Before the NBA season tipped off, Matt Harris and I gave our projections for who we believed would earn some individual hardware as well as who we believed would make the playoffs. With the season set to resume from the All-Star break, it feels like the perfect time to reflect upon those award race predictions and make adjustments accordingly.
Most Valuable Player
Preseason Prediction: Luka Doncic
Current Prediction: Joel Embiid (+250)
The Most Valuable Player award is as wide open as it’s been in years, and Luka Doncic still has a very real chance to win the award as it appears Dallas has finally hit its stride this season. However, I’m giving the nod to Joel Embiid to win the regular season’s most coveted award. With reports circulating in the offseason that Embiid was altering his training to become more consistent and dominant down the stretch late in games, there was plenty of intrigue surrounding Embiid and Philadelphia to begin the season.
We’ve seen this team fade in and out of contention throughout the course of the past few seasons, so I was skeptical to hype up Embiid before I saw him with my own eyes. The reports appear to ring true, though, as the Sixers find themselves atop the Eastern Conference at the break, and their cornerstone big man has been every bit as dominant as advertised. Embiid’s averaging 30.2 points per game—good for second in the league behind Bradley Beal’s outrageous 32.9 PPG—along with 11.6 rebounds per game, 3.3 assists per game, all while having the second-highest efficiency rating in the league at 31.1, only behind Nikola Jokic. Embiid has also delivered where it matters most—primetime—leading the Sixers to head-turning wins over teams like the Lakers and Jazz with the nation watching. Depending on how the Nuggets fare the rest of the season, Nikola Jokic could swoop in and steal this trophy away, but I expect Embiid to continue his dominance as we head towards the postseason.
Defensive Player of the Year
Preseason Prediction: Bam Adebayo
Current Prediction: Rudy Gobert (-190)
As fun as the Jazz slander is and always will be, it’s hard to go against the Frenchman when looking at this award. Gobert has already won this award twice, back in 2018 and 2019, and with the Jazz atop the entire league, he deserves as much credit as anyone else on the team. Aside from steals, Gobert entered the All-Star break at the top of pretty much every defensive statistic measured. He’s ninth in defensive plus-minus, sixth in win shares (including first on the Jazz), second in blocks per game and defensive rating, third in defensive rebound percentage, fourth in block percentage, and first in defensive win shares. If Donovan Mitchell is the catalyst for the Jazz on the offensive end, Gobert is just as vital to the team’s success on the defensive front. This also shows in the team’s defensive numbers, which rank fourth overall while also allowing the fourth-fewest points per game at 107.8. Players such as Myles Turner and Ben Simmons will give Gobert a run for his money when the season resumes, but it’s hard to catch a player that has been so dominant and instrumental to his team’s success like Gobert.