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In what seems like a runaway-type year for the NBA Awards, there are enough value plays on the board to justify throwing some darts. It seems like MVP is all but wrapped up, but every other award has at least one pick that you can feel good about taking a flyer on.
As I said, MVP is all but wrapped up. Nikola Jokic is well on his way to his third-straight MVP, voter fatigue be damned, to the delight of all you advanced analytics nerds. I feel like we’ll have at least two more years of obsessing over advanced stats before the pendulum shifts back to true value. Jokic and the Nuggets haven’t proven that they can win when it counts. The playoffs are a different beast, and his style of play isn’t exactly geared toward multiple playoff rounds. That isn’t to take away what he’s done in the past three seasons, he’s on a historic streak and is one of the most talented big men the game has ever seen. I know the MVP is a regular season award, but to me, you need to win when it counts for the award to mean something. With all of that said, here’s the value play.
Joel Embiid (+550)
The Celtics homer in me grimaced while typing that out, but outside of Jokic, Embiid is the clear-cut #2. The Bucks have shown they can win games without Giannis, and even if he’s the most dominant player in the league, your team being a quality squad without you means something when it comes to the MVP race. Embiid is the heart and soul of the 76ers. If they can make a run and move up to the 2 or even 1 seed, I’d feel a lot more confident about this pick, but I still like it as a value pick regardless.
Embiid is averaging an absolutely insane 33 points per game as a center to go along with 10.3 rebounds per game and 4.1 assists. His 33 points per game are good enough for second in the entire NBA. The next true center on the list would be Mr. Jokic, who’s all the way down in 20th at 24.5 points per game. Scoring isn’t everything, but we haven’t seen a center this gifted at scoring the basketball in a long time. I won’t put any bad energy out into the NBA world, but if something happens to Jokic before the end of the season, Embiid is my clear #2 pick for MVP.
Rookie of the Year
Don’t waste your money. There is no point in looking at anybody else besides Paolo Banchero.
Most Improved Player
This is where the awards start to get interesting. Lauri Markkanen is the favorite right now at -280, but there are two very intriguing options behind him. I’m going to eliminate one right now in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The reason why comes down to the best kind of ability, availability.
I don’t blame the Thunder. He’s the cornerstone of your franchise right now, and you have the opportunity to lose a couple more games and pair him with a generational talent in Victor Webanyama. Shai has had an outstanding season, but I think his minutes restriction is going to hurt him when it comes to this award. So, who’s the pick?
Jalen Brunson (+320)
You’re telling me I can get the guy who left one of the best players in the league to prove to the rest of the NBA that he can be a guy at 3-1 odds? And who’s helped his team rip off 9 straight wins as of this article and has the tortured Knicks as the 5th seed in the East? That, my friends, is what we call value. The biggest roadblock I see between Brunson and Lauri is the All-Star nod. Lauri was a starter in this year’s ASG, albeit as a replacement for Zion, while Brunson wasn’t selected. There was plenty of outcry among NBA fans, but I’m not sure how much that will factor into who gets the MIP award. Either way, Jalen Brunson is having himself a season. His PPG is up from 16.3 last season to 23.9 this season, and his assists are up from 4.8 to 6.2 assists per game. It’s not an astronomical jump, but he’s been the alpha on this year’s Knicks and is the main reason the team is where it is at this point in the season. If that’s not worth a better look at MIP then I don’t know what is.
6th Man of the Year
Remember when Russ was the favorite to win this award? Good times. Right now, Immanuel Quickley leads the pack for 6MOTY at -170. How much of that has to do with last night’s 38-point performance in their double-OT win against the Celtics, I’ll leave it for you to decide. Either way, Quickley is a solid pick. But we’re on the hunt for value. After Quickley and the person who’s second in the race, the odds get ridiculous. I’m not going near Norman Powell at +2000 or Bobby Portis at +6000. That only leaves one man.
Malcolm Brogdon (+125)
Call me a homer. I dare you. Brogdon is the sixth man on the one seed in the East and has filled an absolutely vital role for the Celtics as their backup PG. This was a position that was exposed all throughout last season and into the playoffs, and Brogdon has been invaluable as a scoring and playmaking threat off the bench. He may not have the flashy stat lines that someone like Quickley will have from time to time, but Brogdon is the definition of a stat stuffer. He’s a walking bucket and plays nicely into the pick-and-roll/pop scheme that the Celtics run with their bigs. If you’re looking for 6MOTY value, Brogdon is your guy.
Defensive Player of the Year
The books would lead you to believe that this is Jaren Jackson Jr.’s award to lose. He’s a -220 favorite, with the next closest player being Brook Lopez at +300. But, with everything going on with the Grizzlies this season, don’t you think a late surge by a DPOY underdog is coming? Just on Sunday, the Grizzlies lost Brandon Clarke for the season, Ja Morant stepped away from the team due to his wild IG live, and Dillon Brooks was suspended for a game after receiving too many technicals. This team is a mess, which leads me to believe JJJ is going to find a way to blow this award. But Lopez won’t be the one getting it.
Bam Adebayo (+850)
If we’re being honest, Bam should already have at least one of these awards, and it probably should have been last year. Marcus Smart is an incredible defender, but Bam was on another level a season ago. I know I called all you advanced analytics people nerds at the start of this, but advanced stats, especially defensive rating, are some of the best ways to grade defensive players, as your impact as a defender can be felt outside of your blocks and steals per game. His defensive rating is up to 119 from 115.1 from last season. The Heat might not be where they were as a team compared to last season, but that’s no fault to Bam. He’s still a high-motor player who makes his presence known on the defensive end. JJJ might have some impressive numbers, but if the last week of Grizzlies basketball has shown us anything, it’s that he’s far from a lock for DPOY.