Value Bets For NBA Awards at All-Star Break

As the 2023-24 NBA season reaches the All-Star Break, it's clear that we're in an offensive era like no other — for both individual players and teams.

From 1946 until the calendar end of 2022, there were only 11 occasions of a player scoring 70 or more points in a single game. It only occurred four times from the 1963-64 season until late in the 2016-17 season. Since January 2023, players have scored 70 points in a game four times.

This season's lowest-scoring team is the Grizzlies at 106.7 points per game. Ten years ago, at the dawn of the pace-and-space era, 106.7 points per game would have tied for fourth in the league. Twenty years ago, 106.7 points would have ranked best in the league by a clear 1.5 points. The entire league averages 22.1 more points per team per game than in 2004, with the number of possessions increasing by about 10 percent since then.

With so many more points being scored, stat inflation has become an issue when trying to compare seasons across eras or evaluating campaigns for awards. Counting stats for an MVP season in 1999 may only garner Third Team All-NBA honors in 2024. And for some of this season's awards, there's an extra wrinkle of the 65 games played rule.

Even with each team about two-thirds of the way through 82 games, I think there's value to be had in betting season-long awards futures. Let's look at three plays and a couple of awards I recommend staying away from. (All odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook as of Feb. 13.)

MVP: Kawhi Leonard (+2900)
Current favorite: Nikola Jokic (-140)

My first selection is probably the longest shot of the bunch. After Joel Embiid's knee injury, Jokic is a clear and deserving favorite to win his third MVP, and third in four seasons. Second-favorite is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at +270, which seems short for a first-time contender for this award. And while SGA has been great as a No. 1 option on one of the league's best teams, I would argue that you could make a strong case for Leonard as No. 2.

Since the start of December, the Clippers are 27-7. If L.A. can wrestle the No. 1 seed in the West from Minnesota, OKC, and Denver, there's going to be award buzz for Kawhi, who is shooting 45% from three, 55% overall, and nearly 90% from the line. Additionally, Leonard has played 48 of 52 games so far, and the Clippers probably won't be locked into a playoff seed until the final few days of the season, so Kawhi probably isn't in much danger (besides normal injury risk) of failing to reach 65 games.

Ultimately, this bet hitting may require Jokic missing a few games or resting for the playoffs in April, but I think the odds of the Clippers finishing on top of the West are a lot higher than the 3.33% implied probability at +2900.

Rookie of the Year: Chet Holmgren (+500)
Current favorite: Victor Wembanyama (-600)

This award seemed neck-and-neck for the first couple months of the season but clearly shifted towards Wemby after an excellent January for the Frenchman. Still, it feels like -600 is a reach.

Holmgren is a No. 3 option on his own team, but he's still shooting 60% on twos, nearly 40% on threes, and averaging counting stats of 17/8/3 as a rookie on a team with major playoff goals. That has to count for something. Also, with San Antonio slowly increasing its win percentage, it's not too hard to envision a scenario where Wemby sits more often post-All-Star Break to effectively guarantee the Spurs a top-five pick in June. That said, rookie honors aren't subject to the 65-game rule, so neither lanky rookie is in danger of disqualification late in the season.

Clutch Player of the Year: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+370)
Current favorite: Steph Curry (+130)

After Saturday night's Suns/Warriors epic and Steph's deep game-winning three, I'm swimming against the tide on this one. I'm also cognizant that the novelty of this award makes it the most likely to be voted on based on vibes and signature moments. However, I can't look past clutch stats and the eye test on this one. (As a reminder, clutch stats are counted in the last 5 minutes or OT of a game within five points.)

SGA has a higher field percentage than Steph in the clutch, although Curry's true shooting percentage is higher because of threes. SGA also has more assists in the clutch. But I think Gilgeous-Alexander should have better odds due to his supreme command of end-of-game situations and his ability to drive and get to the midrange. Additionally, OKC has a better record in games with clutch time than the Warriors.

The second favorite for this award is Damian Lillard, and his inclusion in these odds reminds me of offensive linemen who rack up All-Pro awards based on reputation from past years. Dame has a few exciting game-winners this season, but he's shooting 43% overall and 31% from three in clutch time this season.


Defensive Player of the Year
Current favorite: Rudy Gobert (-600)

When most every team is scoring over 110 points each game, individual defensive awards can become confusing. So, I think this award is locked up thanks to Minnesota's top-rated defense and Gobert's clear improvement over his up-and-down first season with the Wolves. Jarrett Allen is second at +1000, representing the No. 2 defense, but is averaging two fewer defensive rebounds per game.

Most Improved Player
Current favorite: Tyrese Maxey (-230)

The track record for the last decade of this award makes it pretty clear: it goes to a relatively well-known player who makes a jump from starter- or sixth man-level to the All-Star or All-NBA echelon on a good team. That alone probably rules out third-favorite Coby White, who is having a career-best season and has started every game.

Alperen Sengun is +470 and has deserved the "baby Jokic" nickname, but wasn't able to break into the all-star roster with a loaded West frontcourt. Also, the Rockets probably aren't finishing the season with a winning record. Maxey checks all the boxes for this award, and can effectively put his name on the trophy if he can help keep the Sixers in their current playoff position without Embiid.

Kawhi Leonard, Chet Holmgren, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander aren't currently awards favorites. But picking them for MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Clutch Player of the Year, respectively, could be a money-making proposition.

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