Coppola’s Column: NBA Award finalists and predictions 


Last Friday, the NBA announced its three finalists for each of its 2022-23 awards. The league is seeing the greatest quantity of exceptional play in its history, with no race demonstrating that as great as the MVP race. Here are the nominees for each award, along with who should, and probably will, win. 

Most Valuable Player 


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

The sport of basketball has continued to evolve, requiring ever more skill from its players. The 3-point revolution and the emphasis on ball handling and playmaking, has revolutionized the big man position. This has brought that position back to prominence, so much so that all three finalists fit that description. 

Jokic is looking to become the fourth player in NBA history to win three straight MVPs, and probably does deserve it the most out of the trio. His team stands first in the conference, while he has once again put up a historic stat line with 25 points (No. 18 in the NBA), 12 rebounds (No. 2) and 10 assists (No. 3) per game. He also leads the other contenders in almost every other advanced statistic, such as win shares, box plus minus, value over replacement player, true shooting percentage, player efficiency rating and more. 

Despite this, it appears that the media might be influencing the decision in a different direction. Jokic was the runaway favorite up until a week before the season’s conclusion, when ESPN began to focus on Antetokounmpo and Embiid. It could also be voter fatigue, though it’s important to mention that in any other year Antetokounmpo and Embiid would win this MVP race with ease — if the other two weren’t having such stellar seasons. 

Antetokounmpo won the award in 2018-19 and 2019-20, and has led the Bucks to the top seed in the East. Though he’s not performing as spectacularly as he did in his other MVP campaigns, it’s hard to ignore the 31-12-6 stat line he’s put together. Antetokounmpo isn’t even the one who has the best chance of dethroning Jokic, with Embiid deserving the award just as much. Sure, his 76ers only are the third seed, but it’s still impressive considering the Bucks and Celtics are their competition. He also leads the league in points for the second year in a row, with 33 per game, and is the best defensively out of the trio. Ultimately the race will come down to whether people agree with Jokic and his better efficiency and more rounded offense or go with the better defender in Embiid who puts up better volume numbers scoring the ball. 

Rookie of the Year 


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

Unfortunately, this isn’t much of a conversation, especially compared to the MVP race. Banchero, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, is practically guaranteed to receive the award. He averaged 20 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists for a Magic team that was better than their No. 13 placement in the east. 

Williams and Kessler both came in strong late, though neither had the role to get the sheer volume Banchero displayed. Kessler, a center, is a prototypical big man that excelled in rebounding, with nine a game, and defending, with two blocks per game. His potential is immense, and yet matched by Williams as well. The Thunder shooting guard was the third highest scorer on the team with 14 points per game on solid efficiency. He also shows plenty of potential on the defensive side as well, though it’s just not enough to compete with Banchero. 

Sixth Man of the Year 


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

This award also seems pretty decided at this point, with Brogdon’s 15 points off the bench edging him past the competition. Quickley is very close behind him, averaging the same number of points and will likely make the competition much closer than expected. The difference might come down to the fact that Brogdon primarily came off the bench, while Quickley would occasionally start

Defensive Player of the Year 

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

As with MVP voting, this year’s DPOY list is dominated by the big man. This one is likely a lock for Jackson, with experts consistently praising him as the best. His three blocks per game leads the league, and he is far in front of the field in defensive rating while leading the second-best defensive unit in the league. Lopez is undoubtedly the second-best defensive player in the league, defending more shots than anybody while being top 10 in defensive rating. Mobley headlined the best defense in the league in Cleveland but is consistently overlooked when compared to Jackson and Lopez. 

Most Improved Player 

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

It’s always a fan favorite award when choosing who improved the most, and this year represents a unique challenge. Markkanen might have the edge here, but Gilgeous-Alexander certainly has a shot at taking the award as well. Markkanen improved his scoring by over 10 points per game, compared to Gilgeous-Alexander’s seven. Gilgeous-Alexander also saw some improvement with his defense, though it’s also worth mentioning Markkanen improved his rebounding by nearly three per game. It’s a difficult decision with Markkanen making a larger leap from starter to star, yet with Gilgeous-Alexander making the harder one from star to superstar. 

Coach of the Year 

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

Brown is the runaway winner here for many, and that is more than well deserved. He guided the Kings to a surprise third-place finish in the Western Conference in his first season as head coach. That broke a 17-year playoff drought for the Kings, and they also proceeded to win game one against the defending champion Warriors. Daigneault — a former UConn student manager — is expected to be the runner-up, but I’d argue his team underperformed when compared to the talent at hand. Mazzulla should take the second-place finish, having led the Celtics to the second-best seed in the east in just his first season after having to unceremoniously take over for Ime Udoka. Either way, Brown is almost certainly receiving the honor. 

Clutch Player of the Year 

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

The final award, in its inaugural season, seems like an easy one once again. Fox more than comfortably led the league in clutch points, while also making three game-winning shots. As stated before, they have also upset the Warriors in game one of the first round series, and while it’s a regular season award his performances have only solidified his case. DeRozan and Butler were second and third in clutch points, respectively, though it’s hard to differentiate between them.

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