NBA Basketball Awards: Expert Techniques for Sports Bettors
There are as many ways to bet on the NBA as there are ways to defend the pick-and-roll. Like instant gratification? You can place wagers on moneylines, point spreads, or totals. Win or lose, you’ll typically find out the result within hours of placing your bet.
Have a little more patience? Most U.S. sportsbooks allow you to bet on the NBA’s Rookie of the Year and its Most Valuable Player. Some sportsbooks also allow you to bet on the Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year.
How NBA Awards Betting Works
Sportsbooks rank the players and coaches in each category according to their chances and assign odds that reflect their likelihood to win each respective award. Betting is opened prior to the beginning of each season and generally closes once the season begins.
Now comes the hard part: waiting. The results aren’t revealed until the end of June when the NBA hosts its annual awards show. The star-studded event is televised on TNT and features a whos-who of NBA players, executives, and celebrities.
Betting on NBA award winners can be a fun way to follow the season. It can also be immensely profitable if you know what you’re doing. We have the lowdown on how to get in on the action and have some tips, trends, and considerations to keep in mind before laying down your hard-earned cash.
Rookie of the Year
How it Works: The NBA honors the league’s best first-year player every season with the Kia Rookie of the Year Award.
Since 1990, the NBA Rookie of the Year award has gone to the first pick in the draft 12 times and has only been given to a second-round selection just once.
Unique Considerations: Since 1990, the NBA Rookie of the Year award has gone to the first pick in the draft 12 times and has only been given to a second-round selection just once. That rarity occurred in 2017 when Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon won top honors by being a little less mediocre than his fellow freshman.
Although his stats weren’t exactly eye-popping, Brogdon’s selection reflected voters’ bias for picking point guards. Over the past thirteen years, the NBA Rookie of the Year award has gone to a point guard eight times, a shooting guard once, a small forward once, a power forward once, and a center twice.
How it Works: The Kia Most Valuable Player Award is something of a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. That’s because nobody really knows the criteria for handing out the league’s signature trophy. Should it go to the best player or the most indispensable player? Is it the player who is most valuable to his team, or the one who is most valuable to the league?
The NBA provides voters with only the flimsiest of instructions, which invariably leads to massive debates and mystifying results.
Unique Considerations: Although the criteria for selecting an MVP is murky, there are a number of historical trends that are crystal clear. For starters, the award is usually given to a player who is in the prime of his career. The MVP has only been won by players who were 23 or younger four times, and seven times by players who were 31 or older.
Voters also like players on title contenders. Since 1985, only two MVPs have come from a team that finished worse than second in its conference during the regular season. The exceptions were Michael Jordan in 1987-88, and Russell Westbrook in 2016-17.
Voters also like guys who can fill up the stat sheet, as the award has been won by the NBA’s leading scorer three times in the past five years. In fact, there have only been three MVPs have ever averaged fewer than 17 points per game. They were Bill Russell (1961, 1963, and 1965), Wes Unseld (1969), and Steve Nash (2005).
Since 1955-56, the NBA MVP has gone to a point guard 11 times.
Finally, since 1955-56, the NBA MVP has gone to a point guard 11 times, a shooting guard seven times, a small forward nine times, a power forward nine times, and a center 26 times. The trend of giving the award to centers will likely change in the years to come as the NBA becomes an increasingly perimeter-based game.
Coach of the Year
How it Works: The NBA honors the league’s best clipboard carrier every season with the Coach of the Year Award. The award was first given out in 1963 to Harry Gallatin, after he led the St. Louis Hawks to 48 wins and a playoff berth in his first year with the team.
Not many people bet on the NBA back then, but if they did, the Hawks would have been a fabulous bet as the team won just 29 games the previous season.
Unique Considerations: NBA voters like winners. BIG winners. Over the last ten years, the recipient of the Coach of the Year Award has guided his team to at least 50 wins and a .610 winning percentage. The only person to win the award with a losing record was Johnny Kerr, who won the award in 1967 after leading the expansion Chicago Bulls into the playoffs in their first year in the league.
It’s worth noting that the award often goes to coaches who have just taken the reins of their respective teams. Five of the past ten Coach of the Year recipients had been with their teams for two seasons or less.
If you’re really not sure who to pick, just choose Gregg Popovich or someone from his coaching tree. Avery Johnson, Mike Brown, Steve Kerr, and Mike Budenholzer have all won the award after spending time as a player or coach on the San Antonio Spurs.
Sixth Man of the Year
How it Works: The NBA honors the league’s best reserve every season with the Kia Sixth Man of the Year Award. The award was first given in 1983 to Philly super sub Bobby Jones and has been handed out to 30 different players over the past 35 years. In order to qualify for the award, a player must come off the bench in more games than he starts.
Sixth men may come in all shapes and sizes, but more often than not the Sixth Man of the Year is a shooting guard or swingman who provides instant offense off the bench.
Unique Considerations: Sixth men may come in all shapes and sizes, but more often than not the Sixth Man of the Year is a shooting guard or swingman who provides instant offense off the bench. Since it was first awarded in 1982-83, the award has gone to a point guard three times, a shooting guard 15 times, a small forward nine times, a power forward six times, and a center twice.
It should also be noted that the Sixth Man of the Year recipients are generally established veterans and borderline all-stars rather than full borne stars or future Hall of Famers. Ben Gordon is the only player to win the award as a rookie, and Bill Walton is the only recipient of the award to have also won MVP honors.
Defensive Player of the Year
How it Works: The NBA honors the league’s best ball stopper every season with the Kia Defensive Player of the Year Award. The award was first given in 1983 to Bucks guard Sidney Moncrief, a man so fast he will have cleaned his attic, done the dishes, and filed his taxes by the time you finish this sentence.
Unique Considerations: For many years the Defensive Player of the Year award was reserved almost exclusively for seven-foot rim protectors with a penchant for swatting shots into the third row.
Since it was first awarded in 1982-83, the award has gone to a point guard twice, a shooting guard four times, a small forward three times, a power forward four times, and a center 22 times.
That’s likely to change in the coming years as small ball line-ups make plodding big men obsolete. Even in 2016-17, only two traditional centers received any media votes and perimeter players like Leonard, Patrick Beverly, Andre Roberson, and Robert Covington all finished in the top nine.
One thing that isn’t likely to change is that the Defensive Player of the Year is seldom the best player on his team. David Robinson and Kevin Garnett are the only Defensive Players of the Year recipients to have also won MVP awards.
Ready to get started? Read our article on NBA betting basics to learn how to make your very first wager.