As January comes to a close and February begins, the NBA season starts to really come into form. The All-Star break is approaching fast, and most teams have already played about 50 games. The playoff races are beginning to figure themselves out, as well as many other aspects from around the league. With this in mind, many NBA awards races are beginning to take shape. Let’s take a look at some front-runners for these awards.
MVP: Joel Embiid
This race is very tight. Nikola Jokic won the award last year, and he has been a favorite to win it again for a large portion of this season. However, the 76ers have begun to rise up the standings, and with that, so has the play of Joel Embiid.
Embiid is averaging over 33 points per game, with 9.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists, as well. He’s scored more than eight points more per game than Jokic, is about even in rebounds, and only falls behind Jokic in assists. Jokic has the upper hand in the standings, as the Nuggets are currently first in the West. Philadelphia is third in a very competitive East though, and Embiid’s incredible performance to beat Denver just days ago has vaulted him into the lead in this race.
Rookie of the Year: Paolo Banchero
For the entire season the No. 1 pick, Paolo Banchero, has led this race. Banchero has simply been fantastic this season, and is proving himself worthy of his draft selection.
Orlando’s star is averaging over 20 points per game, along with 6.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Keegan Murray, Benedict Mathurin and Jalen Williams have all been impressive, but none of them can compare to Banchero, and his candidacy for this NBA awards race.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jaren Jackson Jr.
Despite a Reddit-fueled conspiracy theory regarding Jackson’s insane stat-lines at home, JJJ has largely ran away with this award. That theory claims that the Memphis Grizzlies’ scorekeeper has been inflating stats, like blocks and steals. At first glance, there may have seemed to be some merit to it. Jackson does have a significant amount more blocks or steals in home games than on the road.
Turns out, not even conspiracy theorists can explain Jackson’s incredible performance this season. The NBA has come out and stated there is no merit to these claims, so it’s time to give Jackson the respect he deserves. The 23 year-old has 4.2 combined steals and blocks per game this season, deserving of the award.
Sixth Man of the Year: Jordan Poole
Having Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole on the same roster should be illegal. With Curry and Klay starting in the backcourt, the only role Poole is able to have is to come off the bench. Fortunately for him, and Golden State as a whole, he’s filled this role exceptionally well.
Jordan is averaging 20.8 points, 4.3 assists, and 2.7 rebounds per game. His assists and rebounds numbers shouldn’t be expected to be too high, since he’s coming off the bench. His role is to provide scoring for the second unit, and he’s done exactly that.
Most Improved Player: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
This race is a tight one. There are a ton of good candidates for this award, but it has developed into a two-headed race. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lauri Markkanen have turned this into a battle between themselves, and each is a worthy choice.
Gilgeous-Alexander should have the edge. Both have been stunning this season. Utah and Oklahoma City were both expected to be bottom-five teams in the league, and yet they’re currently battling it out for a play-in spot. SGA’s 30.9 points per game, 4.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists have vaulted him to an All-NBA level, which is easily deserving of this award.
Coach of the Year: Mike Brown
Finally, we have yet another NBA awards race that could go to a variety of coaches. The most note-worthy that isn’t Mike Brown would be Jacque Vaughn from Brooklyn, who has overseen an amazing turnaround.
Still, Brown deserves this award. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs in 16 years, and just last season finished 12th in the Western Conference. At the time of this writing, Sacramento is third in the west at 28-21, and has the highest scoring offense in the league. Talk about a turn-around.