Mark Daigneault

Doncic, Gilgeous-Alexander, Jokic Named MVP Finalists

Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Nuggets center Nikola Jokic were revealed on Sunday as the finalists for the Most Valuable Player award, according to the NBA (Twitter link).

Doncic led the league in scoring (33.9 points per game) and finished second in assists (9.8) while also grabbing 9.2 rebounds per contest. Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder to the top seed in the Western Conference by averaging 30.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 2.0 steals per contest. Jokic, who is widely considered the favorite to win his third MVP trophy, averaged 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists per night.

The NBA also announced the finalists for six other postseason awards. Here are the finalists for all of those awards:

Most Valuable Player

Sixth Man

Defensive Player of the Year

Most Improved Player

Note: Sengun appeared in just 63 games but was eligible for award consideration based on the season-ending injury exception described in our glossary entry on the 65-game rule.

Coach of the Year

  • Mark Daigneault, Thunder
  • Chris Finch, Timberwolves
  • Jamahl Mosley, Magic

Rookie of the Year

Clutch Player of the Year

Thunder’s Mark Daigneault Wins Coaches Association Award

Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault has won the Michael H. Goldberg award for the 2023/24 season, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, who reports that Daigneault has been named the National Basketball Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year.

This award, introduced in 2017 and named after longtime NBCA executive director Michael H. Goldberg, is voted on by the NBA’s 30 head coaches, none of whom can vote for himself.

However, it isn’t the NBA’s official Coach of the Year award, which is voted on by media members and is represented by the Red Auerbach Trophy. The winner of that award will be announced later this spring.

J.B. Bickerstaff (Cavaliers), Chris Finch (Timberwolves), Joe Mazzulla (Celtics), and Jamahl Mosley (Magic) also received votes from their fellow coaches for this year’s NBCA award, per Wojnarowski.

Daigneault, who is just 39 years old, has overseen the rebuild in Oklahoma City since 2020. After winning just 22 games in his first year on the job, the Thunder increased that total to 24 in 2021/22, 40 in ’22/23, and 57 in ’23/24. That 57-25 record this season made the Thunder the improbable No. 1 seed in the West in their first trip to the playoffs during Daigneault’s tenure.

As Wojnarowski points out, Oklahoma City was one of just two NBA teams this season – along with Boston – to finish in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating. The Thunder’s 118.3 offensive rating ranked third in the NBA, while their 111.0 defensive rating was fourth.

The NBCA Coach of the Year award has frequently been a bellwether for the NBA’s Coach of the Year honor, which bodes well for Daigneault. In five of the seven years since the award’s inception, the winner has gone on to be named the NBA’s Coach of the Year.

Thunder Notes: SGA, J-Dub, Dort, Dieng, Daigneault

Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will miss his third straight game on Friday in Indiana due to a right quad contusion, tweets Rylan Stiles of Inside The Thunder.

Head coach Mark Daigneault said the MVP candidate was sent back to Oklahoma City on Thursday and he’ll also miss Sunday’s game in Charlotte, which is the finale of a four-game road trip, per Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman (Twitter link).

We need to make sure he doesn’t decondition during this time and gym access on the road is much more difficult to come by,” Daigneault said.

Second-year guard/forward Jalen Williams will also miss his third straight contest on Friday due to a left ankle sprain. He was initially listed as doubtful.

Here’s more on the Thunder:

  • In an interesting story for The Athletic, Fred Katz examines Luguentz Dort‘s defensive impact for OKC, describing how the 24-year-old has added layers of complexity to the way he approaches many aspects of the less glamorous end of the court, including certain “quirks” he uses to throw star players off-balance. According to Katz, Dort has spent more time guarding the opposing teams’ highest-usage player than anyone in the NBA. “We can shift him anywhere,” Daigneault told The Athletic. “He can guard any player. There’s no one he can’t guard.”
  • He hasn’t played much at the NBA level in 2023/24, averaging just 11.0 MPG in 31 appearances, but second-year forward Ousmane Dieng has been more assertive this season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s NBAGL affiliate, Stiles writes for Inside The Thunder. Dieng, the No. 11 pick of the 2022 draft, hit a game-winner in the first round of the G League playoffs, eliminating the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston’s affiliate.
  • Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle expects Daigneault to be one of the frontrunners for the Coach of the Year award in ’23/24, tweets Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. They’ve drafted with the idea that positionless basketball is the future and there’s a lot of evidence that is the case,” Carlisle said. The second-youngest team in the NBA, the Thunder won 40 games last season and already have 54 in ’23/24 with six games remaining in the regular season.

