NBA awards finalists: Jokic, SGA battle for MVP

The NBA announced the three finalists for its 2023-24 awards Sunday, with two-time winner Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets headlining an MVP category that also boasts the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks.

Most Valuable Player

Bart Young / National Basketball Association / Getty
  • Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
  • Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

In a close battle between three deserving candidates, the league’s most distinguished award will go to a new player, as reigning MVP Joel Embiid cannot repeat due to the league’s introduction of the 65-game criteria. Jokic is looking to become one of four players to win the award three times – joining Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Moses Malone. Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder to their winningest season since 2014, while Doncic was integral in the Mavericks’ return to the postseason after missing out last campaign. All three nominees are foreign-born, which continues the five-year streak of a non-American star winning the award.

Rookie of the Year

Michael Gonzales / National Basketball Association / Getty
  • Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs
  • Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets

Despite commendable campaigns from Holmgren and Miller, Wembanyama seems to be a lock to bring home the hardware. The Spurs rookie led the league in blocks in his first campaign and averaged 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. The French phenom would be a well-deserving winner and the third Spur to capture the award, joining Hall of Famers David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Some pretty good company.

Sixth Man of the Year

David Sherman / National Basketball Association / Getty
  • Malik Monk, Sacramento Kings
  • Bobby Portis, Milwaukee Bucks
  • Naz Reid, Minnesota Timberwolves

Bobby Portis, a nominee in 2022-23, is joined by fellow big man Naz Reid and guard Malik Monk as the Sixth Man of the Year candidates. While the Kings’ reserve missed the final nine games of the campaign due to an MCL sprain, both Portis and Reid played in over 80 games this season – with the Bucks forward appearing in every contest.

Defensive Player of the Year

David Berding / Getty Images Sport / Getty
  • Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
  • Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs

Rudy Gobert is on the verge of history. The T-Wolves center is on the cusp of tying Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace for most Defensive Player of the Year awards in NBA history with four. While Adebayo anchored the league’s fifth-best defense over the regular season, Wembanyama could be the first rookie ever to win the award as well as receive All-Defensive first-team honors.

Most Improved Player

Brock Williams-Smith / National Basketball Association / Getty
  • Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets
  • Coby White, Chicago Bulls

All three players took substantial leaps this year, but Maxey was the lone candidate of the group to make the All-Star Game. Meanwhile, Sengun spearheaded the Rockets’ regular-season resurgence, and White capitalized on more scoring opportunities in Zach LaVine’s absence – resulting in a 42-point outburst against the Atlanta Hawks in the play-in tournament.

Coach of the Year

Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport / Getty
  • Mark Daigneault, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Chris Finch, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Jamahl Mosley, Orlando Magic

Mark Daigneault guided the Thunder to a record that carried 17 more wins than last season and was a huge reason Oklahoma City made its first playoff appearance since the Disney bubble in 2020. He was also a nominee in 2022-23 but lost to Sacramento Kings bench boss Mike Brown. Finch and Mosley also were important to their team’s improvements: The Timberwolves ranked first in defensive rating this past campaign, while the Magic finished third.

Clutch Player of the Year

Cole Burston / Getty Images Sport / Getty
  • Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
  • DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

In the Clutch Player of the Year’s second season of existence, a new player will win the hardware after Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox took home the inaugural trophy. Curry and DeRozan rank first and second in most points during clutch time in the Association, while Gilgeous-Alexander shot 58.1% in the final five minutes of game action – the highest percentage of players who’ve scored at least 100 points.