NBA awards race: Can 76ers’ Joel Embiid come from behind to win MVP?

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports /
3 of 5
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

NBA 3/4-season award picks: Most Improved Player

  1. Lauri Markkanen, UTH
  2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, OKC
  3. Tyrese Haliburton, IND

No Sixer in contention here. One could make a half-hearted argument for Shake Milton or De’Anthony Melton, but you’re talking fringe fringe candidacy there. The real heavy-hitters lie elsewhere, starting with Lauri Markkanen and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the West.

Last season, Markkanen was the good-not-great fifth option for the upstart Cavs. Now, he’s starting in the All-Star game and probably better than everyone in Cleveland except the player he was traded for. A 7-footer with unique shooting range and a deep bag of tricks off the dribble, Markkanen has become one of the league’s best scoring machines.

Then there’s SGA, another first-time All-Star and now bona fide top-15 player. OKC is still a couple years from genuinely contending in the West, but Gilgeous-Alexander is the kind of player you can build a winner around. He’s one of the best shot-creation engines in the NBA. The only reason Markkanen edges him out (for now) is that SGA was already teetering on the edge of stardom last season.

Third, but certainly not least, is Tyrese Haliburton. Another first-time All-Star who made the leap from borderline star to best player on a potential winner. Jalen Brunson will get plenty of votes too (and he deserves them), but only three names can crack the ballot unfortunately.