NBA Awards Best Bets: Our Staff’s Favorite Picks and Predictions for MVP, Defensive Player, More

NBA Awards Best Bets: Our Staff’s Favorite Picks and Predictions for MVP, Defensive Player, More article feature image
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Getty Images. Pictured: Obi Toppin of the New York Knicks, Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers.

We are less than 24 hours away from the start of the NBA season and our staff is here to walk you through how they’re betting five different end of season awards.

NBA Awards Odds & Picks

Click on a name to skip ahead
Matt Moore
Six award bets
Brandon Anderson
10 award bets
Raheem Palmer
Seven award bets
Joe Dellera
Seven award bets

Our crew looked a five specific NBA awards — Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player — explained how they would split $100 on their favorite picks for each category and where to find the best line for those bets. You can find their analysis and picks below.

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Matt Moore’s Betslip

MVP: Luka Doncic +450 [$40]
ROY: Obi Toppin +650 [$20]
ROY: Patrick Williams +3000 [$10]
6th Man: Norman Powell +1600 [$10]
DPOY: Ben Simmons +2800 [$15]
MIP: Christian Wood +2500 [$5]

I’m not hedging on Luka Doncic. No player has won three MVPs in a row since Larry Bird in 1986; only three players in NBA history have done it at all. LeBron James won’t want to engage on short rest a full season, and Doncic is already at that tier.

I love Obi Toppin, but Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau could conceivably (and foolishly) keep Julius Randle in the starting spot, which is concerning. Meanwhile, Patrick Williams has already moved to starter in Chicago and is showing two-way capability. In weak draft years, rookies who contribute to better teams usually win ROY and I suspect the Bulls might be better than people think.

Norman Powell had a stretch where his numbers were just incredible for the Raptors last season. He cooled off in the bubble, but with how the Raptors need top-end scoring, he might put up the numbers necessary to get there.

I thought Ben Simmons should have been DPOY last year, and I’m typically a year ahead on these things. He’s a monster on the defensive end and his versatility will shine under Doc Rivers.

Most Improved Player is a difficult award, and while I like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s chances in OKC, there’s also a good chance that he develops a mysterious “soreness” that keeps him out the final two months while, oops, the Thunder lose tons of games.


Brandon Anderson’s Betslip

MVP: Kevin Durant +2000 [$40]
MVP: Chris Paul +3300 [$5]
DPOY: Anthony Davis +300 [$20]
DOPY: Draymond Green +4000 [$5]
MIP: Jaylen Brown +3300 [$5]
MIP: OG Anunoby (+3300) [$5]
MIP: Malcolm Brogdon +10000 [$5]
6th Man: Montrezl Harrell +3300 [$5]
ROY: Cole Anthony +3300 [$5]
ROY: Tyrese Maxey +3300 [$5]

Two core beliefs drive my Futures betting ticket.

First, Giannis Antetokounmpo will absolutely be the best player on the best defense on the best team and will deserve MVP and DPOY again. However, voters will spend the entire season searching desperately for any alternative out of voter fatigue, opening the door for a non favorite to win.

Second, if I’m going to tie up money up all year long, this needs to be worth my time. There’s not a ton of value for me betting on favorites, even if I think they’re likely to win.

Yes, Luka Doncic is the deserving MVP favorite, and has a good chance, but the value is not there at +400. Jamal Murray and LaMelo Ball would be my straight up picks for MIP and ROY too, but they’re also the betting favorites and don’t present enough value for me. If I’m tying up my money until July, I need a serious payout if I hit.

Kevin Durant is the big ticket atop my list. He would be my third pick for MVP behind Giannis and Luka and well ahead of any other option. Durant looked like himself in preseason and if he’s even 85% himself, he’s immediately a top-five player for a team that should instantly be a contender.

Durant is the story of the season if he looks good. He changes everything and plays for a team that will get media attention all season. The MVP award is all about narrative, and the Durant narrative will be obvious after his injury comeback.

That injury would normally make me hesitate since I expect him to sit some games, but in this pandemic season that will be the case for most of the best guys. All in on Durant. He’s back, and his +2000 MVP odds are absurd.

Anthony Davis for Defensive Player of the Year is the one favorite on my ticket. There are three heavy favorites here, and if I’m counting Giannis out and don’t think the Utah Jazz will be good enough defensively for Rudy Gobert to win, that leaves Davis.

The Lakers will be good on defense again, and Davis will look better next to Marc Gasol. He’ll also have the narrative in his favor after his playoff run and hasn’t won it yet so he’s due in the eyes of some voters. The odds at +300 don’t do much for me, but hopefully he pays off my many $5 long shot bets.

Draymond Green at +4000 for DPOY is, frankly, insulting. I’m out on the Warriors this year, but if they’re actually good this season, it’ll be because of Green’s impact on the defense.

