NBA unveils awards finalists: Embiid, Jokic, Giannis fighting for MVP

The NBA announced Friday its three finalists for its 2022-23 awards, with a trio of big men leading the way for MVP for the second consecutive season.

Most Valuable Player

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  • Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
  • Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Antetokounmpo, Embiid, and Jokic are once again the leading candidates for the NBA’s most prestigious regular-season honor. Jokic is looking to become just the fourth player ever to win three straight MVPs and the first to do so since Larry Bird. Antetokounmpo, who won the award in 2018-19 and 2019-20, led the Bucks to the league’s best record as arguably the best overall player. Embiid, meanwhile, is looking to capture the award for the first time after leading the league in scoring for the second straight campaign.

Rookie of the Year

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  • Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
  • Walker Kessler, Utah Jazz
  • Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Banchero, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, appears to be the leader in the clubhouse. He averaged 20 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists for a pesky Magic squad. Williams and Kessler both came on strong late, though neither had to carry the offensive workload of Orlando’s prized rookie.

Sixth Man of the Year

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  • Malcolm Brogdon, Boston Celtics
  • Bobby Portis, Milwaukee Bucks
  • Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks

Brogdon and Quickley seem to be neck-and-neck as front-runners. Brogdon came off the bench for all 67 of his games and averaged more points in a reserve role, but Quickley filled in admirably whenever he was asked to start and still played a bench role for 60 of his 81 games. Both guards are above-average defenders, which can’t be said about many past winners.

Defensive Player of the Year

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  • Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
  • Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
  • Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers

A trio of big men makes the shortlist for Defensive Player of the Year. Jackson led the league in blocks and helped the Grizzlies to the third-best defensive rating. Lopez was a defensive anchor for the league’s fourth-best unit and defended more shots than anybody. On the other hand, Mobley’s versatility was key for the league’s top-ranked unit in Cleveland. This might be one of the closest races of any award.

Most Improved Player

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  • Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz

This one might be a two-man race between Markkanen and Gilgeous-Alexander. Both are first-time All-Stars, but Markkanen’s leap came out of nowhere. The Jazz forward upped his scoring average by 10.8 points per game, improved his efficiency from both inside and beyond the arc, and he more than doubled his free-throw attempts. However, Gilgeous-Alexander perhaps made a more difficult leap, transforming from a borderline All-Star to one of the league’s very best players by averaging 31.9 points per game on elite efficiency.

Coach of the Year

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  • Mike Brown, Sacramento Kings
  • Mark Daigneault, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Joe Mazzulla, Boston Celtics

Brown is the runaway winner here. He guided the Kings to a stunning third-place finish in the Western Conference in his first season as head coach after they hadn’t made the playoffs in 17 years. Daigneault did an admirable job for the Thunder, who earned a play-in spot when they were projected to be one of the worst teams in the league. Mazzulla also deserves credit for stepping in just a month before the season and keeping the ship steady for the Celtics, who went 57-25 in his first campaign as head coach.

Clutch Player of the Year

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  • Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
  • DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
  • De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

The inaugural winner of the Clutch Player of the Year award seems like another foregone conclusion. Fox comfortably led the league in clutch points and made three game-winning shots, including a ridiculous buzzer-beater from the logo to beat the Magic in overtime. DeRozan and Butler were second and third in clutch points, respectively.