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NBA expert’s picks at midseason: MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, NBA Finals winner, and more

NBA Awards: Denver celebrates

We’re at the midpoint of an NBA season that has seen some surprises: a tournament to start the season that was exciting, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder at the top of the Western Conference standings and Kyrie Irving not causing trouble with the Dallas Mavericks.

We’re at the point where we can start looking ahead to the season superlatives. Nothing is going to change, right? OK, OK, just kidding. But based on where we are right now, this is how we’re picking the awards and playoffs to shape up.

NBA Award winners, our picks

  • NBA MVP: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
  • NBA Rookie of the Year: Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • NBA Most Improved Player: Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
  • NBA Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • NBA Sixth Man of the Year: Tim Hardaway, Jr., Dallas Mavericks
  • NBA Clutch Player of the Year: Damian Lillard, Milwaukee Bucks
  • NBA Coach of the Year: Joe Mazzula, Boston Celtics

Conference and NBA Finals winners, our picks

  • Eastern Conference: Boston Celtics
  • Western Conference: Denver Nuggets
  • NBA Finals: Boston Celtics

Let’s break down our picks.

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NBA MVP: Nikola Jokic, but not in a runaway

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

MVP is tricky. If you’re picking the best player or the player who has had the best season, then it’s between Jokic and Joel Embiid. (Embiid might not be eligible, he has to play 65 games and is on pace to come up short of that, but he has had a fantastic season when he’s playing).

If you really focus on the player who has been mostly responsible for his team’s success, then it’s between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Anthony Edwards because those two have brought their teams from just above and just below .500 last season to the top of the Western Conference this season. Jokic will fit into both categories. Take him off the Nuggets and they’re likely battling for a play-in game. So we’ll take him to win this award for the third time.

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NBA Rookie of the Year: Chet Holmgren should be runaway winner

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder
Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with this: barring something unforeseen, Victor Wembanyama is going to be one of the best players ever in the NBA. He has the skills to play all five positions on the floor, a perfect guy for positionless basketball. But his team stinks.

With Holmgren being a key member of a Thunder team that is pushing for the No. 1 seed in the West, he has to get the nod.

Related: NBA MVP race

NBA Coach of the Year: Joe Mazzulla in a tight race

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics
Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

If you say that Chris Finch of the Timberwolves, Mark Daigneault of the Thunder, Rick Carlisle of the Pacers, Nick Nurse of the 76ers or Ime Udoka of the Rockets should win this award, we can’t argue with you. Because it’s true. All of them should win.

Mazzulla probably won’t, but his team has the best record in the NBA, after losing in a playoff series last season in which he was outcoached by Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat. But he has used that loss to fuel the push for this season.

Related: Best NBA players right now

Some obvious, some long shots to win awards

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Philadelphia 76ers
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Tyrese Maxey is making the 76ers forget all about James Harden. At more than 26 points per game, he is on pace to be a Top 10 scorer and his assist numbers have gone from 3.5 to 6.7 per game. He’s our runaway choice for Most Improved Player.

Rudy Gobert has won Defensive Player of the Year three times and we think he’ll do it again. With him on the floor, the Timberwolves have a 105.0 defensive rating and opponents are shooting an effective field goal percentage of 49%.

Tim Hardaway, Jr. should beat out the challengers in a pretty crowded field for NBA Sixth Man of the Year. Austin Reaves of the Lakers has the best odds to win but he’s back in the starting lineup, so that should knock him out. Hardaway is putting up his best numbers in five seasons and the Mavericks seem to be putting things together for a nice run.

Damian Lillard has figured out how to work with Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee and the Bucks are starting to assert themselves in the East. But, other than for MVP, is there a better group of names vying for an award? LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Kevin Durant are among the favorites. This will be a fun race.

Related: Draymond Green reveals a conversation he had with Commissioner Adam Silver

Eastern Conference, Western Conference winners

NBA: Boston Celtics at Denver Nuggets
Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks have made moves to make a run at the title and while the Bucks got the bigger star in Damian Lillard, the Celtics added Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis, who have fit in seamlessly and made them better defensively. We’re taking the Celtics in a classic seven-game series.

We’re picking the Nuggets to face the Los Angeles Clippers in the conference finals, two veteran teams with a lot to prove – the Nuggets want to show they were no fluke and James Harden wants to show that he can actually win when it matters. We’ll take the Nuggets to win this in six games.

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NBA Finals: Who will take home Larry O’Brien Trophy?

The NBA Finals could be one of the best series ever. The Nuggets will have the best player, but the Celtics will play smothering defense. Boston will hit a ton of 3-pointers in spurts and Denver will methodically go about what it wants to do. Since Boston is 5-0 all-time in Game 7s at home, we’ll take them to win it.

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