The Warriors sorely need Green’s basketball IQ and organization on defense because that’s what Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman, and Kelly Oubre lack. If you think the Warriors are a top-four seed, you have to believe Green should be the fourth favorite for DPOY and play this one.

Most Improved and Sixth Man are too unpredictable for my tastes. I have to play both so we’ll go with Harrell for Sixth Man — a stupid award given out for guys in big markets, so he fits at middle odds. Most Improved has become quite silly too. Former No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton is one of the favorites. (Why are we celebrating a young No. 1 pick improving?)

Heck, Zion Williamson is like +3000 at some books. The dude is a generational prospect who’s played 24 games. Most improved? What are we doing here? I’ll place a min bet on Jaylen Brown, OG Anunoby, and Malcolm Brogdon.

All three improved a lot last season and have a team construct that sets up another step forward this season. All three play for strong developmental teams with good players around them. All three play in the East and have a path to an All-Star berth, which is typically the level MIP winners need to get reach.

Rookie of the Year is always about numbers with little regard for winning. It’s probably a race between Ball and Obi Toppin in the end, but I don’t love the odds for either guy. Instead, I will play two long shot guards I rated higher on my draft board than most. Cole Anthony and Tyrese Maxey are combo scoring guards who should get buckets and put up numbers that catch folks’ eyes.

Maxey is a perfect fit in Philly and was top five on my board, and Doc Rivers has had a bench player win five of the past seven Sixth Man awards, so Maxey could score in bunches off the bench and get national spotlight if he breaks into some closing lineups as an off ball shooter creator.

Last but not least, $5 on Chris Paul at 200-1 to win the career MVP. If Phoenix is good enough to jump into the top three teams, CP3 is absolutely going to get credit.

And in a year when I don’t like most of the other MVP favorites, a healthy CP3 on potentially his best team ever getting the Kobe Lifetime Achievement Award could garner some late media buzz. This one’s gonna be fun.

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Raheem Palmer’s Betslip

MVP: Luka Doncic +400 [$35]
MVP: Joel Embiid +4000 [$5]
ROY: Killian Hayes +950 [$10]
6th Man: Jordan Clarkson +700 [$15]
DPOY: Anthony Davis +300 [$15]
MIP: Deandre Ayton +1600 [$10]
MIP: Michael Porter +1400 [$10]

I wrote up a longer case for Luka Doncic to win MVP, but it really comes down to a combination of factors: Age (30 or younger), good counting stats, advanced statistics (PER, Usage), team success and teammates who don’t steal your shine.

When you consider the absence of Mavs star Kristaps Porzingis, load management for the Western Conference finalists and Kawhi Leonard’s degenerative quad issue that won’t allow him to handle a full load, the narrative is all lined up for the 21-year-old Doncic to win his first MVP award.

He finished fourth in MVP voting last season with a 19% share. This season he should get most of the voting share.

If you’re looking for a long-shot, there’s also a center in Philadelphia who fits the bill as well. Embiid had a down season playing with Al Horford, but he’s had an MVP level impact in the past and we often forget that he is 26 years old.

In 2019, he put up 27.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game and finished seventh in MVP voting. His dominance showed itself in the playoffs where he finished the Raptors series +89 in 237 minutes and 76ers were -109 in the 99 minutes without him.

Given the addition of the analytically savvy Darryl Morey, we’ll likely see Embiid playing with teammates who actually fit his skillset. He’s surrounded by shooters like Seth Curry and Danny Green, and they’ve eliminated the dead weight of from head coach Brett Brown. He’s been replaced by Doc Rivers who should command more respect in the locker room and actually has a clue what he’s doing on the court.

Embiid has had usage percentages of over 32% his entire career so he’s going to get his shots and it’s clear this team goes as he does. If the 76ers are a top seed, Embiid will be the reason — and he’ll likely see the credit in the form of MVP votes.

This season, there’s no real clear cut option for Rookie of the Year. LaMelo Ball is essentially the new Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, likely to be more style than substance. His passes look great, but I’m not seeing him truly be effective enough to be ROY. He also plays with guards Devonte Graham and Terry Rozier.

Obi Toppin was the best player in college basketball last season and now plays for the Knicks in his hometown. This would be one of the more ideal choices if he didn’t play behind Julius Randle; Obi hasn’t exactly been given the keys yet.

I’m rolling with Killian Hayes who will be given the keys from the door.

He has the benefit of having professional experience playing in Germany so he appears ready to contribute right away. With the Pistons trading Luke Kennard and not having many guards on this team outside of Derrick Rose, he’ll have the usage to get his numbers.

