2022-23 NBA Awards Watch: Who are the early leaders for MVP, Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year?
Entering the season, the Nets were considered a shoo-in to make the playoffs. The were -2000 to make the playoffs at DraftKings and +1000 to miss the playoffs. The Knicks on the other hand were +180 to make the playoffs and -225 to miss the playoffs.
Times have started changing, but I think there’s still value to be had for both teams.
As of today, the Knicks are +165 to make the playoffs and -205 to miss at Caesars Sportsbook, while I found the Nets at -370 to make the playoffs and +280 to miss.
Here are some key facts:
• The Knicks, at 5-5, are currently tied for the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference
• The Nets, at 4-7, are currently tied for the 11th-best record in the Eastern Conference
• Both the Nets (sixth) and the Knicks (10th) are among the top 10 in the East at present, according to ESPN BPI
Looker closer at the Nets
The Nets feel like a team on the brink of potentially drastic measures. We are in the fourth season of the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving era and third since Durant returned from his torn Achilles tendon. While many predicted championship-level, if not dynasty-level success, the Nets have gone only 7-13 in the playoffs with a single series win and two sweep losses.
This offseason, both Durant and Irving reportedly requested to be traded. Ben Simmons, the All-Star at the center of the trade package they received for James Harden, didn’t play at all last season and was a major unknown. Barely three weeks into the season, the Nets fired coach Steve Nash and Simmons has missed four of 11 games with a knee issue and has averaged only 5.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 6.6 APG, all of which are on pace to be career lows.
And, of course, Irving is in the midst of an indefinite suspension that has cast a cloud over the organization and brings into question his future with the team.
On Wednesday, the team named Jacque Vaughn their new head coach, but there remains an increasing rumble that it might be time for the team to cut its losses, give Durant and Irving what they asked for this summer, and trade them away to initiate a rebuild. That would be a shocking outcome for those who were sure this team would win rings, but it could be that enough is enough.
I’m not going to prognosticate what the Nets will decide about their future… data can’t help me with that. But, they were a play-in team last season and are off to a slow start this season, with their three enigmatic superstars on the court together for the majority of the games so far.
Even if they don’t make trades, they are far from a guarantee to make the playoffs. And, if the team brass does decide to blow it up, which BPI just can’t account for, they are almost guaranteed NOT to make the playoffs. So, to me, the futures play here is the Nets to NOT make the playoffs at +280. That pays out nearly 3-to-1 and I’d say there’s a greater than one in three chance that the Nets are on the outside looking in once the postseason starts.
Looker closer at the Knicks
The early returns on their big offseason acquisition of Jalen Brunson have been positive, as we predicted. Brunson has averaged 19.7 PPG and 7.3 APG this season. He’s creating team offense while taking care of the ball with only 1.7 TO/G. In the current ESPN Real Plus Minus stats, which roll out later this week, Brunson has the highest RPM on the team and is 32nd in the NBA overall.
Meanwhile, former All-Star Julius Randle has bounced back from last season’s shooting debacle that resulted in a seven-year low in True Shooting Percentage (50.9 TS%) to a 57.2 TS% mark that would represent his highest since joining the Knicks.
RJ Barrett has continued last season’s scoring breakout, but also at a higher scoring efficiency. The team has been competitive with positive vibes to start the season, despite a tough early schedule, with all of their losses against championship-caliber teams and solid road wins over the 76ers and Timberwolves.
They are getting contributions from young players who are still improving, and they’re enjoying the return of veteran Derrick Rose after he missed most of last season. I, personally, have them among my top-eight teams in the Eastern Conference. So, getting them at plus money to make the postseason is a good bet, in my book.
Now, let’s take an early look at how the NBA championship and awards races look at this point.
NBA championship winner
Milwaukee Bucks (+500)
Cleveland Cavaliers (+1500)
I had the Bucks as my preseason favorite to win the championship, and their 9-1 start while still missing All-Star Khris Middleton only supports that stance. That said, the Cavaliers are a problem this season. I expected them to be, and the early results are even better than expectation. They sit at 8-2, the second best record in the NBA, with a +10.7 scoring margin differential that leads the league. The Cavs have three young All-Stars and a Rookie of the Year runner-up in their starting lineup, with strong depth across the board.
Despite their youth, they have playoff experience among their key guys with new star Donovan Mitchell already having 39 postseason games on his resume and sixth man Kevin Love having won a championship. According to BPI, the Cavaliers currently sit as the second-best team in the NBA. So, getting them at +1500, tied with the Nets for the sixth-longest odds, is good value.
Most Valuable Player
Giannis Antetokounmpo (+225)
In the hunt
Luka Doncic (+290)
Jayson Tatum (+600)
Joel Embiid (+1800)
Donovan Mitchell (+2200)
Nikola Jokic (+2800)
Devin Booker (+4000)
Extreme long shot
LeBron James (+10,000)
Antetokounmpo is the best player in the world. I was arguing for this years ago, but it has now become a consensus opinion. Playing at the level that he is, if the Bucks stay at or near the top record in the NBA, this race is Antetokounmpo’s to lose.
