NBA Awards: Mid-Season Frontrunners

Orlando Magic guard Paolo Banchero is the mid-season front-runner for the NBA Rookie of the Year Award
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Offseason Preview: Who Will Return to the Warriors Next Season?

The Warriors are back on top! The Dubs added another ring to their dynasty, as they defeated the Boston Celtics 103-90 in Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Finals. While the champagne showers and championship fever across the Bay may feel great, it’s officially the NBA offseason. The Warriors have lots of work to do if they want to defend their title. On top of having three draft picks, nine Golden State players are free agents, and Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole are in need of contract extensions. The Warriors have made it clear that they want to bring the majority of their roster back for next season.

With that being said, let’s dive into what the Warriors should do when it comes to retaining their current players.

Players who are unlikely to return: Andre Iguodala, Kevon Looney, Otto Porter Jr.

Kevon Looney and Otto Porter Jr. proved their worth to the rest of the league this season with stellar performances. Kevon Looney played every game this season and established himself as an above-average center and key role player. Porter, on the other hand, found his form again as a top three-and-D wing after two seasons plagued by injuries. Both players should receive contracts well above $10 million/year. The Warriors could pay that to Looney due to the luxury tax, but with Wiseman expected to make a big return next season, it makes more sense to sign a cheaper option.

Meanwhile, I’d expect Andre Iguodala to retire. The 2015 Finals MVP is 38 years old, was in and out of the rotation this season, and battled multiple injuries throughout the season. If he were to return next season, he wouldn’t see much time on the court.

Players who could return and contribute in 2022-23: Gary Payton II, Nemanja Bjelica, Damion Lee

One thing I am personally interested to see is how other teams value Gary Payton II. The journeyman point guard found a home last season in Golden State, and the Warriors strongly valued his defensive abilities. But can Payton succeed outside of Golden State? The Warriors should make an effort to bring Payton back, as he provides a key boost behind Curry.

As for Bjelica and Lee, both players were in and out of the rotation frequently. Bjelica utilized his size and both offensive and defensive abilities well in the NBA Finals. However, with Patrick Baldwin Jr. now on this team and Jonathan Kuminga expected to take a big leap, maybe the Warriors think their forward room is too cluttered. Either way, Bjelica shouldn’t receive more than a veteran minimum, something the Warriors can afford if they want to. The same thing goes for Lee; if the Warriors want him, they can pay him on a veteran minimum. With 2nd-round pick Ryan Rollins fracturing his foot, bringing back Lee may help bolster the guard room even more.

The remaining free agents (Juan Toscano-Anderson (RFA), Quinndary Weatherspoon (RFA), Chris Chiozza) didn’t make much of an impact this season on the Warriors. Therefore, it shouldn’t matter whether they resign or not. The Warriors did not extend the qualifying offers for Toscano-Anderson and Chiozza, and are not expected to resign them.

How should the Warriors approach extension talks with Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins?

Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins enter the final year of their contracts next season, with Wiggins being an unrestricted free agent. Both players embraced a vital role for the Warriors championship squad, and Golden State will have a tough time adjusting if they can’t keep either of them.

In my opinion, Andrew Wiggins is more important to the Warriors, and he should be dealt with first. The all-star wing is a perfect fit for Steve Kerr’s system, and there aren’t many other players that can match his role and talent. Once the Warriors fill out their roster, their focus should turn to Wiggins and make sure he stays in the Bay.

Poole, on the other hand, plays a crucial part in the Warriors’ system but could be replaceable by another young talent. That shouldn’t make the Warriors shy away from him. Golden State should bring back Poole if it’s willing to go well into the luxury tax. On top of that, Poole is a restricted free agent, which gives the Warriors more time to make a decision.

What do the Warriors need to find entering next season?

The Warriors didn’t have many glaring needs this offseason, and that is one key reason why they won the championship. Therefore, the Warriors’ needs really depend on who’s coming back and who’s not.

With Looney and Porter unlikely to return, Golden State will need to find a center who can spread the floor and a three-and-D wing. Having players in those roles has helped the Warriors significantly throughout the dynasty, and is necessary for Steve Kerr’s system. It might even be beneficial to find two three-and-D wings with Iguodala likely to retire.

Gary Payton II and Nemanja Bjelica will also need their roles filled if they leave. Golden State should keep its eye out for a defensive-minded point guard and a stretch 4.

Final Thoughts

The Warriors offseason doesn’t need to be too eventful to keep a championship roster. However, the front office can’t slack off. Teams across the Western Conference have already made vast improvements. The Warriors need to find players who can play in and out of the rotation, have a strong bench presence, and contribute in different ways. The Warriors players had their foot on the gas pedal all season long. Now, it’s time for the front office to do the same thing.