Before I dive into Sixth Man of the year, take a look at these three players:

  • Player A: 30.7 PTS | 3.1 AST | 5.5 REB | 46.2 FG% per 100 poss
  • Player B: 31.9 PTS | 4.2 AST | 3.9 REB | 40.4 FG% per 100 poss
  • Player C: 30.9 PTS | 5.2 AST | 4.4 REB | 40.9 FG% per 100 poss

Player A is Jordan Clarkson in 2020 and the next two are Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford during their initial Sixth Man of the Year campaigns in the 2014-2015 and 2009-2010 seasons. Looks similar right?

Oddsmakers have priced Clarkson at +700 for a reason.

Sixth Man isn’t too hard to analyze. It’s all about who’s the best gunner who can come off the bench and put up points. Team record, defense, rebounding, and assists don’t matter — just score points.

If you’re looking for a guy with the ultimate green light, look no further than Clarkson who started his career with the Lakers and learned the Mamba Mentality from Kobe Bryant himself.

In the playoffs last season, Clarkson scored 16.7 PPG with 2.1 assists and 3.4 rebounds a game in 28.6 minutes. The Jazz need his scoring this season, so he should continue to build off his first season with the team, providing instant offense while Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley are on the bench.

Defensive Player of the Year is an award historically won by big men. Even the best perimeter defenders can only impact defense but so much and thus, it’s no coincidence that in the 38 year history of the award, big men have won the award a whopping thirty times.

I’ve narrowed this list down to four names. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis and Embiid. Davis stands out based on his playoff performance, though. I like him to carry that momentum after he finished second in defensive rating, second in defensive win shares, and third in blocks last season.

Like the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, when trying to find a Most Improved Player candidate, we’re looking for players who will see an increase in their usage and thus an increase in their points, rebounds and assists totals. We’re essentially looking for players to surprise us and become All Stars, which makes this difficult.

Deandre Ayton is already putting up 18.2 points per game, 11.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.9 assists, but we could see him make a leap this season. With the addition of Chris Paul, Ayton should get easy lobs to the basket similar to Paul’s days playing with DeAndre Jordan, who attained his first and only All Star appearance playing with CP3 on the Los Angeles Clippers.

Michael Porter Jr is competing for the starting job in Denver with Will Barton and it’s more likely than not we could see him take over at some point. Porter averaged 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds in the playoffs, hitting crucial shots in their series against the Clippers. I’m betting a small portion on him to make the leap this season.

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Joe Dellera’s Betslip

MVP: Luka Doncic +410 [$35]
MVP: Damian Lillard +2000 [$15]
ROY: Tyrese Haliburton +2000 [$10]
DPOY: Bam Adebayo +1000 [$15]
6th Man: Dennis Schroder +1400 [$10]
MIP: Lonzo Ball +3300 [$10]
MIP: Christian Wood +2500 [$5]

Luka Doncic is the favorite for a reason, I think we will see too many rest days for LeBron James and Anthony Davis and it’s unlikely Giannis can win a third consecutive MVP.

Doncic has eye-popping usage, and with Kristaps Porzingis missing time this season, he can get off to a hot start and control the narrative. His main flaw is his turnover rate, but that’s to be expected with a player who handles the ball on every possession.

I also like Damian Lillard here. He’s in the conversation for deadliest shooter (I’m not forgetting Stephen Curry) and the Trail Blazers hype train is real. If they secure a top four seed in the West, I think it’s largely due to his success.

Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton has plenty of opportunity. He is lined up to be either the first guard off the bench or even enter the starting lineup for the Kings if Buddy Hield slips down Coach Luke Walton’s rotation. Haliburton can contribute on both sides of the court, as he is talented offensively (15.2/6.5/5.9 P/R/A as a sophomore at Iowa State), but he also ranked in the top five in steals in the Big 12 during both of his collegiate seasons, per Basketball Reference.

Bam Adebayo took a massive step forward last season in his first All-Star campaign. He ranked fifth in Defensive Win Shares and he finished in the top five for Defensive Player of the Year last season. It’s not uncommon for there to be repeat winners, but the odds are juicy enough that I’ll bite.

Dennis Schröder was robbed last season for Sixth Man of the Year. I think he gets even more press as he will presumably lead the Lakers’ second squad. There’s a little risk here because he’s expressed interest in a starting role, but I think he demonstrated such strength off the bench with OKC that the Lakers will want to use him as a facilitator when James is off the floor.

Most Improved Player is tough because almost any player can win. Two players stand out based on new opportunities. With Jrue Holiday being shipped to Milwaukee, Lonzo Ball should take a step up in both minutes and usage this season. His jump shot has improved, specifically from 3-point range, and if he can keep defenders honest with his jump shot, he has plenty of options to rack up assists on the Pelicans.

Christian Wood just got his payday and his per 36-minute average last season was 22 points and 10.6 boards. He should start, he can stretch the floor, and I’d expect plenty of easy buckets for him with John Wall and James Harden at the helm.

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