With the 2022-23 NBA season entering its final week, it’s time to take a look at the league’s major award races. While the contentious MVP race has garnered most of the attention, each of the league’s five major individual player awards has multiple worthy candidates. We asked our ESPN panel members to make their picks, knowing that the last handful of games to be played between now and Sunday could have a significant impact on who ends up taking home the hardware.

So who did our experts single out for Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Player?

1. Who is your pick for 2022-23 NBA Defensive Player of the Year?

Israel Gutierrez: This one has seemed like a bit of a runaway for Jaren Jackson Jr., until you realize Brook Lopez has played 16 more games and 618 more minutes than Jackson so far this season. That’s nearly a quarter of the schedule. So while Jackson has had one of the most impressive statistical defensive seasons for a big man since Ben Wallace was a regular candidate for the award, will the extra games give Lopez the edge? Both teams are neck and neck when it comes to defensive efficiency, and while Jackson averages more blocks (3.0) and defensive rebounds (5.1) than Lopez (2.5 and 4.7), he also commits one more foul per game than Lopez and plays fewer minutes per game (30.3 to 28.1). DPOY is always tricky because stats can’t tell the entire story. But give me Jackson to overcome the games played deficit and win DPOY for anchoring a young Grizzlies defense in spectacular fashion.

Kendra Andrews: After getting his first All-Star nod, I think Jackson will get his first DPOY award as well. Jackson has been absolutely dominant when it comes to blocking shots, averaging 3.0 per game, and his overall defensive presence has been key for Memphis with opponents shooting 14.6% worse against him.

Kirk Goldsberry: This is a two-man race between Lopez and Jackson, both of whom are among the NBA’s most impactful rim protectors. Like Zach Lowe, I believe Jackson is the best defensive player in the league per minute this season; however, between his missed time and his perpetual foul trouble, he hasn’t seen the court enough. His rim protection stats are stunning — opponents are making under 45% of their layups when he contests shots. The issue is Lopez is not far behind him in these kinds of stats, and he is less prone to fouls, not to mention much more reliable as a defensive force for the Bucks. I’ll go with Lopez this year, but Jackson is a fine choice, too.

Tim MacMahon: Jackson has had one of the best shot-blocking season of all time. He’s repeating as the league swats leader (3.0 per game) and has a block percentage (9.7%) that ranks behind only a few Manute Bol campaigns among the best since that stat started being recorded. Opponents shoot 14.6% less than average at the rim when Jackson is the primary defender. He also averages 1.1 steals per game for the Grizzlies, who rank third in the league in defensive efficiency. The only players in the past four decades to average at least three blocks and one steal for a top-five defense: Ben Wallace, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson, who won a combined seven DPOYs.

Andrew Lopez: Like the MVP race, this one is also going to come down to the wire, but Brook Lopez has the edge to me. Back problems limited Lopez to just 13 regular season games a year ago, but he has bounced back and played stellar defense this year while missing only two games. Lopez has a career-best 187 blocks, which also leads the league. He’s also contesting 17.5 shots per game this season. Next on the list? Nic Claxton at 12.0. In total shots, Lopez has contested 435 more than second-place Evan Mobley. (Besides, Lopez has one of the best last names in the league.)

2. Who is your pick for 2022-23 NBA Sixth Man of the Year?

Andrews: I have a hard time choosing between Malcolm Brogdon and Immanuel Quickley. On one hand, you have a player who has adapted to a new role coming off the bench on a new team in Brogdon, and he’s having one of his best seasons in that role. On the other, you have Quickley, who gives the Knicks a much needed scoring spark off the bench, something you often want in a sixth man. Similar to the MVP award, you’re splitting hairs on this decision, but for me, Brogdon has the slight edge.

Gutierrez: Quickley has come on of late, turning his highest usage rate of the season in March into averages of 20.1 points, 4.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds for the month. But it wasn’t until December that Quickley got going in this role. Brogdon has been steady all season, putting up slightly better numbers than Quickley and with much better efficiency. Brogdon playing the point off the bench has helped make up for the occasional “what was he thinking?” plays from Marcus Smart this season, while still allowing Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to shine in their scoring roles. Similar to a couple other races, games played might still play a factor, as Quickley has played in 13 more games thus far.

