The 2021-22 NBA regular season is in the books as teams gear up for the start of the playoffs.
This reality means two things. For one, it's time to watch the most intense and high-stakes brand of hoops of the year, and then on the other hand, NBA award races are finally over and in the hands of the voters.
There is no shortage of close races this year, especially at the top with the MVP award. You could argue the NBA has never had as much talent as it does right now, which makes these award decisions all the more difficult. It's also made the fan discourse all the more toxic since every fanbase believes their guy deserves all the love and attention.
Here's a look at each NBA award race and predictions for who will take home each set of hardware. Betting odds were provided by PoinstBet Sportsbook.
Most Valuable Player (MVP)
Betting favorite: Nikola Jokic (-350)
Prediction: Nikola Jokic
In the conversation: Joel Embiid (+300), Giannis Antetokounmpo (+700)
There are three players in the conversation here, but this has really been a two-man race for two straight years now. Embiid's case is strong as the NBA's first center to win the scoring title since 2000. He helped carry the Sixers to a top-four seed in the East despite Ben Simmons' prolonged absence before the James Harden trade and has proven to be a better defender than Jokic.
However, Jokic played with even less help than Embiid this season. Denver was without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. for the entire year other than the first nine games Porter Jr. played. The Nuggets were 19.5 points per 100 possessions (net rating) better with Jokic on the floor vs. when he was off. For comparison, the Sixers were 11.3 points/100 possessions better with Embiid. It's clear evidence of either a weaker supporting cast or flat-out inhuman production from Jokic.
Both players are deserving of the award. Whoever loses will have a case for why he was wronged by the voters. But at the end of the day, Embiid's edge in scoring and in the standings (3 more wins than Denver) can't hold off Jokic's all-around efficiency and ability to carry a team with significantly less talent than what Embiid had available to him. That might not be fair to Embiid, but in a race this close, minor tiebreakers like that tend to hold more weight.
Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY)
Betting favorite: Marcus Smart (-300)
Prediction: Marcus Smart
In the conversation: Bam Adebayo (+500), Mikal Bridges (+800), Jaren Jackson Jr., Rudy Gobert
If Smart takes home Defensive Player of the Year, he'll become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton in 1996. He better have a rock-solid case then, right? Smart's claim to the award may be as simple as he's the best defender on the league's best defense.
The Celtics have terrorized opponents defensively all season thanks to their switch-heavy scheme. Without Smart's ability to guard all five positions as a point guard, this defensive unit wouldn't be nearly as dominant as it has been, vaulting Boston into the East's No. 2 seed. Players like Adebayo and Jackson have strong claims thanks to the rim protection and positional versatility they provide, but if you asked them, they'd probably agree it'd be a lot easier to protect the paint with a guy like Smart defending at the point of attack.
Rookie of the Year (ROY)
Betting favorite: Evan Mobley (-250)
Prediction: Scottie Barnes (+150)
In the conversation: Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham (+900)
If it weren't for an untimely injury and a late-season slide down the standings, Mobley would probably be the runaway favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Now, this race is a lot closer and Barnes might even have the edge considering how well he and the Raptors closed out the regular season.
The two players' counting stats are comparable as well as their on/off splits, so what's the tiebreaker? It's hard to give team success a lot of play in a ROY conversation since rookies aren't always drafted to winning situations and both the Raptors and Cavaliers exceeded preseason expectations. This one may just come down to who finished the season stronger, and that'd be Barnes. His two-way versatility is a big reason why the Raptors can get away with playing nothing but 6-foot-8 guys and it definitely appears as though he's asked to do more on both ends than Mobley.
Most Improved Player (MIP)
Betting favorite: Ja Morant (-1000)
Prediction: Ja Morant
In the conversation: Darius Garland (+1000), Dejounte Murray (+1500), Miles Bridges, Jordan Poole
There are a lot of players in the conversation for this award, but ultimately it will, and should, go to Morant. Everyone loves a role player who turns into a starter with more minutes and shots, though the hardest leap to make in the NBA is the star-to-superstar jump that Morant took this season.
In just Year 3, Morant is up to 27 points per game, 6.7 assists and 5.7 rebounds on near 50% shooting, helping lead the Grizzlies to the second-best record in the NBA this season. If it weren't for injuries and the three monsters leading the MVP race, Morant would have a great claim for that piece of hardware too.
Sixth Man of the Year (6MOY)
Betting favorite: Tyler Herro (-10000)
Prediction: Tyler Herro
In the conversation: Kevin Love (+5000), Kelly Oubre (+5000)
Kevin Love made a decent push for Sixth Man of the Year while the Cavs were hot earlier this season, but this award is and has been Herro's for quite some time.
Coach of the Year (COY)
Betting favorite: Monty Williams (-10000)
Prediction: Monty Williams
In the conversation: Taylor Jenkins (+2000), Ime Udoka (+1000), Erik Spoelstra, Jason Kidd
Williams should have won Coach of the Year last year, and he should win it this year too. The Suns finished with the best record in the NBA at 64-18, a 13-game improvement from last season despite missing Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton for extended time throughout the year.
That's all Williams should need to win this award, and while all four of the coaches listed in the conversation have had outstanding seasons, they're all chasing Williams.
MVP: Nikola Jokic
DPOY: Marcus Smart
ROY: Scottie Barnes
MIP: Ja Morant
6MOY: Tyler Herro
COY: Monty Williams