Celtics Notes: White, ’18/19 Team, Holiday, Horford

Fans in San Antonio, where Derrick White spent the first four-and-a-half seasons of his NBA career, are on board with the campaign to get the Celtics guard to his first All-Star Game this season. As Brian Robb of MassLive details, Sunday’s broadcast of Boston’s blowout victory over the Spurs picked up multiple “White’s an All-Star!’ chants from the San Antonio crowd.

“I’m just thankful and grateful,” White told reporters after the victory. “I just try to go out there and help us win. If I were to make the All-Star game, it’s because of how much we are winning and the type of team we have. I’m just thankful to be a part of this team and the culture we’re building here. Me making it or not making it doesn’t change the fact that I’m just thankful to be here.”

White’s former head coach Gregg Popovich said on Sunday that he “couldn’t be more proud of a player” than he is of White, who was a starter in the Spurs’ backcourt before being shipped to Boston at the 2022 trade deadline.

“When he first came, I don’t think he believed he belonged in the NBA,” Popovich said. “To watch him develop through the years, started here with the G League. Playing with us and then starting for us and then taking more steps in Boston has just been a thrill to watch.

“He’s one of the greatest guys ever. His confidence has just exploded. It’s been a process. He’s been in the league now, six, seven years. I’m not sure anymore. But he’s a great story. And starting out at the bottom and believing in himself and doing the work necessary to get where he is now. Just thrilled for him.”

Here’s more on the Celtics:

  • Appearing on the latest episode of Podcast P with Paul George, former Celtics forward Gordon Hayward revisited the 2018/19 team that lost to Milwaukee in the second round of the playoffs and posited that “too many agendas” in the locker room led to that club’s downfall (hat tip to Andrew Peters of Bleacher Report). “In my eyes it was just, we all had too many agendas, and the agenda to win the whole thing was not the main one,” Hayward said. “Not to blame anyone either, because I think it was all human nature.” That Celtics team featured Hayward in his first healthy season in Boston and Kyrie Irving in his final year with the organization.
  • Addressing Hayward’s comments, Jayson Tatum clarified that there were no locker room issues on that Celtics club, but agreed with his former teammate that the on-court chemistry was a problem, referring to it as a learning experience. “What Gordon said was kind of right,” Tatum said, per Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. “Guys would come back from injury, guys were trying to prove themselves, like myself. I was trying to be better than I was last year, and it was just kind of a tough year. … Everybody wanted to do more, and we didn’t quite understand how we all could coexist with each other.”
  • Celtics guard Jrue Holiday missed Sunday’s game due to a sprained right elbow, but head coach Joe Mazzulla said he had no long-term concerns about that injury, tweets Jay King of The Athletic. Holiday was back in action on Tuesday vs. Oklahoma City.
  • Prior to the Thunder‘s win over Boston on Tuesday, OKC head coach Mark Daigneault raved about the impact that Celtics big man Al Horford had during Daigneault’s first year as a head coach in 2020/21, according to Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. “Every first-year NBA head coach should be as lucky as I was to have Al Horford on their team. Stud professional and person,” Daigneault said. “And for a guy that has as much experience as he has, not cynical, very solution-oriented, not a know-it-all — he knows it all, but he always channels that toward solutions and toward the team.”

Northwest Notes: Henderson, Ayton, Caruso, Daigneault, Jazz

Scoot Henderson, the third pick of this year’s draft, will return to action on Wednesday against Utah, Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups told reporters, including Aaron J. Fentress of The Oregonian (Twitter link).

Billups added that Henderson will come off the bench and be on a minutes restriction, though he declined to specify the number, tweets Sean Highkin of the Rose Garden Report. Henderson has been out of action since November 1 after spraining his right ankle.

Unfortunately, just as Henderson was about to return, center Deandre Ayton was a late scratch due to back soreness. Duop Reath, who’s on a two-way deal, will start in Ayton’s place, according to Highkin (Twitter link).

