Leader in the Clubhouse: Early favorites and best bets for NBA season awards

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Leader in the Clubhouse: Early favorites for NBA awards originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Throughout the 2021 NFL 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.

The NBA is back in full swing for a full 82-game regular season for the first time in two years. Overreactions are bound to happen after the first few games are played, especially when those games feature teams like the Lakers and Bucks losing big to teams they shouldn't. 

But Vegas never overreacts, and we'll try to follow the same formula all season long with updates to every award race in the NBA. 

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: Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450)

Best bet: Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450)

Keep an eye on: Stephen Curry (+500), Kevin Durant (+600)

Something clicked for Giannis Antetokounmpo in the 2021 playoffs. After winning MVP and bowing out early in the playoffs for two straight seasons, the 26-year-old superstar turned into a truly unstoppable force en route to his first NBA title. 

The Bucks started using him more as a screen-and-roller instead of primarily relying on him as a primary ball handler. That transition into an Anthony Davis-type role helped Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton come into their own as well as make Antetokounmpo nearly unguardable. Not to mention it looks like he improved his shooting mechanics and is more confident pulling up in the mid-range. 

This year, the monkey is off the Bucks' backs and with the Brooklyn Nets still considered the title favorites in the East, they have the motivation to play eve better than they did toward the end of last season. 

Meanwhile, keep an eye on two former teammates in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. The West is wide open with the Nuggets and Clippers dealing with injuries to Jamal Murray and Kawhi Leonard respectively, so if the Warriors can make a push toward the top of the standings, Curry is going to get serious MVP buzz. 

For Durant, Kyrie Irving's absence will require more from him and James Harden in order for the Nets to keep up with Milwaukee. So far, Durant has been brilliant for Brooklyn to start the year, averaging 33 points, 10 rebounds and six assists through the first few games of the year. 

Defensive Player of the Year

Betting favorite: Rudy Gobert (+240)

Best bet: Joel Embiid (+900)

Keep an eye on: Bam Adebayo (+1200), Draymond Green (+2000)

As of now, Rudy Gobert is the favorite to win his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award, but I love Joel Embiid to win his first. 

Embiid split votes with Ben Simmons last year and given Simmons' current status with the Sixers, Embiid won't be splitting votes with anyone this time around. The seven-year veteran is in an interesting position where he'll get all the credit for his team's success and practically none of the blame as long as Simmons remains out. 

The path to victory for the Sixers without Simmons will come on the defensive end, and even without him, they have a good chance at building a great defense. That's what happens when you have a dynamic, rim protecting big man who can guard on the perimeter. 

Rookie of the Year

Betting favorite: Jalen Green (+200)

Best bet: Jalen Green (+200), Cade Cunningham (+450)

Keep an eye on: Scottie Barnes (+600), Josh Giddey (+1600)

As great as Cade Cunningham is and will be for the Pistons all year, the stats Jalen Green is going to put up in Houston might be too much to overcome. Green is already a borderline elite scorer and he's on a team that will need every bit of the offense he'll provide. Expect a ton of 30-point performances from Green, but don't expect many wins. 

Don't sleep on Barnes either. He's a starter for a Raptors team that could push for the playoffs and never stops playing hard. His jump shot will likely dictate the kind of counting stats he puts up, but Barnes almost always makes a play that makes you shake your head with disbelief. 

Sixth Man of the Year

Betting favorite: Tyler Herro (+400)

Best bet: Jordan Poole (+1000)

Keep an eye on: Montrezl Harrell (+1200)

Herro is widely expected to take a major step forward this season for the Heat, and considering he's going to come off the bench almost exclusively, it makes sense that he's the favorite for this award. However, look for Jordan Poole to overtake him before too long. 

Poole is another breakout candidate this season with Golden State and should have plenty of offensive responsibility while Klay Thompson continues to recover from an Achilles injury. He's a gunner who's the perfect fit alongside Curry and Draymond Green with his ability to space the floor and create for himself off the dribble.

Most Improved Player

Betting favorite: Ja Morant (+550)

Best bet: Ja Morant (+550)

Keep an eye on: Jordan Poole (+1000), OG Anunoby (+1000)

It's rare you see players as talented as Ja Morant win Most Improved Player, but if he continues to play like he has through the first week of the season, this particular race is over. 

Morant, who was the best player on a playoff team last season, looks to be making the superstar leap early on, averaging 35 points and eight assists through the first week of the year. He nearly pulverized the Lakers all by himself on Sunday, but LA was able to escape with a win thanks to Carmelo Anthony.

Poole is worth monitoring for the same reasons he's a good bet for Sixth Man of the Year, though he'll have to really explode to keep up with Morant. Anunoby is in a similar spot where he has a chance to make a leap into the All-Star conversation, but again, Morant has been overwhelming so far. 

Coach of the Year

Betting favorite: Billy Donovan (+800)

Best bet: Billy Donovan (+800)

Keep an eye on: Tyronn Lue (+2000)

There's no clear choice for Coach of the Year quite yet, as there were a ton of coaching changes throughout the league after the end of last season. So for now, if the new-look Bulls are truly revitalized under Billy Donovan, he'll have the best case at the hardware. 

However, keep an eye on Tyronn Lue. Kawhi Leonard is out for the foreseeable future and the Clippers play extremely hard for their head coach. They're going to win more games than people think and if that happens, Lue deserves the bulk of the credit. 

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