* Throughout the 2021 NBA season, NBC Sports Washington's Mike DePrisco will follow all of the NBA's award races as part of the Leader in the Clubhouse series. Here, he looks where each award race stands early in the season.
Ever since Kevin Durant left the Warriors for Brooklyn, we've been waiting to see Golden State get back to playing small-ball, hitting a bunch of threes and defending at a high level. After two years of missing the playoffs, Steph Curry and the Warriors appear on their way to another deep playoff run, giving Curry an edge in this year's MVP race.
Here are the betting favorites for each NBA award, the best bets for each honor and analysis for every award race (all odds are provided by NBC Sports partner, PointsBet USA). For our NFL fans, we have you covered at the beginning of every week here.
Most Valuable Player
Betting favorite: Stephen Curry (+300)
Best bet: Stephen Curry (+300)
Keep an eye on: Giannis Antetokounmpo (+550), Kevin Durant (+500)
Curry was one player to keep an eye on the last time we took a deep look at the MVP race, and now he's the frontrunner leading the 9-1 Warriors to the top of the West early on this season. The two-time MVP is averaging a hair under 28 points per game and isn't shooting the ball at the clip he was a year ago, but he's still dominating for a top-five offense in the league right now.
Curry is going to get the credit for basically every bit of the Warriors' success this season, so if they can stay toward the top of the West and Curry's shooting splits progress to the mean, he should be in a good spot to secure another MVP award.
Durant is in a similar situation in Brooklyn. Kyrie Irving's out, James Harden has started slow after rehabbing a hamstring injury, so Durant must lead the Nets through this bit of adversity so they can come out on the other side still contending for a championship. Averaging 30/9/5 isn't a bad way to secure a spot in the MVP race, either.
Defensive Player of the Year
Betting favorite: Rudy Gobert (+200)
Best bet: Bam Adebayo (+500)
Keep an eye on: Draymond Green (+1000)
Rudy Gobert remains the favorite to win his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award, but don't sleep on Bam Adebayo anchoring the sixth-best defense in the NBA. The Heat have been arguably the best team in the East to start the season and Adebayo shutting down the paint and holding his own on switches has a lot to do with their success.
Draymond Green is still a name to watch as well. The last time we looked at this race, Green was +2000 to win the award. He's already jumped to +1000 and the Warriors have the top defensive rating in the league at the moment.
Rookie of the Year
Betting favorite: Evan Mobley (+275)
Best bet: Evan Mobley (+275)
Keep an eye on: Scottie Barnes (+275), Jalen Green (+500)
It's not unheard of to see a rookie big man start slow in the NBA, as we've seen with Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, James Wiseman and Mo Bamba over the last four years. However, Mobley has hit the ground running for Cleveland, averaging 15 points, eight rebounds and just under three assists.
With Cade Cunningham's early struggles and Jalen Green's Rockets having issues winning games, Mobley helping lead a 7-4 Cavs team leaves him as the easy choice for Rookie of the Year right now. Green and Scottie Barnes will likely have a say in this race before it ends, though. Barnes is a starter on a scrappy Raptors team and has already put together a few nice defensive highlights against players like Kevin Durant.
Sixth Man of the Year
Betting favorite: Tyler Herro (+105)
Best bet: Tyler Herro (+105)
Keep an eye on: Montrezl Harrell (+1000), Jalen Brunson (+2000)
Herro is the overwhelming favorite for this award and rightly so. He's averaging over 20 points in 10 games off the bench and is shooting 40% on seven 3-point attempts per game. Throw in the fact that he's a major reason why his team is one of the dominant forces in the league, and it's easy to see this as Herro's race to lose.
Montrezl Harrell could climb back in this thing if he continues to help the Wizards win games and produces at a high level. But for now, this thing is all Herro.
Most Improved Player
Betting favorite: Ja Morant (+220)
Best bet: Ja Morant (+220)
Keep an eye on: Miles Bridges (+350), OG Anunoby (+1200)
This award tends to go to the player who goes from non-rotation player to borderline starter or the starter who takes a jump into the All-Star conversation, but what about the star that takes the leap into superstardom. Morant is clearly in the middle of that transition as a basketball player and it's an absolute joy to watch.
Miles Bridges making a big leap on offense can be filed under the typical cases for Most Improved Player, but if Morant continues to play the way he has, nothing Bridges does will make a difference in the result.
Coach of the Year
Betting favorite: Erik Spoelstra (+500)
Best bet: Steve Kerr (+800)
Keep an eye on: Billy Donovan (+800)
Erik Spoelstra is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the league, and he'll be in this mix throughout the year as long as the Heat keep winning. But there's something about how the Warriors have looked since getting the personnel to better match what Kerr likes to do.
Small ball, green lights for shooters and active hands on defense have turned the Warriors into an early juggernaut and Klay Thompson isn't even back yet.