Wembanyama, Jokic headline NBA award finalists

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The NBA unveiled the three finalists for each of its seven major individual awards for the 2023-24 regular season Sunday night, headlined by Nikola Jokic, an MVP finalist for a fourth straight season, and San Antonio Spurs center Victor Wembanyama, a finalist for Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

Jokic, whose Denver Nuggets opened the playoffs with a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday night, won the MVP in 2021 and 2022 and finished second behind the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid last year.

Embiid and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo were MVP finalists alongside Jokic each of the past two seasons, but they were replaced this season by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic.

Jokic concluded the regular season averaging 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists for Denver, which finished tied atop the Western Conference with Gilgeous-Alexander’s Thunder. Oklahoma City claimed the West’s top playoff seed on a tiebreaker.

Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 30.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 2.0 steals this season. Doncic led the league in scoring, averaging 33.9 points, to go along with 9.2 rebounds and 9.8 assists for the Mavericks, who opened their first-round series against the LA Clippers with a 109-97 loss Sunday.

There were no surprises among the finalists for Rookie of the Year, with the top two picks in the 2023 draft — Wembanyama and Charlotte Hornets forward Brandon Miller — joined by the 2022 second overall pick, Thunder center Chet Holmgren.

Wembanyama set several records in his first season with the Spurs, averaging 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 3.6 blocks and 1.2 steals, while Holmgren averaged 16.5 points and 7.9 rebounds for Oklahoma City after missing last season with a foot injury. Miller averaged 17.4 points and made 184 3-pointers this season.

Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert, who previously won three Defensive Player of the Year awards and was a finalist from 2017 to 2022, leads this year’s finalists, alongside Wembanyama and Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo.

Gobert led Minnesota to the league’s best defensive rating and averaged 12.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Adebayo, one of the league’s most versatile big men, averaged 10.4 rebounds plus a steal and a block per game, while Wembanyama became a block and steal machine as a rookie, especially after shifting to center full-time midway through the season.

The field for Most Improved Player, often one of the more complicated awards in terms of voting because there’s no set criteria, includes 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey, Chicago Bulls guard Coby White and Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun.

Maxey made his first All-Star team while averaging 25.9 points and 6.2 assists. White averaged career highs of 19.1 points and 5.1 assists, and Sengun averaged 21.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists for Houston.

The Sixth Man of the Year voting, meanwhile, was led by Sacramento Kings guard Malik Monk, Timberwolves center Naz Reid and Bucks forward Bobby Portis.

Monk averaged 15.4 points and 5.1 assists for Sacramento before missing the final weeks of the season with a knee injury. Reid has developed into one of the top-scoring bench bigs in the league, averaging 13.5 points and 5.2 rebounds — both career highs — to help Minnesota clinch the third seed in the Western Conference.

Portis averaged 13.8 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Bucks and will step into a much bigger role in Milwaukee’s first-round series against the Indiana Pacers, with Antetokounmpo sidelined at the start because of a calf injury.

For the second straight year, Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault finished among the top three in Coach of the Year voting, joined by Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley and Minnesota’s Chris Finch.

Under Mosley, a young Magic team boasted one of the league’s best defenses and claimed the Southeast Division crown. And Finch led Minnesota to 56 wins, second most in franchise history.

Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan is a repeat finalist for the Clutch Player of the Year award, which was created last year. He’s joined by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry and Gilgeous-Alexander.

The NBA will announce each of the award winners — as well as the selections for the All-NBA, All-Defense and All-Rookie teams — over the next couple of weeks.

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