Awards season is here, and it’s actually pretty nice to be able to just sit here and enjoy watching other fanbases argue over where their guys stand. The Minnesota Timberwolves, outside of a Jarred Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverley’s All-Defensive Team cases, are mostly sitting out the drama of awards season.
Anthony Edwards may catch a few votes for Most Improved Player, and Karl-Anthony Towns is practically locked into an All-NBA spot. For KAT, it’s just a matter of which All-NBA team he ends up making.
Around the league, though, there is as little clarity as ever around numerous awards. I know what I would do for what I would consider to be the three major individual awards, so let me explain my hypothetical ballot.
Most Valuable Player
1st - Nikola Jokic; 2nd - Giannis Antetokounmpo; 3rd - Joel Embiid
The last time a race was this heated, and this deep, was the 2016-17 season when Russell Westbrook took home the MVP Award over James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. All three players had outstanding seasons, with very real cases to win the award.
This year is similar, with three standout performers all struggling to separate themselves from each other for much of the year. Players like Devin Booker, Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic, and others all have had great season and have great cases for down ballot votes, but this top-3 is pretty clear to me.
Personally, I prefer Jokic. I understand that he is on a team that may end with the fifth seed in their conference, but it requires two seconds of thought or research to find a crack in that narrative. The Bucks and 76ers are 48-30, while the Nuggets are 47-32. The Nuggets may be the fifth seed, but the Bucks are Sixers are in third in fourth. Winning absolutely matters, but the margin there is miniscule. It would be one thing if Denver ended up in the play-in, but they are now more likely to end up with home-court in their first-round series than the play-in.
There’s a narrative that Jokic’s case is only due to his superb advanced numbers (not sure how that’s an insult?), but that’s also incredibly disingenuous considering his raw numbers are 27 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists per game on 58% shooting. Those are as basic as it gets. Besides that, he has actually had a good year defensively as well. Can certain playoff opponents expose his lack of foot speed? Maybe, but his defensive deficiencies are greatly exaggerated in the regular season, which is, you know, what MVP is for.
I don’t think he is the best player in the NBA (I believe it’s Giannis), but the absence of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr. has forced him into taking the regular season more seriously than many others. He has had the best season in the NBA, simple as that.
Currently on DraftKings Sportsbook, Jokic is -300 to win MVP, Giannis is +550, and Embiid is +230. The next closest player is Devin Booker at +7500.
Rookie of the Year
1st - Evan Mobley; 2nd - Scottie Barnes; 3rd - Cade Cunningham
This is probably the boring answer/order, but I think it’s the correct order, and I think these three have separated themselves from the field. For a while, this was mostly a two-man show, but Cade has been playing great recently to insert himself into the race.
In any other year, any of these three would be awesome leading candidates for ROY. There can only be one winner, though, and I think it should be Mobley.
To be pretty succinct, rookies just don’t enter the league and contribute to winning the way that Mobley has. He is a solid offensive player, but is a legitimate All-Defense candidate already. He is that good on defense.
The hard part is that Barnes and Cunningham have both also been really good on both sides of the ball. I’d have Mobley and Barnes in a slightly higher tier than Cunningham for just this season because of how slowly Cade started the year, but he has genuinely been awesome for a while now. It’s easy to see why he was the number one overall pick, and I think he’d still go first if we re-drafted today.
As of now, DraftKings Sportsbook has Mobley -330 to win the award, followed by Barnes at +225 and Cunningham at +700.
Defensive Player of the Year
1st - Marcus Smart; 2nd - Mikal Bridges; 3rd - Bam Adebayo
I have no idea what the hell to do with this award. I think Bam has been the best defender in the NBA when he’s been on the floor this year, but he’s played significantly less games than both Smart and Bridges. You could talk me into as many six guys winning this award, let alone making an argument for the top-three.
It feels like, in a year without a runaway candidate, it is finally the year to acknowledge what Marcus Smart has been doing for basically his entire career. I’m not sure his play is noticeably different this year than any other year for him, he’s always been awesome. The standard rim protectors who often win this award have all either missed a lot of games or been slightly worse on defense this year, and Smart has been the leader of the best, most vicious defense I have seen this year.
I wish I had a hotter take to give, but I don’t. Whether it’s Smart, Bridges, Bam, Rudy Gobert, Giannis, or Jaren Jackson Jr., I’m open to a boat load of options here. I admittedly have always had a soft spot for Marcus Smart, so there could be a bit of bias here, but he’s my pick.
At the moment Smart is +120 at DraftKings Sportsbook, followed by Bam at +300, Bridges at +350, Gobert at +450, Giannis at +1300, and JJJ at +1600. The fact that all of these guys are plus-money speaks to the openness of this race.