NBA

NBA Player Awards: Where Things Stand at All-Star Break for Jokic, SGA, Wemby

By Scott Kacsmar

As the NBA’s 2023-24 season has hit the All-Star break, we wanted to check in where the NBA player awards races stand with the latest betting odds for stars such as Nikola Jokic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Victor Wembanyama. We are looking at Most Valuable Player (MVP), Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, and Sixth Man of the Year.

The 65-Game Rule’s Impact

Something new this year in the award races is that a player must play at least 65 regular-season games (out of 82) to be eligible for awards like MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player as well as the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams. It does not apply to the Sixth Man of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards.

There is an exception for a player who plays in at least 62 games, suffers a season-ending injury, but they played in at least 85% of the team’s games before the injury. They would still be eligible for that rare event.

Also, a player has to play at least 20 minutes of a game for it to count as a game played. It’s not like they can just throw someone in for a few minutes, pull them out and have it count.

Generally speaking, 65 games is the number to aim for, so a player really cannot afford to miss more than 17 games.

This was done in part to combat the “load management” era of the NBA, and it’s already having an impact as reigning MVP Joel Embiid is now ineligible to repeat as MVP since he’s already missed 20 games this season for the 76ers. He’ll miss more too with his knee surgery, so that’s a wrap on his MVP repeat bid.

Embiid was +700 and in third place for the MVP going into December when we last checked in on these odds. But if you have an Embiid MVP ticket this year, considered that good as burned.

Most Valuable Player: Can Jokic Be Caught Again?

With Embiid out of the race, the MVP award is basically down to four players, and we have included them as well as the major drop-off after them to show where things stand. We also included what the MVP odds were in late October before opening night with the current odds at FanDuel.

  • Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets, -125 (opened at +430)
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder, +210 (started +1900)
  • Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, +850 (started +550)
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks, +900 (started +600)
  • Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics, +2900 (started +750)

After Tatum, it drops all the way to Kawhi Leonard at +7500. But outside of Embiid’s injuries excluding him from the ballot, this has remained very consistent since opening night with the same five players left at the top.

But it is essentially a 2-player race between Nikola Jokic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The latter has been the only true riser as SGA opened at +1900, was +1300 going into December, and still has a chance at +210 odds coming out of the All-Star break.

If you had a bet on Jokic for MVP last season, you know he lost a bigger lead to Embiid than he has now. Embiid was +700 in late January 2023 before going on to win the award, denying a three-peat of MVPs for Jokic.

Could it happen again? It could, especially if the Thunder (37-17) finish ahead of the Nuggets (36-19) in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City is currently the No. 2 seed and Denver is No. 4.

Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 31.1 points per game for a team that doesn’t have another 20-point scorer, and he also averages a team-high 6.5 assists (no one else above 4.6). The Thunder are 10-2 when he scores at least 35 points this year, so his numbers are having an impact.

NBA seasons are so long that little head-to-head games shouldn’t mean anything for MVP, but SGA is 3-1 against Denver this year with 40 points in the last meeting, a 26-point win. He scored a season-low 7 points on 2-of-16 shooting against Denver in a 33-point blowout loss in the third game of the season, but who is remembering that come voting time?

When it comes to on/off splits, the Thunder are +11.1 points better in Net Rating with SGA on the court this year. That’s very good for him, but Jokic still has that beat as the Nuggets are +16.7 with him on the court this season. That’s trending better than his MVP seasons in 2021-22 (+16.4) and 2020-21 (+6.4).

Jokic’s 31.1 PER would be his lowest of the last four seasons, but it’s still No. 2 in the league and just outdoing SGA’s number (30.5). But SGA is currently leading the NBA in advanced metrics such as Offensive Win Shares and Win Shares/48 Minutes, two metrics that Jokic led the NBA in for each of the last three seasons.

So, if you have a Jokic MVP ticket, you should feel confident. But SGA is well within striking distance to pull this off, especially if the Thunder finish strong and get a better record while he leads the league in those win share stats over Jokic. Anyone who got him at +1900 or +1300 got great value.

Rookie of the Year: Wembanyama the Lock?

Rookie of the Year was always a 2-horse race this season between Victor Wembanyama (Spurs) and Chet Holmgren (Thunder). Wemby had all the hype and expectations coming into the season, but going into December, Holmgren was right there with him and even had the lead in odds at several sportsbooks.

But coming out of the All-Star break, this looks to be virtually decided as Wembanyama is now -600 at FanDuel while Holmgren is +500. No one else is even close as the third-highest odds belong to Brandon Miller at +15000.

The Spurs are going through a rough year with an 11-44 record, but the flashes have certainly been there for Wemby delivering on the hype. He had a triple-double against the Pistons in just 21 minutes of action, he’s had a game with 20 rebounds, he’s had a game with 10 blocks this month, and we saw him score 38 points in a comeback win against Phoenix early in the year as his first big flash.

The potential is definitely there, and he is averaging 23.0 points per game over his last 23 games. He also leads the NBA with 3.2 blocks per game for the whole season. If you bought into the hype all along and bet on him to win Rookie of the Year, here is a premature congrats. It would be a shock if he didn’t win the award at this point.

