We are almost halfway through our already-shortened NBA season. This particular season has already been fraught with surprises, with the Utah Jazz first in standings while the New York Knicks lead the league in defense. Were the season paused now, we would still be left with a unique and, quite frankly, weirder outcome than the last. Nonetheless, here are the Bucket Zone‘s annual NBA Award predictions.

Yet some things don’t change, the most prominent being the awards given at the end of the year. The league’s Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, and Sixth Man of the Year are all coveted awards. None of these are taken lightly and usually, the recipient of such a reward did not receive every vote. Many times, voters have been split between two equally deserving players and have voted with their gut. In the same way, these predictions are in line with current statistics and level of play, along with the cliché “gut feeling”.

Most Valuable Player: Lebron James

Lebron James MVP

The author unfortunately understands exactly how close this award is. Vegas Sports betting places Lebron’s odds of winning the award at +350, while Joel Embiid, the close runner-up, retains a third-place spot of a mere +550. With a difference of only +200, not to mention the similarity in statistics, the race for MVP is and will continue to be a close one. Lebron is seeing an incredible season, unsurprising for the man jokingly referred to as the “grandfather” of the Lakers. Entering his 18th season at the age of 36, Lebron has shown that age is merely a number and has countered it with some amazing numbers of his own: 25.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.5 assists a game. Despite his struggles at the free-throw line (Just over 70% shooting), the Lakers have found more than one way to win and are currently sitting at second in the Western Conference (one game behind the aforementioned Utah Jazz).

Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Turner

Myles Turner DPOY

The Indiana Pacers standout has shown a surprising resurgence in the past dozen or so games, putting his season output to a cool 13.7 points, 1.1 assists, and 6.7 rebounds a game. To his favor, these stats do not show the full picture as his 1.2 steals and 3.7 blocks a game show exactly why the award is called the “Defensive player of the year”. Turner has dazzled on both ends of the court, providing a substantial presence in the paint and through the air (Averaging 1.5 threes per game). Although not being the clear-cut favorite on the sports betting odds (Rudy Gobert is favored to win the award by +50 odds), the fifth-year man out of Texas is sure to see an increase in numbers down the stretch of the season.

Rookie of the Year: LaMelo Ball

Lamelo Ball Rookie of the Year

Growing up under your brothers’ shadows is difficult, but Lamelo has proven that the oldest isn’t always the greatest. Showing flashes of brilliance throughout the season, he has propelled himself into the heavy favorite for this award, leading the way by well over +500 odds (an incredible number). Averaging a cool 13.6 points, 6.0 assists, and 5.8 rebounds a game, the third overall pick has shown the Warriors and Timberwolves (both teams that passed up on him in the draft) exactly what they missed. He has shown clear improvement in his shooting, defense, and assists, quietly hushing any rumors that “the loss of a summer league removes any growth in an NBA player”. The Hornets are currently 8th in the Eastern Conference and sit just three games below a .500 record. Despite their record, the Hornets have to be happy where they are, having secured their PG of the future.

Sixth Man of the Year: Jordan Clarkson

Jordan Clarkson Sixth Man of the Year

Another clear favorite, Clarkson has shown the fans from Cleveland exactly how big of a mistake they made in trading him to the Utah Jazz. Having gone from a mediocre player at best, Clarkson is now averaging 17.6 points (2.5 above his career average), 4.3 rebounds (1.1 above his career average), and 1.8 assists (the only stat to see a hit, lower than his career average by 0.7) per game. These numbers, however, don’t tell the full story, as Clarkson is shooting an astounding 97% from the free-throw line, the highest in the NBA for any player shooting more than a single free throw per game. While his field goal (47%) and three-point (39%) percentages are both respectable, perhaps his greatest statistic is his +/-, up from an abysmal -0.1 (In the 2019-2020 season) to an excellent 5.2 (Note: This statistic measures the overall impact of a player when they are on the court. Therefore, the Jazz score 5 points more when Clarkson is on the court than when he is off). Clarkson is the heavy favorite to win the award and should remain so for the rest of the season.

Most Improved Player: Christian Wood

Christian Wood Most Improved Player

Yet another product of a supposedly botched trade, Wood has helped lead a team laden with locker room difficulties into playoff contention. The Rockets sit only one game out of the playoffs and hold a surprising 11-10 record. Pushing past the loss of James Harden, Wood has amazed Rockets fans and hates alike, putting up 31 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and one block in his season opener against the Portland Trail Blazers (another team in playoff contention). Since then, Wood has averaged 22.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game. Although his current injury and sub-par free-throw average (68.8%, 10% below the league average) have contributed to a lowering in betting odds, NBA odds still favor Wood to win the award by +25, barely ahead of Jerami Grant. This award is likely the closest in contention and should remain tight for the remainder of the season.

These NBA award predictions are not, of course, set in stone. Regardless of the outcome, however, these will be fun to watch, as will the rest of the season. Should the 2021 season prove to be as interesting as its predecessor, we could very well be in for a bumpy ride. Buckle up.

By Elisha Mcfarland

Writer, blogger, NBA and NFL fan.