Lopez: Brogdon was a starter for most of his career in Milwaukee and Indiana before shifting into a new role with Boston this season. He has responded by having one of the most efficient seasons of his career. Brogdon is averaging 14.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 48.4% — his best since 2018-19 — and a career-best 43.9% from deep, a mark that is the fourth best in the league among qualified shooters.

MacMahon: Quickley fits the profile as a bench scorer (14.3 points per game) who has had some spectacular spot starts, headlined by a 40-point performance last week. But he’s not just a gunner. Quickley has developed into a solid playmaker (3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio) and pesky defender (108.0 defensive rating, best in the Knicks’ rotation). He has impacted winning more than any reserve, as Quickley’s plus-266 is the best plus-minus of any bench player.

Goldsberry: Brogdon is the clear choice here. Boston has been great all year, and Brogdon has been a plug-and-play addition for the Celtics. He gives the team a great playmaker off the bench, but it’s his 3-point numbers that put him over the top. Out of the 123 players who have attempted at least 260 3s this season, Brogdon ranks second in 3-point percentage, hitting 43.9% from downtown. The only player better is Al Horford, his teammate. The Celtics have become a terrifying 3-point shooting team, and Brogdon might be the best bench shooter in the league.

3. Who is your pick for 2022-23 NBA Most Improved Player?

MacMahon: Lauri Markkanen, a first-time All-Star at age 25 in his sixth season, increased his scoring average almost 11 points from last season while his efficiency soared. Markkanen is averaging 25.6 points per game with a .640 true shooting percentage, both by far the best of his career. Markkanen arrived in Utah with an air of confidence from starring for Finland in EuroBasket over the summer. He has thrived playing for first-year head coach Will Hardy, who has unlocked facets of Markkanen’s game far beyond being a 7-foot floor spacer, which had been his primary role in his previous two stops.

Gutierrez: Is finding the right role on a new team actually a sign of improvement from one year to the next? Or was Markannen always capable of this once he was given a starring role? The evidence was there in his second year in the league, when Markannen averaged 18.7 points and 9 rebounds as a 21 year old for the Bulls. Markannen’s usage rate fell every year since then before this season, when he made an All-Star leap thanks to a huge jump in efficiency. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander made an All-Star leap as well this season, becoming one of the most feared scorers in the league, and doing it by cutting his 3-point attempts by more than half (5.3 to 2.4 a game). By dominating the paint (he and Ja Morant are easily tops among guards in field goal attempts in the paint and the restricted area), SGA is shooting 51% on the season (up from 45.3% last season) and is shooting 3.7 more free throws a game (7.2 to 10.9). I’m playing a semantics game here, but Gilgeous-Alexander is the choice for actually improving the most.

Andrews: Gilgeous-Alexander has become one of the best scorers in the league and has taken a team that was thought to be dead in the water to one that has an opportunity to be in the play-in tournament. He’s scoring nearly seven points more than he did last season and is doing it by dominating the paint, rather than living beyond the arc. The way he has changed his game to help his team win is the epitome of what most improved player is — not just getting better, finding ways to have your game thrive like never before, and that’s what he has done.

Goldsberry: Gilgeous-Alexander has made the proverbial leap. He’s a bona fide All-Star and suddenly scoring 31.5 points per game, and despite major increases in usage and defensive attention, Gilgeous-Alexander’s efficiency numbers are surging, too. The 24-year-old guard is also posting career highs in field goal percentage and free throw percentage and could become a 50/40/90 player in the coming years.

Lopez: Gilgeous-Alexander has made quite the jump in his fifth NBA season, and he has done so by changing the way he plays. As more 3-pointers become the norm in the league, Gilgeous-Alexander cut his 3-point attempts per game in more than half (5.3 to 2.4) but watched his scoring go from 24.5 to 31.5. He’s averaging 10.9 free throws per game and knocking them down at a career-high 90.8%. Gilgeous-Alexander has been a scoring machine, scoring 20 or more in all but three games this season.

4. Who is your pick for 2022-23 NBA Rookie of the Year?

MacMahon: No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero has been the wire-to-wire winner. The debate is which other rookies to put on the ballot (the right answer: Jalen Williams and Walker Kessler). Every rookie who has averaged at least 19 points, six rebounds and three assists since the ABA-NBA merger has won Rookie of the Year. Banchero will join Luka Doncic, Blake Griffin, Grant Hill, Larry Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Walter Davis in that club.