Here’s more from the Northwest:

  • Speaking of Ayton, the Trail Blazers big man faced his former team on Tuesday in Phoenix. After the game, Suns guard Devin Booker said he had a “challenge” for the former No. 1 overall pick. “He played extra hard tonight,” Booker said, per Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. “I saw that. My challenge for him is to play like that every night.” Ayton’s inconsistent effort level has been called into question throughout his career.
  • Bulls guard/forward Alex Caruso isn’t surprised by Mark Daigneault‘s success with the Thunder, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Daigneault coached Caruso while the two were with the Oklahoma City Blue — the Thunder’s NBA G League affiliate — back in 2016/17. “He coaches and talks exactly the same as he did with the Blue,” Caruso said. “He was always keeping us in really good perspective of how to play and how we were going to be successful. I really enjoyed playing for him.”
  • Jazz head coach Will Hardy said the team needs to play harder, pass the ball and make fewer excuses after Tuesday’s blowout loss to the Lakers, according to Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune. “I mean, the only two things that I care about are: play hard and pass,” he said. “And we’re at a point now where if you’re not willing to do both of those things you cannot play for the Utah Jazz. I think we have had pockets where that’s been our identity. And we’ve had pockets where we have wavered in both departments. I think the biggest thing right now is we just need more of a consistent focus on those two things and those two things only.” Hardy’s comments are worth reading in full for Jazz fans. Utah is now 4-10.

Northwest Notes: Alexander-Walker, KAT, Thunder, Watson

Multifaceted Timberwolves guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker finally seems to have created a unique niche with his third NBA team, writes Oren Weisfeld of Alexander-Walker’s versatile game has earned him plaudits from key Minnesota personnel.

“There was a lot of pressure on him when he came into the league, whether it be, you know, a lot of it was self-imposed,” Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch said of the guard’s early years in New Orleans, where Finch served as an associate head coach. “He was trying too hard, trying to do too much, trying to prove everything, wanted it all at once.”

In 19.7 MPG off the bench for the 9-3 Timberwolves, Alexander-Walker is averaging 5.4 PPG, 2.4 APG, 1.8 RPG, 0.8 SPG and 0.8 BPG.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Though there has been much chatter swirling about the fit of star Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns alongside two other nominal centers, Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic submits that Towns’ superlative offense makes him worth retaining. On Saturday evening, he led Minnesota’s successful 121-120 comeback against the Pelicans, scoring 29 points while shooting 10-of-11 from the field, dishing out nine dimes, grabbing six boards and topping it all off with the game-winner. It’s games like that one that make Towns such an important piece on a club with major postseason goals, according to Krawcyznski, who opines that the Wolves are on too much of a roll with Towns to trade him, for now.
  • Although Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault is trying to temper expectations for Oklahoma City, the club is already looking much improved this year, writes Kendra Andrews of ESPN. Rookie center Chet Holmgren just turned in his best night yet, scoring 36 points while shooting 14-of-22 from the field, pulling down ten rebounds and dishing out five dimes. All-NBA point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, not to be outdone, chipped in 40 of his own. A clutch buzzer-beating triple from Holmgren propelled the Thunder to overtime against the Warriors on Saturday night, where the young team pulled out an impressive win. “We have a young team that will grow over time,” Daigneault said. “We don’t want to cap the potential of any of our players.” At 9-4, Oklahoma City might be arriving already.
  • Second-year Nuggets small forward Peyton Watson has earned regular rotation minutes this season. The UCLA product credits some tough love during his rookie season tenure with Denver’s NBAGL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Gold, for abetting his long-term development, writes Bennett Durando of The Denver Post.

Thunder Sign Mark Daigneault To Contract Extension

The Thunder have signed head coach Mark Daigneault to a contract extension, the team announced today in a press release.

Oklahoma City didn’t provide any specific details on how long the new agreement will keep Daigneault under contract, simply referring to it as a “multiyear” deal.

Daigneault, 38, worked under Billy Donovan as a graduate student at Florida, then joined him as an assistant on the Gators staff from 2010-14 before making the move to OKC. He was the head coach of the Oklahoma City Blue – the Thunder’s G League affiliate – for several seasons while also serving as an assistant on Donovan’s staff with the NBA club in 2016 and again in 2019/20.

Following Donovan’s exit for Chicago in 2020, the Thunder promoted Daigneault to head coach. While his 86-150 (.364) record across three seasons doesn’t look great on paper, the rebuilding club has shown real signs of progress under Daigneault, particularly in 2022/23 — OKC went 40-42 during the regular season and won a play-in game in New Orleans before losing out on the No. 8 seed by dropping a second play-in contest in Minnesota.

Daigneault, who was the runner-up to Mike Brown in Coach of the Year voting this spring, will be tasked going forward with turning an ascendant team led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, Luguentz Dort, and Chet Holmgren into a legitimate contender.

