Few things in sports are as guaranteed as people arguing over NBA player awards. Whether it was the LeBron James vs. Derrick Rose 2010 MVP debate or any year Michael Jordan didn’t win it, teams and media members are always very opinionated on who brings home the hardware.
Nonetheless, the legalization of sports betting has changed the way we view these awards, and potentially, how voters vote on awards. As of Sunday, the last day of the NBA regular season, sportsbooks are still taking wagers at these awards and have odds on the winners.
NBA player awards are typically announced sometime in June but according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, media members must submit their ballots by April 11, the day after the regular season ends. In total there are just over 100 voters for NBA player awards.
With some of the most wide-open awards in recent memory, I had to discuss with DraftKings’ NBA analyst Julian Edlow to see where sportsbook stood on these awards — from sportsbooks’ liability to different narratives fueling voters’ opinions, and everything in between. June’s award ceremonies will carry a lot of heat to see who has earned the trophies.
NBA Awards odds and liability
2022 NBA Most Valuable Player: Nikola Jokic (likely winner)
|DraftKings Sportsbook||BetMGM Sportsbook|
|Nikola Jokic (now -380) — 14% of tickets | 41% of handle||Joel Embiid (now +275) — 18.2% of tickets | 29.3% of handle|
|Joel Embiid (now +265) — 19% of tickets | 20% of handle||Nikola Jokic (now -275) — 16.1% of tickets | 24.5% of handle|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo (now +800) — 9% of tickets | 8% of handle||Stephen Curry (now +50000) — 11.9% of tickets | 11% of handle|
|Stephen Curry (now +60000) — 18% of tickets | 8% of handle||Giannis Antetokounmpo (now +850) — 11.6% of tickets | 11% of handle|
|DeMar DeRozan (now +50000) — 13% of tickets | 7% of handle||Devin Booker (now +8000) — 10.9% of tickets | 5.4% of handle|
|Ja Morant (now +50000) — 7% of tickets | 3% of handle||Ja Morant (now +25000) — 8% of tickets | 4.9% of handle|
|Kevin Durant (now +50000) — 3% of tickets | 2% of handle||DeMar DeRozan — 7.3% of tickets | 3.8% of handle|
|Devin Booker (now +7500) — 3% of tickets | 1% of handle||LeBron James — 3.1% of tickets | 1.8% of handle|
|LeBron James (now +100000) — 3% of tickets | 1% of handle||Kevin Durant — 3.1% of tickets | 3.9% of handle|
Just two weeks ago, Embiid was the consensus favorite to win the award. Since then, he has moved to a sizable underdog, leading many to question what happened.
Well, DraftKings’ Julian Edlow had quite a bit to say on the matter.
“The Harden trade actually hurt Embiid,” he said. “They have been losing big games and watched the Celtics leap them the division. [Embiid is] still awesome and in the convo, but those losses and dominance with Harden not sustained, the same team as before.”
Then there’s the Tim Bontemps story, in which Edlow says: “Blew [the voting] open.”
Most sportsbooks around the country moved Jokic from +160 to -135 in one day. The last time that Bontemps did this poll, Embiid was ahead of the field.
However, it would appear that Jokic’s ability to carry the Nuggets into the playoffs has done enough to sway voters. DraftKings is liable to lose big if Jokic does in fact win the award.
NBA Defensive Player of the Year: Marcus Smart?
Rarely do we have an award that is almost a complete guess going into the playoffs. That is what we have with Defensive Player of the Year. Edlow said on the race, “No one really separated from the pack.”
Less than a month ago, Marcus Smart was +2000. Now he’s the favorite.
“Giving it to Marcus Smart would really be about rewarding the Celtics for their run,” Edlow said. “It’s kind of the old school ‘give it to the best player on the best team.’ If Marcus Smart gets it, it’s because he’s the best defender on the best defensive team.”
With no breakthrough candidate really here and Celtics media members like Mark D’Amico and Sean Grande pushing the Marcus Smart DPOY narrative, it would seem that he’s the true favorite.
Moreover, Bam Adebayo would probably win the award but most are questioning the number of games he has played (only 57 of 82). He was the favorite to win the award for most of the season, although, Edlow believes that Adebayo is all but out to win it despite having the second-best odds and the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Mikal Bridges is the biggest liability on BetMGM and would be quite the loss for them if he were to take it.
“Bridges is the best defensive player on the best overall team in the NBA,” Edlow said. “He would be my pick if Smart doesn’t take it.”
On Antetokounmpo, Edlow said, “Giannis Antetokounmpo could win it every year, especially with that incredible game-winning block on Embiid a few weeks ago.” Voter fatigue between him and Rudy Gobert is likely going to make them both far from winners of this award.
The best guess here is Marcus Smart, but it may truly depend on how the voters are feeling when they cast their votes.
Rookie of the Year: Evan Mobley
How important is recency bias? At one point, Evan Mobley was a -1000 favorite to win Rookie of the Year and was being compared to past greats like Tim Duncan. Unfortunately, he missed parts of the end of the season while Scottie Barnes came on strong for Toronto.
Now Mobley is -225 and Barnes +155, Cade Cunningham is a distant +1000. Some bullet points from Edlow on this award:
- Mobley had the best year but missed some time late. Recency bias could be involved. Probably takes it.
- Barnes can finish with a better team. Best bet on the board. Putting up numbers. But if you’re redrafting, he’s clearly third.
- Cunningham had a shot when Mobley went down with his huge game against the Sixers. The team sat him in multiple games in an attempt to tank. The team still won those games and killed Cunningham’s chances.
Coach of the Year: Monty Williams
Should be nearly unanimous, closed voting around -1500.
Most Improved Player: Ja Morant
Garland made it fun late, but Morant jumped a level or two this year. Shouldn’t be very close. Closed voting at -1000.
Sixth Man of the Year: Tyler Herro
A landslide win here for Herro. Closed voting at -10000