NBA awards: Jokic early favorite for 3rd MVP in 4 years
BY VINNY BENEDETTO email@example.com
The Gazette, Colorado Springs
Last season, Nuggets star Nikola Jokic narrowly missed out on being the fourth player in NBA history to win three consecutive Most Valuable Player awards. The list remains a short one – Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird – after 76ers center Joel Embiid won last season’s award. This season, Jokic can join another short list. While Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Magic Johnson and LeBron James never won three in a row, they’re the only other players to win three MVPs in a fouryear span. Here’s a look at how the races for the biggest NBA awards are stacking up heading into the season. Most Valuable Player After adding a NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, Western Conference finals Most Valuable Player and a couple of horse racing trophies to his collection, Jokic is the favorite to win his third regular-season Most Valuable Player. The odds on the 28-year-old center range from +375 at Caesar’s to +450 at DraftKings. Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Mavericks guard Luka Doncic are both listed around +500 and +550 at most major sportsbooks, while Embiid (+650 to +950) and Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (+800 to +900) round out the top five. Centers have won the last three awards, while James Harden was the last American-born MVP in 2018. After being the best player on the FIBA World Cup squad, Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards is a long shot worth a look with his odds ranging from +2,000 (Caesar’s) to +3,300 (FanDuel). Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Heat wing Jimmy Butler, Suns guard Devin Booker and Lakers forward LeBron James are all in Edwards’ range. Rookie of the Year While the MVP award has been dominated by foreigners in recent seasons, Doncic was the last foreign-born player to win Rookie of the Year back in 2018. Ja Morant, LaMelo Ball, Scottie Barnes and Paolo Banchero have kept the award in American hands since, but that looks likely to end this year with Spurs phenom Victor Wembanyama nearly an even-money favorite. Thunder center Chet Holmgren, who missed last season due to injury, and Scoot Henderson, the second overall pick this season, are the best bets to keep the trend of American Rookie of the Year winners going. Holmgren’s odds sit between +250 and +300, while Henderson’s range is +300 to +370. Wembanyama and Henderson will have plenty of opportunity early in their respective careers, especially if Portland facilitates Damian Lillard’s trade request. Those looking for longer shots should look toward Rockets guard Amen Thompson (+2,000 to +3,400) or Cavaliers rookie Emoni Bates, who is +15,000 at FanDuel. None of the Nuggets’ three rookies have listed odds to win Rookie of the Year. Defensive Player of the Year The award might as well be called Defensive Big Man of the Year. Before Marcus Smart won the award in 2022, Gary Payton was the last guard to win in it back in 1996. Since then, it’s been all power forwards and centers with Ron Artest and Kawhi Leonard snagging a couple of awards in between the bigs. The trend looks likely to continue. Memphis shot-blocker Jaren Jackson Jr. (+500 to +600) is the favorite to repeat. Cleveland’s Evan Mobley has the second-best odds, while Antetokounmpo, Heat center Bam Adebayo and Lakers forward/center Anthony Davis round out the top five. Nets wing Mikal Bridges has the best odds among the perimeter players at +1,800. Local fans looking to bet with their heart can get Aaron Gordon at +11,000 at FanDuel. Somehow, Jokic has the same odds at that book. Second-year Jazz Center Walker Kessler (+1,500 to +2,600) and Pelicans wing Herbert Jones (+3,300 to +5,000) are interesting values outside the top 10. Most Improved Player The hardest of the awards to define, Most Improved Player typically goes to an established player who makes a leap to stardom. Last season, it was Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen who used a change of scenery after being traded from Cleveland to lead Utah’s surprising season. Before Markkanen the award went to the likes of Morant, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Pascal Siakam, Victor Oladipo and Antetokounmpo. Bridges, who was traded from Phoenix to Brooklyn in the Durant deal is the only player to have odds lower than +1,000 at all the major sportsbooks. Pistons guard Cade Cunningham, the former No. 1 overall pick who missed most of his second season in Detroit, is projected to take leap in his third season, while other books have pegged 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey as this year’s breakout player. A James Harden trade would help Maxey’s chances. Austin Reaves, who stepped up in the playoffs for the Lakers and had some strong moments at the World Cup, and former rookie of the year Scottie Barnes round out the five players with the best odds. If the Trail Blazers end up trading Lillard, as expected, Anfernee Simons’ odds, which range from +1,800 PointsBet to +3,500 at DraftKings, get much more appealing. Caesear’s and DraftKings have Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. listed at +4,000 and +6,000 respectively, to win the award. Sixth Man of the Year The easiest award to define is often the hardest to project. Russell Westbrook was a heavy favorite to win the award for much of last season, but he was traded to the Clippers where his role changed. Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon went on to win the award. Brogdon (+800) is among the favorites to win the award this season, as are Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley and Clippers guard Norman Powell. The award is often won by high-scoring bench guards – think Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams – and that’s been the recent trend. Before Brogdon, Miami’s Tyler Herro and Utah’s Jordan Clarkson won the last couple of awards for the league’s best reserve. Beyond the favorites, Sacramento’s Malik Monk (+1,000 or +1,200) fits the mold of most recent winners and has the benefit of playing in the offense that had the league’s best offensive rating last season.