Mike Brown Named Coach Of The Year

After leading the Kings to the third seed in the West and snapping a 16-year playoff drought in his first season in Sacramento, Mike Brown has been honored as the NBA’s Coach of The Year, the team announced (via Twitter).

Brown, who was also named Coach of the Year in 2009, will be awarded the first-ever Red Auerbach Trophy. He received all 100 first-place votes, marking the first time in league history that the award has been unanimous.

The Thunder‘s Mark Daigneault finished second with 48 second-place votes and 20 third-place votes, while first-year Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla was third with 18 second-place votes and 23 third-place votes.

The Cavaliers J.B. Bickerstaff and the Nuggets Michael Malone rounded out the top five, while nine other head coaches received at least one vote.

When the Kings hired him last year, Brown said he wanted to do more than just get the team into the postseason. His goal was to build a team that could win in the playoffs and possibly challenge for an NBA title.

Brown was able to do that quickly, unlocking the potential of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis on one of the league’s most exciting teams. Sacramento led the league with 120.7 points per game while posting a 48-34 record.

Brown is the first Sacramento coach to win the honor and the third in the history of the franchise, according to Sean Cunningham of Fox 40 (Twitter link). The others were Phil Johnson in 1975 and Cotton Fitzsimmons in 1979.

NBA Announces 2022/23 Award Finalists

The NBA announced its finalists for all the major 2022/23 regular season awards on Friday evening (all Twitter links can be found here).

Here is the full list of finalists for each of the awards, listed in alphabetical order:

Most Valuable Player

Defensive Player of the Year

Rookie of the Year

Most Improved Player

Sixth Man of the Year

Coach of the Year

Clutch Player of the Year

TNT will begin announcing the winners next week during its coverage of the 2023 playoffs, according to the NBA. The three finalists for each award are based on voting results from a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.

Antetokounmpo, the league’s back-to-back MVP winner in 2018/19 and ’19/20, has finished fourth and third in MVP voting over the past two seasons, respectively. He averaged a career-high 31.1 PPG along with 11.8 RPG and 5.7 APG on .553/.275/.645 shooting in 63 games (32.1 MPG) this season in leading the Bucks to the NBA’s best record at 58-24.

Embiid, the MVP runner-up in each of the past two years, led the league in scoring for the second consecutive season, posting a career-high 33.1 PPG along with 10.2 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.0 SPG and 1.7 BPG on .548/.330/.857 shooting in 66 games (34.6 MPG). The Sixers finished third in the East with a 54-28 record, though it’s worth noting that record is also the third-best mark in the league.

Jokic, the reigning back-to-back MVP, averaged 24.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 9.8 APG and 1.3 SPG on .632/.383/.822 shooting in 69 games (33.7. MPG). In addition to breaking Wilt Chamberlain‘s record for most assists per game by a center (8.6), Jokic led the Nuggets to the top seed in the West with a 53-29 record.

It’s long been assumed that Banchero, Brown and Fox were the runaway favorites for their respective awards. Given Embiid’s excellent play to end the season and Denver’s stumble to the finish line, it seems likely that Embiid will edge out Jokic and Antetokounmpo to win his first MVP — all three finalists are more than deserving, just as they were last year.

However, the other three awards are more up in the air. Jackson and Lopez have been considered the betting favorites for DPOY for much of the second half of the season. Mobley’s inclusion is somewhat surprising, but maybe it shouldn’t be — the Cavs finished with the league’s top defense and he is arguably the best defender on the team.

Mike Brown Wins Coaches Association Award

Kings coach Mike Brown has been voted the National Basketball Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.

It’s no surprise, considering Sacramento just ended the longest playoff drought among the four major sports leagues. The Kings went 48-34 in Brown’s first season as their head coach and will enter the postseason as the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed.

The Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer, Thunder‘s Mark Daigneault, Celtics Joe Mazzulla and Knicks Tom Thibodeau also received votes, per Wojnarowski.

This award, introduced in 2017 and named after longtime NBCA executive director Michael H. Goldberg, is voted on by the NBA’s 30 head coaches, none of whom can vote for himself. However, it isn’t the NBA’s official Coach of the Year award, which is voted on by media members and is represented by the Red Auerbach Trophy. The winner of that award will be announced later in the year.

The Suns’ Monty Williams had received the award in each of the last two seasons.

Brown was hired by the Kings after six-year stint as an assistant coach with the Warriors.