Lopez: Banchero leads all rookies in scoring (20.0), and is fourth in rebounding (6.9) and third in assists (3.7). He has gotten to the line like few rookies before him. Banchero has attempted 528 free throws this season. In the past 20 seasons, the only rookie to attempt more free throws was Blake Griffin (695 in 2010-11). Also, Banchero has played a huge role in the Orlando Magic turning things around from 5-20 this year. Orlando has been over .500 since then, something Banchero wanted people to quiet down about on Twitter.

Goldsberry: With all due respect to Williams, who is hitting a ridiculous 46% of his 3s since the All-Star break, this one is easy. Banchero should win this award. He has been the best rookie scorer all year long. He takes tough shots. His 3-point numbers are woeful — out of 123 players who have taken 250 3s, he ranks 122nd in 3-point percentage, making only 29.5% of his tries from beyond the arc. Still, Banchero ranks first among rookies in total points scored, second in total rebounds and third in total assists.

Gutierrez: Banchero hit one 3-pointer in February. That’s it. Just the one in 33 tries that month. Would he be Ben Simmons 2.0 and shy away from the distant jump shot as he matures? No chance. Banchero shot 37% from 3 over the next 14 games, and he looks much more like the next Jimmy Butler than any Simmons resemblance. It’s a shame more eyes haven’t been on OKC’s Williams this season, but his versatility will be on display well after his rookie year. Banchero deserves the wire-to-wire win.

Andrews: There is no question that Banchero is the Rookie of the Year. He has had the award in his grip all season long. He’s averaging 20 points per game — the most among his rookie class — while also impacting other sides of the game. What stands out to me is how he plays with his size, which shocks me every time I see him.

5. Who is your pick for 2022-23 NBA MVP?

Goldsberry: There are no wrong answers here, but I’m supporting Giannis Antetokounmpo. I know that Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid both have a better chance of winning, but Antetokounmpo has been the most valuable player on the team with the best record in the NBA right now. He is a two-way force who has helped Milwaukee find wins all year despite Khris Middleton, his All-Star teammate, not being available for most of the year. He ranks fifth in the league in scoring and third in rebounding, and he’s also one of the best defenders in the league.

MacMahon: I’m close to jumping on the Embiid bandwagon, as he’s by far the most deserving player who has never won this award, but I’m sticking with Jokic by a slim margin. The two-time reigning MVP is having the best year of his career, as the Joker is a handful of assists shy of averaging a triple-double while shooting 63% from the floor. Analytics aren’t everything, but it’s hard to ignore how huge a gap Jokic has over the rest of the league in the nerdy numbers.

Andrews: Choosing between Jokic and Embiid for MVP is like splitting hairs. And really, there is no wrong answer. And while Embiid has been incredibly dominant over the past few weeks, I’m going to go with Jokic. Somehow, he has figured out a way to get even better after his two MVP seasons, and he’s playing the best basketball of his career. Not only that, but the Nuggets seem more legitimate than they have ever before, and a great deal of that is because of Jokic. I get that voter fatigue is a thing, but blocking that out, I go with Jokic.

Lopez: Consider me a part of Team Embiid for this one. As demonstrated in Tim Bontemps’ latest and final MVP straw poll, this one has a razor-thin margin and rightfully so. Embiid, Jokic and Antetokounmpo all received first-place votes, and you could make the argument for any of them. But I’m sticking with Embiid. The Sixers big man is averaging 33.0 points and 10.2 rebounds. The last player to hit those averages in a season was Bob McAdoo in 1974-75, the year he won his MVP. Of the 13 instances a player has averaged 33 points and 10 boards, only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971-72 had a higher field goal percentage than Embiid does this season.

Gutierrez: When choosing between two legitimate MVP candidates with razor-thin margins between them, you’d historically go with the player who is responsible for more of his team’s points (when you combine points and assists), who rebounds better and whose team has the better record. Under those measurements, Embiid would lose the award to Giannis Antetokounmpo. So the idea that it has ever settled into a two-man race between Embiid and Jokic seems, flatly, wrong. Between the three, then, Jokic still has the best case. He has kept his team atop a deeper conference while playing in a few more games and doing so without another All-Star or former MVP at his side. Judging strictly on the results of one regular season, and ignoring any emotionally driven narratives — as a voter is supposed to do — Jokic should be the MVP.

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Debating NBA award winners, including the tight MVP race