year, and deservingly so – he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, he can play either guard position at an above-average level, and he’s a solid defender. The only thing that has really held him back in his career has been his health. Fortunately for the Celtics, he’s only missed nine games thus far this season and has been a force off the bench the entire season, adapting wonderfully from the starting role he’d grown accustomed to in prior seasons.
15 of 24
Sixth Man of the Year: 3) Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks
? Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 12.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 44-35-82 shooting splits
Quickley is having a nice statistical season, but it’s his on-court impact that has really made him a bonafide candidate for this award. His on/off net rating is an excellent plus-8.5. In the last 31 games, Quickley is averaging 15.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.3 APG with 48-39-81. If he keeps having that kind of impact on games for a winning team, he could make a late-season push for the inaugural John Havlicek Sixth Man of the Year trophy.
16 of 24
Sixth Man of the Year: 4) Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
? Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 19.4 PPG, 45-38-81 shooting splits
Tyrese Maxey would have a much better claim at this honor had he not missed significant time with an injury earlier this season, limiting him to only 40 of a possible 59 games thus far. Then again, had he not gotten injured, he’d probably still be starting for the Sixers. Maxey is blossoming into a star so this is probably the only year that he’ll be eligible for this award for the rest of his career. If he comes off the bench for enough games to qualify (he’s started 22 and been the sixth man for 18), he’ll have a great statistical argument as he’d likely be the highest-scoring bench player in the running.
17 of 24
Most Improved Player: 1) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, OKC Thunder
? Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 31.0 PPG, 5.7 APG, 4.7 RPG, 51-34-91 shooting splits
Nobody has the same definition for what constitutes “most improved” in the NBA. Is it the player who jumps from being a bench player to an important starter? Is it a young prospect who develops into a star? Is it a star who develops into a superstar? My preference is the latter. I love when a star makes a leap into superstardom like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has this season. He went from being a pleasant 24.5 PPG surprise last season to a 31.0 PPG dominant force this season. He’s easily one of the 10 best players in the league this season and his advanced numbers back that up as he is leading the league in made two-point field goals and made free throws, and has the second-most Win Shares and third-highest Value Above Replacement Player.
18 of 24
Most Improved Player: 2) Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz
Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 25.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 51-41-88 shooting splits
Markkanen’s emergence in his sixth season has been nothing short of remarkable. He appeared to be either stagnating or even regressing after his second season, in which he averaged 18.7 PPG, scoring 14.4 PPG during those next three seasons. Then, after being dealt to the Jazz as part of the Donovan Mitchell trade, Markkanen has exploded this season, averaging 25.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG with 51-41-88 shooting splits. The entire league expected the Jazz to tank this season, but Markkanen’s breakout has kept them right in the playoff hunt. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander deserves the award at the moment, but Markkanen is hot on his tail – if OKC were to shut SGA down as they have in the past two seasons.
19 of 24
Most Improved Player: 3) Jalen Brunson, Dallas Mavericks
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 23.7 PPG, 6.2 APG, 48-41-84 shooting splits
Remember back when everyone thought that the Knicks had overpaid for Jalen Brunson this past summer? Turns out the Knicks may have underpaid for Brunson with the impact he’s had on the team this season. Not only is Brunson putting up efficient scoring numbers and distributing the ball adequately, but he’s also carrying the Knicks down the stretch of games and is tied for fifth in the NBA in clutch scoring. He’s also seventh in the NBA in Offensive Win Shares. His excellent play has New York right in the thick of the playoff race in the tough Eastern Conference.
20 of 24
Most Improved Player: 4) Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers
? Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Key stats: 19.8 PPG, 10.2 APG, 48-40-87 shooting splits
In his first full season with the Pacers, Haliburton has made a leap – increasing his scoring from 15.3 PPG to 19.8 PPG and playmaking from 8.2 APG to 10.2 APG, which is the second-best in the league. With Haliburton, Indiana is 25-25. Without Haliburton, Indiana is a putrid 2-10. In addition, Haliburton is third in the NBA in steals per game and has very impressive advanced stats (top-10 in Offensive Box Plus/Minus, VORP and Offensive Win Shares). He’s quickly ascending to up the rankings for best point guard in the NBA.
21 of 24
Coach of the Year: 1) Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets
? Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s make this easy – the coach of the team that is running away with the Western Conference should probably be in the mix for Coach of the Year. Mike Malone has the Nuggets at 43-19 (.694), and five-and-a-half games ahead of the second-place Grizzlies. The Nuggets have the second-best Offensive Rating and a respectable 13th in Defensive Rating – respectable especially considering that his top two players (Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray) aren’t known for their defense. Malone hasn’t finished better than third in Coach of the Year voting in the past, so this would be a good year to give him his flowers.
22 of 24
Coach of the Year: 2) Joe Mazzulla, Boston Celtics
? Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Some Coach of the Year voters might be hesitant to vote for Mazzulla because he inherited arguably the best roster in the NBA, but make no mistake, he’s absolutely deserving of the honor, considering how he was thrown into the fire following Ime Udoka’s suspension and Will Hardy’s departure to Utah. Mazzulla sat behind the bench during last season’s Finals run. This season, the 34-year-old has the Celtics humming on all cylinders and with the best record in the NBA. They have the third-best offensive rating and the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA. Many young coaches would have struggled being thrown into a situation like that with little time to mentally prepare, but Mazzulla excelled and should be properly recognized for doing so.
23 of 24
Coach of the Year: 3) Mike Brown, Sacramento Kings
? Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Brown is evidence that coaches, like players, can make leaps and improve over time. Known as a defensive guru in his early years with LeBron James-era Cavs, Brown struggled to bring out the best in his teams on the offensive end. Those struggles continued in Los Angeles as well. However, after joining the Warriors’ staff and learning from Steve Kerr for years, Brown has turned into an excellent offensive coach and has turned the Kings into the best offense in the NBA (number one offensive rating in the NBA), and somehow near the top of the Western Conference (35-25, third place). If they can sneak into the two-seed, he’ll probably win his second Coach of the Year award (he won in 2008-09 as well).
24 of 24
Coach of the Year: 4) Jacque Vaughn, Brooklyn Nets
? Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
First off, congratulations to Coach Vaughn for finally shedding the interim tag as head coach of the Nets. After the Kyrie Irving-Kevin Durant-Ben Simmons-related nonsense he’s had to navigate, he absolutely deserved it. He helped turn the Nets’ season around, including a 12-game winning streak and an 18-2 record over a 20-game stretch. He’s 32-21 thus far, and made the Durant-led version of the team a vastly improved defensive team. Once Kyrie and KD were traded, he unleashed Cam Thomas upon the unsuspecting league, and he promptly dropped 134 points in a three-game stretch. Kudos Coach Vaughn.