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NBA awards watch: Jokic, Tatum and Doncic race for MVP

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With the Christmas Day slate within the rearview and 2023 just just a few days away, the NBA season is officially kicking into high gear. While teams are peeling back the layers of their identity with each week, award cases are beginning to be made for players and coaches across the NBA.

The Crossover might be checking in on the leaders in the highest six award categories throughout the NBA season. Here’s where the races currently stand entering the brand new yr.

Most Useful Player

1. Nikola Jokić, Nuggets: A 3-peat is within sight for Jokić if he continues his current pace. He is sort of averaging a triple double (25.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, 9.4 assists) while leading a team that currently sits second within the Western Conference (22–12). If Jokić keeps this up with the team success to match, he could have a fairly strong case for his third straight MVP award.

2. Jayson Tatum, Celtics: Tatum has been a gradual force this season on the most effective team within the league. He has been elite on either side of the court, while leading the NBA’s best offense with a median of 31.1 points per game. Voters could have a difficult decision on their hands if each Jokić and Tatum sustain these paces to the tip of the season.

3. Luka Dončić, Mavericks: The Mavericks (19–16) don’t have the record to match the Nuggets, Celtics, Bucks and Nets, but Dončić has been out of this world. His remarkable 60-points, 21-rebound, 10-assist performance in Dallas’s comeback extra time win against the Knicks on Tuesday is just the most recent example of his special season. Dallas improving on its standing within the West can only improve Dončić’s MVP case.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks: Like Jokić, Antetokounmpo is within the running for his third profession MVP award. Antetokounmpo stands at fourth within the NBA in points per game (31.7) and continues to be a force within the paint. The Bucks must prove they’ll beat the East’s best, though, after recent losses to the Cavaliers, Nets and Celtics.

5. Kevin Durant, Nets: The Nets are surging within the East, largely attributable to Durant’s efficiency. Durant is averaging 30.0 points per game on 56.3% shooting while logging 36.4 minutes per game. If Brooklyn continues its streak and holds off Joel Embiid and the 76ers within the standings, Durant could have to be in consideration for his second regular-season MVP award.

Rookie of the Yr

1. Paolo Banchero, Magic: Banchero has held the reins on this award throughout the season. The No. 1 pick has performed as advertised, averaging 21.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and three.9 assists per game. Banchero has been a 20-point machine for the Magic and, as LeBron James said, is barely going to recuperate.

2. Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers: The No. 6 pick has been a gradual offensive threat for the Pacers, at the same time as defenses have adapted to contain him. Averaging 17.1 points per game on 41.5% shooting, Mathurin has been a key cog within the Pacers’ balanced offense–and can also be putting up a case for Sixth Man of the Yr.

3. Jaden Ivey, Pistons: Ivey, the No. 5 pick, has been making the most of his increased usage in Cade Cunningham’s stead. He’s averaged 15.5 points per game on 41.6% shooting, including a career-high 30-point outing against the Jazz earlier this month.

Defensive Player of the Yr

1. Brook Lopez, Bucks: Lopez has been the backbone of the Bucks’ top-5 defense this season. He leads the league in blocks per game (2.5) while adding 5.9 rebounds. (He can also be averaging his most points per game for the reason that 2016–17 season at 14.9.) Lopez continues to reinvent his game and has a very good foundation to win his first DPOY award.

2. Jaren Jackson Jr., Grizzlies: Jackson’s push for DPOY is growing after he missed the start of the season while recovering from foot surgery. He has made a right away impact on the Grizzlies’ defensive effort, and his 3.1 blocks per game (once he logs enough games to qualify) can be ok to guide the league. Jackson has a likelihood to edge out Lopez for DPOY if he holds that rate and stays healthy through the remainder of the season.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks: While OG Anunoby can also be within the running for DPOY, Antetokounmpo stays a threat to win the award for a second time. His teammate Lopez has the sting at this point, but Antetokounmpo stays a defensive threat together with his size, quickness and talent to drag down 11.2 rebounds per game.

Sixth Man of the Yr

Russell Westbrook is the present frontrunner for the Sixth Man of the Yr. 

1. Russell Westbrook, Lakers: Westbrook has embraced his role because the Lakers’ sixth man and could have prolonged his time within the NBA due to it. He’s averaging 14.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and seven.7 assists, but together with his inconsistent efficiency, he’s under no circumstances a lock for the newly named John Havlicek Trophy.

2. Jordan Poole, Warriors: Poole’s eligibility for this award will rely upon how long he’ll start in Stephen Curry’s stead, but when he stays eligible, he’s making a robust case for himself. He’s helping to maintain the Warriors afloat offensively while posting 19.8 points per game, but he could have to forfeit eligibility if Curry is out longer than anticipated.

3. Christian Wood, Mavericks: Wood has been on a tear for the Mavericks off the bench, averaging 20.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and a pair of.4 blocks on 52.1% shooting over his last seven games, per StatMuse. Wood must proceed that pace to challenge for Sixth Man of the Yr.

Most Improved Player

1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder: Gilgeous-Alexander is having an All-Star–caliber season. He’s averaging 31.5 points per game on 50.5% shooting from the sphere and 92.5% accuracy from the free throw line on 10.3 attempts per game. That’s up from 24.5 points and 45.3% shooting last season while attending to the road a further thrice per game.

2. Tyrese Haliburton, Pacers: A change of scenery has done wonders for Haliburton. In his first full season with Indiana, Haliburton is averaging 20.5 points while leading the league with 10.2 assists per game. His efficiency, while averaging 2.7 turnovers per game, gives him great standing for Most Improved Player.

3. Lauri Markkanen, Jazz: Though the Jazz have cooled after their hot start, Markkanen has played a giant part of their unexpected play. He has jumped to scoring 23.2 points per game this season after averaging 14.8 points last yr in Cleveland while also adding 8.4 rebounds. Utah’s recent slide hasn’t helped Markkanen’s case, but he has thrived in his latest role.

Coach of the Yr

1. Joe Mazzulla, Celtics: Mazzulla stepped into a difficult situation and has the Celtics acting at a top level despite the team’s offseason drama. With the NBA’s best offense and record, the Celtics are the team to beat under Mazzulla’s leadership.

2. Willie Green, Pelicans: The Pelicans have been flirting with the No. 1 seed within the West under Green. He has put Zion Williamson in the most effective position to succeed, helping to form among the best offenses within the league—and it’s showing within the standings.

3. Taylor Jenkins, Grizzlies: Will Hardy has been within the conversation for Coach of the Yr, but with the Jazz sliding to ninth within the West, Jenkins is earning an edge for the award. Ja Morant and the Grizzlies have the boldness that they’ll come out atop the West, and Jenkins has the defense working at a high level to maintain them competitive.

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