2022-23 NBA Awards Picks: Paolo Banchero, Jaren Jackson, Jr. Earn Sweeps

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NBA picks

Three months into the NBA season and there are many questions still to be answered. Can the Boston Celtics put together a full year of solid basketball? Will LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers miss the playoffs for the second straight year?

Sportscasting’s NBA staff members voiced their opinions on some individual achievements, with Orlando Magic rookie Paolo Banchero and Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. getting some serious love.

Sportscasting’s NBA awards picks

2022-23 NBA Awards Picks: Paolo Banchero, Jaren Jackson, Jr. Earn Sweeps
Sportscasting’s NBA awards picks for the 2022-23 season | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting


Adam Fromal: Nikola Jokic

The beauty of Nikola Jokic’s perennial MVP candidacy is that his dominance in the realm of advanced statistics is almost unnecessary justification. Just watch the Denver Nuggets play an unorthodox brand of heliocentric basketball, building everything around the big man’s near-stationary presence, and his value is obvious enough. He’s the league’s best passer, a hyper-efficient scorer, and — yes, we’ll go there — a vastly underrated defensive presence. 

Jack Dougherty: Nikola Jokic

Here we go again. Nikola Jokic is nearly averaging a triple-double this season (24.7/10.9/9.8) while shooting the highest percentage of his career (62.0%). And the advanced stats? Forget about it. Jokic currently leads the NBA in PER, win shares, box plus/minus, and VORP, just to name a few. This would mark the third straight season in which the center led the league in all four categories. Oh, and the Denver Nuggets are the best team in the Western Conference at 30-13. The three-peat is off to a roaring start.

Mike Thomas: Jayson Tatum

Tatum continues to lead the way for the team with the best record in the NBA, as evidenced by his 51-point effort Monday. As of this writing, the Celtics have rattled off seven straight wins to give them a 33-12 record and a 4.5-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets. Tatum has improved his game by taking the ball to the basket more, adding another dimension to his strong all-around game.

Joe Kozlowski: Nikola Jokic

Now that we’re into the New Year, it’s safe to start drawing some conclusions. One of those is that the Denver Nuggets aren’t going anywhere. And, since we feel safe with that statement, we can give plaudits to the man who makes everything in Denver possible: Nikola Jokic.

While the big man’s scoring (24.7 points per game) is low by MVP-race standards, his ability to do whatever the Nuggets need on a given night can’t be overlooked. Whether it’s efficiently putting the ball in the basket, dishing out assists, or pulling down rebounds, Jokic makes it happen in the Mile High City. He’s also producing the sort of moments that drive an MVP narrative, like draining a step-back, game-winning three to keep his club’s winning streak alive.


Adam: Ben Simmons

Forget about asking Ben Simmons to be a game-changing presence. He’s struggling to even serve as a stabilizing fringe star for the Brooklyn Nets. While he deserves some credit for accepting his limitations and exerting himself on defense, his woeful foul shooting and the lack of aggression that stems from his fear of the charity stripe hold the offense back significantly. 

Jack: Kawhi Leonard

Coming off a torn ACL, Kawhi Leonard has played in just 21 of the Los Angeles Clippers’ 45 games to start the season. LA has gone 13-8 in those games, but the frustrating load-management strategy has held the team back from its full potential all year. The Clippers are clearly playing it safe ahead of the playoffs, but Leonard hasn’t done anything this season to prove he’ll be a reliable contributor come April. 

Mike: Ben Simmons

The Nets have turned things up a notch and find themselves with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. Simmons has shown some flashes this year, but he’s failed to step up lately in the absence of the injured Kevin Durant. If he could become a little more aggressive on the offensive side of the ball, he might make his way off this list.

Joe: Ben Simmons

In previous picks, I’ve tried to avoid going for Ben Simmons, but I can’t overlook him anymore. The guard has appeared in 31 Nets games as of Jan. 17 and is only averaging 7.5 points per outing. His rebounding and assist numbers help mitigate things, but, quite simply, Simmons isn’t producing at the level you’d expect, given that he theoretically replaced James Harden as the Nets’ third weapon.

