NBA awards voters very rarely double dip. Only five teams have ever produced both the MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year, and in three of those cases, they were the same player. The most common combination is MVP and Coach of the Year, which has happened seven times this century alone, but adding Defensive Player of the Year to the equation creates an almost impossible trinity to capture. The only team ever to win all three was the 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers.
Vegas tends to bake this reality into awards odds. When one party is overwhelmingly favored for an award, his cohorts tend to be appropriately dinged. History suggests that most of the time, that treatment is warranted, but this season has created room for an exception -- a trio that came closer to matching those Sixers than any team ever has. When the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors won 73 games, Stephen Curry cruised to a unanimous MVP award and Steve Kerr took home the Coach of the Year trophy despite splitting time with assistant coach Luke Walton. But in one of the closer votes in the award's history, Draymond Green lost Defensive Player of the Year to Kawhi Leonard. Not even the greatest regular-season team of all time could win all three.
Vegas is betting that the older version of that same trio won't either. While Curry is the runaway favorite for MVP, the books have left plenty of value for bettors to grab on his two cohorts. I'll go through each one by one to show you why.
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Curry as the MVP
The Warriors are walking a very delicate line here. A strong enough MVP season overshadows everything else that a team does. Green saw that firsthand in 2015, when he lost an even closer race to Leonard despite playing in 15 more games for a higher-ranked defense. The Warriors jumped from No. 3 to No. 1 in defense that season, a relatively modest improvement. But they vaulted from No. 12 in offense under Mark Jackson to No. 2 under Steve Kerr, and his more innovative use of Curry was largely credited as the reason why. It made for an easier narrative to voters. If the Warriors could rank No. 3 in defense under Jackson with Green as a reserve one year earlier, could his impact really have been that great?
One could argue that Curry presents the same danger to Green this season. Golden State ranked 20th in offense last season and is up to No. 3 as of this writing. The No. 1 ranked defense was a top-five unit last season as well. Here's the difference: While Curry is certainly the engine behind Golden State's stellar offense, he can hardly be credited, specifically, with its improvement. Curry's scoring, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw attempts are all down from last season.
That obviously means little to his individual MVP candidacy. A standard Stephen Curry season is always going to belong in the race, but that's what this is. A standard Stephen Curry season. He was better a season ago, but his team was worse. If voters want to award Golden State's success as a team, then, they're going to be open-minded about other factors.
That shouldn't deprive Curry of votes, obviously. He's a perfectly justifiable favorite, but there's not much value in betting him at plus-225 this early in the race. Kevin Durant is scoring just as much, but doing so more efficiently and as a more impactful defender. Nikola Jokic is lapping the field in virtually every advanced metric. Curry is out in front, but unless his team keeps winning at a 70-win pace, there's going to be a genuine race here. At a bare minimum, you'll probably get the same odds a month from now. You might even get better ones. The same probably isn't true for Green and Kerr.
Green as the Defensive Player of the Year
Caesars Sportsbook has Green in fifth place for Defensive Player of the Year right now at plus-1200 odds. Green might not win the award, but he's by far the best value on the board for it. Would you rather bet on Anthony Davis at plus-450 as he tries to salvage a No. 15-ranked Lakers defense that can stop nothing at the point of attack, or Green, spearheading the No. 1 defense in the NBA by a country mile for nearly three times the profit?
Golden State is allowing 98.9 points per 100 possessions thus far this season. Plenty can change in such a small sample, but the second-place Clippers are surrendering nearly two more points per 100 possessions, and it's not as though the Warriors are heavily reliant on shooting luck here. Opponents are making 36.8 percent of their wide-open 3s against the Warriors. That's smack dab in the middle of the league. Green's mind is at the center of it all. There's never a hair out of place in the defense he quarterbacks. Golden State calmly executes its switch-heavy scheme with Green filling in whatever gaps remain. Tuesday's decimation of the Nets was a signature performance. Durant had shot 44 percent or better in every other game the Nets had played, but Green held him below 32 percent.
