NBA All-Star Break: Midseason Awards

NBA All-Star guard De'Aaron Fox (5) dunks against the Dallas Mavericks during the fourth quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

As NBA All-Star Weekend approaches, it’s time to see who the favorites are to take home the rebranded individual awards. 

NBA All-Star Break: Midseason Awards

MVP (The Michael Jordan Trophy): Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

The twice-reigning champion Nikola Jokic is well on track to pick up his third MVP award in a row, putting him in extraordinary company. It hasn’t be done since 1986, when Larry Bird became the third player to ever complete the trifecta, joining Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. While everyone always points to his prowess in advanced stats (which he is once again excelling in), I’ll stick to the basics: the Serbian is currently averaging an astonishing 24.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 10.1 assists while shooting 63.2% from the field and leading the Nuggets to the best record in the West.

The Nuggets are +26.8 points per 100 possessions with Jokic on the floor. Jokic is also a much-improved defender with a 109.5 defensive rating. Though, the most perplexing part of Jokic’s game is how effortless it looks. Jokic has accumulated 20 triple-doubles this season, twice as many as the next-highest player. Candidates such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid will make a compelling case, as well as potential voter fatigue, but Jokic is clearly the most valuable player in the league right now.

Defensive Player of the Year (Hakeem Olajuwon Trophy): Jaren Jackson Jr, Memphis Grizzlies

Now Jaren Jackson Jr’s ability to stay on the court (or lack thereof) will determine whether he holds onto the award down the stretch, but the Grizzlies’ defensive anchor has been a force. The first-time NBA all-star is leading the league in blocks per game at 3.3 to go along with 1.0 steals per game. Though, his prowess lies deeper than his individual stats. The Grizzlies ranked an abysmal 19th in defensive rating to begin the season while Jackson Jr was out with injury. Since he returned to action, the Grizzlies rank first by a comfortable margin. He also leads the league in points per direct drive, only surrendering .815 points per occurrence. If he were to have more time, Brook Lopez, Nicholas Claxton, and Giannis Antetokounmpo could steal the award.

ROY (Wilt Chamberlain Trophy): Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

Paolo Banchero was somewhat of a surprise when selected first overall in the 2022 NBA Draft. Well, safe to say the much-improved Magic made the right choice. Banchero ranks in the top 5 among rookies in points, rebounds, and assists. He is currently averaging 20.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per contest as the team’s primary facilitator. Unlike other awards, there is no debate on this one, as Banchero looks like a future all-star (and maybe could’ve slipped in this year if the East wasn’t so loaded). He has the keys to Orlando’s offense, and his feel for the game is apparent. His ceiling remains to be seen, but an MVP in his future wouldn’t be surprising. Though this race is all but over, Bennedict Mathurin, Walker Kessler, and Jalen Williams have all had solid rookie campaigns.

Sixth Man of the Year (John Havlicek Trophy): Malcolm Brogdon, Boston Celtics

Boston’s lack of firepower off the bench was apparent in last year’s finals as Derrick White (who’s been awesome as a primary starter this year), and Payton Pritchard didn’t cut it. The acquisition of Malcolm Brogdon has brought stability and scoring to a unit that has been among the league’s best. Though his health has always been a concern, Brogdon has suited up 48 times this season. He is averaging 14.3 points, 4.2 boards, and 3.7 assists as Boston’s primary ball-handler off the bench, sometimes even closing games for the best team in the East. Brogdon is also shooting a sweltering 45.2% from beyond the arc, good for 6th in the league. Other candidates include Norman Powell, Russell Westbrook (depending on his new role), Tyrese Maxey, and Jordan Poole.

Most Improved Player (George Mikan Trophy): Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz

While the criteria for this award has always been unclear, the first-time all-star has suddenly become a franchise player for the frisky Jazz. Lauri Maskkanen has seen increases in nearly every statistic across the board. Most notably, an additional 10.1 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 7% efficiency per contest from last season. Finally, Markkanen is consistently showcasing the talents that the Bulls hoped for when they spent a lottery pick on him.

After trading Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz gave the Finnish player the keys to their offense, and he hasn’t disappointed. He recently dropped a career-high 49 points against the Rockets. His breakout greatly accelerates the Jazz’s rebuild as they now have a foundational piece for the foreseeable future. While candidates such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyrese Haliburton, and Jalen Brunson have incredibly strong cases, none have quite made a year-to-year improvement like Markkanen.

Clutch Player of the Year (Jerry West Trophy): De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

Light the beam!  While the phrase is cool to say, fans can thank the first-time all-star’s late-game heroics for being able to close out so many Sacramento Kings victories. De’Aaron Fox leads the league in clutch points with 148 while shooting 58.8% from the field. The Kings are 15-11 in games that are within five points with five minutes remaining. I’ll admit it feels weird to say “Sacramento Kings” and “Clutch” in the same sentence. However, thanks to their high-octane late-game offense, the Kings are well on their way to breaking the longest active playoff drought in sports. The knock on Fox’s game prior to this season was that he wasn’t a “winning player”. It’s safe to say that status is no more, as he’s ascended to become one of the league’s best closers. While remains to be seen what criteria will be used, other candidates include Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic, and Jalen Brunson.

Coach Of the Year (Red Auerbach Trophy): Mark Daigneault, Oklahoma City Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder are good? Many point towards the growth of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey for the Thunder’s rise into the playoff picture. While they wouldn’t be wrong, the third-year head coach has been the orchestrator behind the over-achieving Thunder.

The Thunder are tied for the best second-half margin in the NBA, a testament to adjustments and fostering a culture that consistently plays with effort. Daigneault has overseen the development of rising young players, such as Jalen and Jaylin Williams, Isaiah Joe, and Tre Mann. The Thunder have also overcome a constantly changing rotation due to injuries. Daigneault probably won’t end up winning the award, as it’s usually awarded to coaches atop the standings. However, the Thunder deserve recognition for their quick turnaround. Joe Mazzulla, Michael Malone, and Mike Brown will all be atop the voting when the decision is announced.