As we gear up for the 2021-22 NBA season, it’s as good a time as any to look at the players and coaches who are expected to compete for the regular season awards. So let’s turn our attention to Vegas bookmakers for a brief moment. Vegas odds can’t tell us everything, but they can provide a reasonable baseline for what to expect from this upcoming season.
The chart below shows the odds for each individual to win the various awards, according to BetMGM. (For those that are unfamiliar with gambling odds, note that a value of +1000 indicates that a bet of $100 would win you $1,000 plus your original $100 wager.) Broadly speaking, the further to the left an individual is on the chart, the better chance Vegas thinks they have of winning the award. Conversely, the further to the right of the chart, the more unlikely Vegas thinks the outcome is.
A couple of things stand out to me when I look at this chart1. The first is that there are more players who are in serious contention for MVP than there typically has been in recent memory. This season, there are 14 players with odds of +2500 or better. That’s noteworthy because according to historical data from sportsoddshistory.com, no player since 2007 has won the MVP with longer preseason odds than +2500. As you can see in the chart below, Nikola Jokic and Derrick Rose are tied for the most “unexpected” MVPs relative to their preseason odds.
There hasn’t been this many players with odds of +2500 or better to start the season since 2011. Will this result in a more competitive MVP race overall? Hard to say, but this is the kind of preseason MVP parity that helps drives a more interesting debate early in the season.
The other thing that I noticed about the distribution of the preseason odds is that the Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year appear to be less predictable than the other awards.
In the case of Most Improved, I think that’s partially because recent history has told us that the winners of this award come out of nowhere. Julius Randle’s odds were so long at the start of last season that he wasn’t even on the board. Brandon Ingram was +4000 the year before that. So if you’re looking for gambling advice, go long on MIP. I like Memphis’ Dillon Brooks (+5000).
As for Coach of the Year, I think some of the unpredictability comes down to the fact that fans (and awards voters) rely on mental shortcuts to evaluate good coaching. For instance, Coach of the Year candidates are often those individuals who’s teams exceed expectations the most. However, as we’ve discussed in this newsletter in the past, exceeding expectations is often a function of good health — or rather good luck. Both of which are completely unpredictable.
That said, I like James Borrego (+2000) as a dart throw for this award. Under Borrego, the Charlotte Hornets have exceeded their preseason win total in each of the last three years (I’m counting their 2019-20 season when they came up half a game short, but weren’t invited to the bubble to finish out the season).
Recently, the NBA announced that over 90 percent of its players have been vaccinated. On the surface, that seems great given that the adult population of the United States is only about 67 percent fully vaccinated. But as we know from surveys of the American public, vaccination rates are highly correlated with household income.
According to the Census’ Household Survey, about 90 percent of adult Americans who earn $150,000 or more a year have been fully vaccinated. Given that every NBA player earns more than that, I think it’s safe to say that a 90 percent vaccination rate is the least we should expect. In other words, telling fans not to lose sight of the fact that 90 percent of the league is vaccinated is like when I tell my upset girlfriend not to lose sight of the fact that 90 percent of my piss made it into the toilet.
Links I Liked
In case you like looking at things in a really long table