Remember, the 65-game requirement does not apply to Rookie of the Year, so a season-ending injury would not prevent Wemby from winning this award he was almost predestined to win.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy, Rudy, Rudy

What a difference 2.5 months can make in the NBA. This went from one of the most competitive awards to the biggest runaway by the odds.

Rudy Gobert (Timberwolves) is now -700 at FanDuel to win Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) for the 4th time in his career. His closest competitors include Jarrett Allen (+1000) and Victor Wembanyama (+2500), so not very close at all right now.

This award did take a hit from the 65-game rule as Evan Mobley (Cavaliers) and Draymond Green (Warriors) both are ineligible because of games missed this season. They finished third and fourth in the DPOY voting last season.

Gobert is just a proven commodity and the Timberwolves (39-16) continue to have the best record in the Western Conference, rank No. 1 in points per game allowed, and No. 1 in Defensive Rating.

Gobert just needs to play 11 more games to get to 65 games and you can basically lock this one up as his. How big would a 4th DPOY award be for Gobert? He would tie the record for most wins by Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace.

Most Improved Player of the Year: Maxey for the Win?

When it comes to the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year race, Tyrese Maxey has remained a consistent favorite throughout the season thanks in large part to the James Harden trade early in the year.

But we wanted to show you how much this race has changed around Maxey since we last looked at things on November 30th. These were the odds back then from FanDuel:

  • Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers (+100)
  • Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors (+550)
  • Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets (+600)
  • Cam Thomas, Brooklyn Nets (+1800)
  • Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons (+2500)

These are the odds for Most Improved Player of the Year coming out of the All-Star break:

  • Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers (-200)
  • Coby White, Chicago Bulls (+380)
  • Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State Warriors (+1000)
  • Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets (+1000)
  • Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder (+1600)
  • Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors (+7500)

Maxey has moved to -200, but the bigger story may be the way the contenders around him completely fell off with Cade Cunningham not even in the odds anymore, and Cam Thomas of the Nets has gone from +1800 to +19000. But even Scottie Barnes of the Raptors has fallen from +550 and the No. 2 position to +7500 and No. 6.

But the risers are another story as Coby White has become a solid player for the Bulls this year, and Jonathan Kuminga has really come on for the Warriors in recent weeks.

But this is still Maxey’s award to lose. He made his first All-Star team, and he is averaging a career-high 25.7 points and 6.4 assists per game. He needs to play 16 more games to get to the 65-game threshold, but he is trending in the right direction for that as he tries to keep the 76ers afloat without Embiid.

It has been a good push by White and Kuminga, but barring injury, Maxey is going to win this award.

Sixth Man of the Year: Monk Coming from Way Back

Finally, here are the current odds leaders from FanDuel for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, awarded to the best player who comes off the bench. We called out last time that Cam Thomas of the Nets shouldn’t have been included in the odds when he was starting games, and that seems to have been corrected as there is no available market for him for this award.

  • Malik Monk, Sacramento Kings (-115)
  • Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks (+220)
  • Norman Powell, Los Angeles Clippers (+750)
  • Caris LeVert, Cleveland Cavaliers (+1900)

This was the most competitive award going into December, and that is still true coming out of the All-Star break. The big climber here is Malik Monk, who was in sixth place with +1600 odds on November 30, and now he is the odds-on favorite for the Kings.

Tim Hardaway Jr. was leading with +300 odds going into December, but he has fallen behind Monk. Is that justified?

  • Hardaway Jr. thru 17 games: 27.5 minutes, .420 FG%, .384 3P%, 16.8 PTS, 3.4 REB, 1.6 AST
  • Hardaway Jr. last 35 games: 30.8 minutes, .412 FG%, .356 3P%, 17.5 PTS, 3.7 REB, 1.8 AST

Statistically, Hardaway Jr. is more or less the same player he was to start the season. He’s playing a few more minutes per game, which helps his averages equate despite shooting a little worse from 3-point territory.

But the recent return of a healthy Kyrie Irving to the starting lineup has not necessarily helped Hardaway’s numbers. Sure, the Mavericks are on a 6-game winning streak and that’s more important, but Hardaway is only averaging 9.3 points per game during this winning streak. His numbers may be on a downward slope here.

Has Monk seen a bump in his numbers to justify the rise in odds?

  • Monk thru November (17 games): 24.3 minutes, .403 FG%, .402 3P%, 13.8 PTS, 2.9 REB, 4.6 AST
  • Monk since December (36 games): 26.6 minutes, .467 FG%, .363 3P%, 15.8 PTS, 2.7 REB, 5.6 AST

Monk’s overall shooting has vastly improved from early in the year, his 15.8 points per game is the highest average of his career, and his assists have also gone up a full assist. The points and assists combined could be a good argument for Monk over Hardaway Jr.

But this should be a pretty competitive race down the stretch. Hardaway Jr. is still decisively the No. 3 scoring option on the Mavericks, so you cannot count him out yet in this one.

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