There are holes to poke here. The numbers, basic and advanced, have never captured the totality of Green's impact. The more pressing concern would be how much Golden State's excellent bench is contributing to its defensive success. The Warriors have actually been better defensively in the rare minutes Draymond sits, though that will likely change over time and is lineup-dependent. Even if you buy into these vulnerabilities, part of what makes Green so enticing at this number is his underwhelming competition.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing with an offense-first front-court partner in Bobby Portis right now, and Milwaukee's defense will suffer until Brook Lopez returns. Joel Embiid's best defensive teammate hasn't played yet this season, and his own missed games always factor into voting. Bam Adebayo has already missed three games and plays on a team loaded with stellar defenders. The primary competition here is Rudy Gobert, the favorite at plus-275.
But on paper, Gobert's season looks much more like his 2019-20 third-place finish than any of his three victories. His five percent block rate trails his three Defensive Player of the Year seasons, but comes in just ahead of the 4.8 percent rate he posted during the 2019-20 campaign. Utah's defense never ranked below third during Gobert's winning seasons, but is currently ranked 10th. The Jazz had the No. 13 defense in basketball two seasons ago. It's not fair, but previous winners tend to be judged against their past selves. Even if Gobert is lifting a weak defensive roster around him, he's going to be penalized for their mistakes.
Frankly, the human element of voting is going to hurt him as well. The Jazz just lost a second-round series against a team missing its best player in part because Gobert wasn't as effective against the five-out Clippers. It wasn't Gobert's fault that his perimeter players couldn't deny dribble penetration, but nonetheless, his perceived value as a defender declined meaningfully based on the idea that he is completely reliant on one regular-season-centric scheme. Green, a three-time NBA champion, is not. Until Gobert proves he can effectively defend the perimeter in the postseason, he's going to have to deal with voters biased against drop coverage.
Green might be the beneficiary of that bias and he might not, but at plus-1200, there's almost no harm in taking a flier on him. Look at it this way: Right now, the odds suggest he's the fifth-likeliest player to win the award. If he continues to steward the NBA's best defense, he's going to finish far higher than fifth in the actual vote.
Kerr as the Coach of the Year
Curry hasn't improved significantly this season, but Golden State's offense has. If he isn't behind that jump, what is? The rest of the roster. This would typically be a sign that Bob Myers is in line for Executive of the Year consideration, but it's not as though Golden State landed Durant this offseason. Four new players have played at least 100 minutes for the Warriors this season, and all four of them are making the minimum. Golden State had plenty of minimum contracts last season as well, but they were held largely by G leaguers desperately trying to cling to their NBA dreams. The Warriors aren't devoting minutes to G Leaguers this season. Their minimums went to veterans who could thrive in Kerr's scheme, specifically.
Andre Iguodala already had. Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica took to it overnight. Both were always willing off-ball movers, and their shooting opened lanes for the cuts Kerr has always loved. These weren't players the rest of the league desperately sought. They were ones who Kerr could get the most out of, as he has this whole roster. He can get the most out of them in part because he already has Curry, but every Coach of the Year winner has great talent. Eight of the past 10 winners have led top-two seeds. That puts Kerr in line for one of the major boxes any Coach of the Year has to check. The other is improvement. As Brandon Anderson of the Action Network laid out, the past 11 Coach of the Year winners have improved their team by an average of over 11 games. Kerr is on track to take his play-in team all the way to the No. 1 seed.
The value here isn't quite as tantalizing as it is for Green -- Kerr is hovering between plus-600 and plus-700 at most books -- but unlike Green, Kerr lacks an obvious obstacle. Billy Donovan's Bulls are 6-5 since their 4-0 start over weak competition, and with the Bucks getting healthy, their grip on a top seed could loosen quickly. Wes Unseld Jr. would be the runaway winner after 14 games, but the Wizards have played a fairly easy schedule and are relying on opponents making less than 31 percent of their 3s. Both will change.
The Warriors aren't going to maintain their 70-win pace, but they don't need to. Kerr has Golden State atop the Western Conference without arguably its second-best player. His two-time Finals MVP now plays in Brooklyn. Curry is magnificent as always, but last season was proof that he can't lead the Warriors to contention alone. His front office didn't surround him with quite as much as it did when the Warriors were winning championships, but it gave two old stalwarts the support they needed to properly support Curry. The two-time MVP might add a third award to his trophy case this season, but if this keeps up, there's plenty of money to be made betting on Kerr and Green picking up some hardware of their own.