Rookie of the Year

Adam: Paolo Banchero

Let’s not waste time here. Shoutout to Bennedict Mathurin, Walker Kessler, and the other first-year players strutting their stuff across the Association, but only Paolo Banchero has looked like an All-Star candidate during his inaugural campaign. 

Jack: Paolo Banchero

The only thing that’s changed in the Rookie of the Year race over the past month is Paolo Banchero widening his lead. The Duke product was a -440 favorite to win the award back in December, and he’s a -1000 favorite now. Only a season-ending injury (knocks on wood) would keep Banchero from winning ROY.

Mike: Paolo Banchero

There’s just no debate right now about who the NBA’s top rookie is. He’s far and away the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year and should be a star for the foreseeable future.

Joe: Paolo Banchero

It’s a consistent pick, but it’s the right one. At this point in the season, there’s no reason to overthink it. Paolo Banchero is looking like a legit pro as a rookie; expect him to cruise to this title and only improve as he gets more professional basketball under his belt.

Defensive Player of the Year

Adam: Jaren Jackson Jr.

Being a black hole on offense is bad. The reverse is true for defense, and few players fit the descriptor better than Jaren Jackson Jr. His area of the court is where possessions go to die, whether he’s rotating to cut off a passing lane before the play develops, snuffing out interior shot attempts better than anyone else in the league, or switching onto smaller players and holding his own. He’s a system unto himself. 

Jack: Jaren Jackson Jr.

Jaren Jackson Jr. led the NBA in blocks per game last season with 2.3. That was an impressive mark by itself, but it has nothing on his league-leading 3.3 blocks per game in 2022-23. Jackson has been the best rim-protector in the NBA all season, and he leads the league in defensive win shares (0.152).

Mike: Jaren Jackson Jr.

Jackson has some competition, but for now, he’s the favorite. The best rim-protector in the game gets the nod over players like Bam Adebayo and Robert Williams III, who has turned the Celtics back into one of the best defensive teams in the league. Jackson anticipates well on defense, but his shot-blocking skills put him over the top.

Joe: Jaren Jackson Jr.

While there are some concerns about Jaren Jackson Jr. – he’s only averaging about 26 minutes per game and has a knack for picking up cheap fouls – his impact on the court is impossible to ignore. He’s an elite rim-protector, can shut down virtually any drive, and looms large as the best defender on a strong defensive team.

Most Improved Player

Adam: Luka Doncic

The Dallas Mavericks’ do-everything superstar won’t get much love in the actual Most Improved Player race, but he should. 

As tough as it is for a player to transition from good to great, it’s even harder to make significant strides as an established superstar. That’s exactly what Luka Doncic has done, somehow cutting back on his turnovers while becoming more involved on offense. He’s also increased his scoring average by more than five points per game to an ostentatious 33.8, and that’s come as his true shooting percentage has skyrocketed from 57.1 to 60.8. He’s leaped into the stratosphere — beyond, really — and that deserves more credit than it actually gets. 

Jack: Lauri Markkanen

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the slight betting favorite to win Most Improved Player, and he deserves to be, but I can’t ignore Lauri Markkanen’s coming-out party. The sixth-year forward improved his points-per-game mark from 14.8 last year to 24.6 this year, and he’s the main reason why the Utah Jazz have far exceeded expectations this season. 

Mike: Shai-Gilgeous-Alexander

Last month, I went with Lauri Markkanen, who still is a viable candidate. After a quick start, however, the Jazz have come back down to reality. Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging nearly 31 points per game, and the Thunder are one game behind the Golden State Warriors for the seventh playoff spot in the Western Conference. I believe the Thunder will end up the better team, and that will be the difference-maker between the two players.

Joe: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

As the other guys have mentioned, Lauri Markkanen is a legitimate player in the MIP equation With that being said, though, I still give Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the nod. The OKC guard’s 30.7 points per game place him fifth in the entire Association, ahead of Kevin Durant and LeBron James. It’s impossible to overlook that, especially if SGA can maintain it over the course of the full campaign.