Doncic and Tatum are also off to outstanding starts on successful teams, and stay in the mix.
Jokic and Embiid have finished 1-2 in the MVP vote in each of the past two seasons, and it’s still early enough for things to turn around, so getting them at such long odds could be good value. Mitchell and Booker both currently project to be the best player on teams that could end with the best records in their conferences, which is a profile for a potential MVP finalist.
As for LeBron, if he remains healthy he will become the NBA all-time leading scorer this season to much fanfare. The Lakers are universally considered a bit of a dumpster fire, but they’ve quietly played better since moving Russell Westbrook to the sixth man, and there’s still every likelihood they could make a buyer’s trade if the team shows any signs of life. It looks unlikely now, but if the Lakers improve to even a marginal playoff team, LeBron could get some MVP hype. Long shot? Yes. But, at 100-1, I’m at least keeping it on my radar.
Rookie of the Year
Paolo Banchero (-950)
In the hunt
Bennedict Mathurin (+800)
Keegan Murray (+2500), Jaden Ivey (+2200)
Barring injury, this race currently looks like a landslide. Banchero is off to one of the better starts we’ve seen for a rookie in a long time, with an all-around style that produces excellent fantasy numbers while also impacting his team’s ability to win. In the Real Plus Minus stat that we’ll be rolling out this week, Banchero is by far the most impactful rookie with the 50th-best RPM in the NBA.
Mathurin is second, well back with the 117th-highest RPM. Ivey is 178th, and Murray is 212th.
Defensive Player of the Year
Giannis Antetokounmpo (+300)
In the hunt
Rudy Gobert (+500)
Bam Adebayo (+700)
O.G. Anunoby (+2500)
Clint Capela (+30,000)
This is a wide-open race because there aren’t any clearly dominant defensive campaigns. The current leaders come from among the usual candidates, with both Giannis (once) and Gobert (three times) having won the award before.
Adebayo is a young defender with a sterling reputation who could be a serious candidate if the Heat defense picks up. But I’d pay special attention to Anunoby as a long shot and Capela as a waaaaay long shot.
According to the RPM stats we’re rolling out this week, Anunoby and Capela rank 1-2 in Defensive RPM. The Raptors are a solid defensive unit, and they’re also a competitive team. If they replicate last season’s success and challenge for 50 wins, with a strong defense, Anunoby could sneak into the DPoY conversation.
The Hawks aren’t a strong defense, and Capela is so far down the odds list that he might as well not be on there. With that said, Capela is currently ninth in the NBA in blocks per game, 13th in rebounds per game, and the Hawks are on pace to be a 50-win team and potential division winner. If Capela stays at the top of the DRPM list and any voters catch wind of it, mean, he’s a long shot, but at 300-1, he’s worth a look.
Sixth Man of the Year
Russell Westbrook (+160)
In the hunt
Jordan Poole (+275)
Christian Wood (+650)
Malcolm Brogdon (+2000)
Bobby Portis (+2000)
Collin Sexton (+2500)
Kevin Love (+4000)
Westbrook has been strong since moving to his sixth-man role, averaging about 19 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds in five games. But, the future is uncertain enough for the Lakers that I can’t predict for sure that Westbrook will stay in the role.
Poole is probably the safer bet as favorite, while Wood isn’t consistent enough to stay with them.
Among the long shots, I’ve already written about how much I think Brogdon contributes to a Celtics team with title aspirations. Portis is a key figure on the team with the best record in the league. Sexton is contributing to the shocking rise of the Jazz (by the way, the Jazz are plus money to make the playoffs at +175, even though they currently have the best record in the Western Conference and show no signs of slowing down), and has big scoring upside (he averaged 24.3 PPG just two seasons ago) that could catch voter’s eyes.
And, I wanted to shout out Love, who has already had some strong games for the Cavs off the bench, and the Cavs, as I said above, are a problem!
Most Improved Player
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+350)
Tyrese Maxey (+350)
In the hunt
Lauri Markkanen (+600)
Tyrese Haliburton (+900)
Desmond Bane (+1000)
Bol Bol (+4000)
Alperen Sengun (+5000)
Jalen Brunson (+6000)
Gilgeous-Alexander is putting up seriously absurd numbers this season, and Maxey is glowing up with the chance for more in the next month with James Harden out.
I’ve been touting Markkanen, Bane and Sengun since before the season began. I’ve been happy to see Bol Bol get a legitimate chance to play in Orlando, and he has lived up to the once mega draft hype he got in college before injuries slowed his progress.
But, I like Brunson as the long shot here. As mentioned above, Brunson could be looking at a 20 and 8-ish season, helping lead the Knicks back to the postseason, in one of the more major (and long-suffering) markets in the NBA. If the Knicks approach 50 wins, with no other end-of-the-season awards in reach, Brunson for MIP could gain some traction.
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