We are officially one month into the new NBA season.
The Bucks, Suns, and Celtics have three of the league’s five best records, while the Rockets and Magic are stuck down at the bottom. None of that is particularly surprising — but everything in between is pretty topsy-turvy.
The NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint. We still have six and a half months to go just to reach the two-month postseason. Even so, almost every NBA team has played 10 games now and that is traditionally just enough data to look at the national landscape and start to draw some early conclusions.
One month into the season, I like to look around the league and pick One-Month NBA All-Stars and early-season awards, just to get a sense of where the league is at.
The exercise is admittedly and purposely silly and small-sample size. I’m not trying to project forward in any way, just measure what we’ve seen as though the entire season was one-month long. The focus is less on the actual names I’m choosing and more what it tells us going forward.
So who are the One-Month All-Stars and award winners, and what lessons can we learn about the rest of the season as bettors?
Eastern One-Month All-Stars
These five guys have been playing at a superstar level. Antetokounmpo is a level above everyone else, but Tatum, Mitchell, and Siakam have played like back-of-the-ballot MVP contenders for some of the East’s best teams.
Holiday gets the final spot because we needed another guard and the Bucks nearly finished our “season” unbeaten before falling on its final day, and Holiday has posted efficient numbers with his usual outstanding defense for the league’s best defensive team. He’s an easy All-Star choice, and the team success is why he gets the final starter spot.
The Nets haven’t been good, but that’s not Durant’s fault. He’s not exactly producing at an MVP level yet, but he’s an easy choice. Butler has fallen off a bit from an incredible run last year but is still an obvious pick. Harden is also an easy pick as Philadelphia’s clear best player, and his nine games is more than enough even though he’ll miss our fake “All-Star Game.”
Haliburton is only a surprise if you haven’t been paying attention. At 22/5/10 on 50/46/88 shooting, he has a real argument for All-Star starter at this point and is squarely in the Most Improved Player mix. We’ll get back to that.
Dejounte Murray, not Trae Young, has been the more valuable Hawk thus far. Young’s additional six points per game haven’t been efficient with rough shooting, and Murray’s 22/7/8 more than hold their own enough for the huge defensive swing. Atlanta is struggling more than its 7-3 record would let on, but it’s the lack of front court production, not the guard play.
That leaves only two spots, and this is where it gets ridiculous.
VanVleet is under 40% from the field and has missed three games, but his all-around game gives him the edge. I like rewarding defense, and the outstanding 3-point percentage makes up for the poor 2s. He’s still Toronto’s second-best player, which is just a reminder of how dangerous that team has become with Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby in tow.
And yes, that’s a sixth man getting our final roster spot, because Kevin Love has been that good. He ranks fifth in the entire NBA in BPM and continues to mash off the bench at 22/14/4.5 per 36 on 65% True Shooting and now pretty good defense too. The Cavs are two final minute collapses away from a “perfect season” so I’m rewarding them with a second pick.
So here’s where we point out the wild list of names we left out.
Joel Embiid is first. He’ll probably be on the real team, as will DeMar DeRozan and Trae Young. Jaylen Brown or Bradley Beal could be there. Khris Middleton and Zach LaVine will be in consideration once they play more. Evan Mobley or Jarrett Allen could be Cavs selections, and Brook Lopez could be a third Buck.
Buddy Hield has been fantastic! Jalen Brunson could be in the mix. Barnes or Anunoby could have a case. Tyrese Maxey and Tyler Herro will want their names mentioned.
The East is deep and loaded. It was far easier picking East teams than West. Let’s do that now.
Western One-Month All-Stars
Now that’s a fun All-Star team. Did we cheat a little squeezing some longer wing-type players into front court spots? Sure, but this whole exercise is silly so let’s just get five superstars on that list.
And yes, I said five. Not sure we need to say much about four of those names, other than that Dame Time is fully back and so are the Blazers are 7-3. But does SGA really deserve that spot, not just as an All-Star but a starter?
In a word: yes. Gilgeous-Alexander has been absolutely nasty. He’s putting up 31/5/6, nearly perfect from the line and hitting 57% of his nearly 19 2-point attempts per game, attacking the rim at will. And he’s producing on the other end too: suddenly 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks a game! SGA has been a top 10 player so far this season. He might be too good for the Thunder to tank now.
The West front court situation is a mess, but the guards are absurd. Morant and Booker aren’t even starters? Nope, even after we cheated and started four other guards.
Bane has taken another real step forward and is absolutely playing at an All-Star level, at least for now. He’s fourth in the league at 3.9 treys per game on an absurd 46%, and he’s scoring six more PPG and really taken a big step forward as a secondary playmaker, nearly doubling his assists.
And then there’s Anthony Davis, the butt of many jokes, and somehow our second West front court player. Davis has been… pretty good? His efficiency is up with a much better shot diet, and he’s defending well. The numbers say he’s been the best Laker, and probably the least of its problems thus far.
We’re at nine, so that leaves three spots left. And I’d be pretty content to just stop there. I’d take any number of East guys over the rest of our selections here, but rules are rules.
I’m so unenthusiastic about those final two choices that I just took one last look through the West trying to find another deserving candidate. Alas.
Lauri Markkanen has obviously broken out at 22/9, and that’s not even because of 3-point shooting which is actually below 30%. The 68% on increased 2s is what’s especially surprising and bodes well for sustainability. Markkanen is an MIP favorite and historically needs to make the ASG to stay in contention. The All-Star Game is in Utah, and the West forward pool is weak. He has a shot, especially if Utah is the 1-seed as they are in this “season.”
I’m honestly not sure LeBron is a deserving All-Star right now, but let’s include him on the list so I don’t get cold-taked into oblivion. James ranks 38th in BPM among players with at least 100 minutes at 3.0, lowest since his rookie season. His 51% True Shooting is wildly disappointing, also lowest since 2004, thanks in part to an awful 21% on the second-most 3s of his career. His PPG is lowest since then too, and he’s taking his fewest free throws ever. The Lakers roster has plenty of problems, but one of them is that the name at the top is no longer playing one of the greatest to ever hit the court.
PG gets the final spot. Meh. Alternate considerations included De’Aaron Fox, Brandon Ingram, Karl-Anthony Towns, Chris Paul, and Domantas Sabonis. Pretty underwhelming list. Shouts to Devin Vassell and Alperen Sengun, who also got a look and should show just how open the West race is.
There are names missing, but not a ton. Zion Williamson hasn’t been good enough. Klay Thompson has stunk. Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green have been nowhere near good enough defensively. Anthony Edwards has disappointed, and his status as MIP favorite is on life support. Kawhi Leonard has played 42 minutes.
Suddenly, the West is looking old, banged-up, and wide open — both the All-Star teams and the conference at large.
The One-Month Award Winners
Okay, so we’ve got One-Month All-Star teams. Let’s make some awards picks and then draw some big picture conclusions. Remember, we’re not projecting forward — we’re picking winners like the NBA “season” ended after one month.
Most Improved Player: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
SGA has been an absolute monster. Five players in the entire league have a higher BPM than Gilgeous-Alexander. Only four have a higher VORP so far, and their names are Giannis, Luka, Nikola, and Steph. That’s how awesome SGA has been. He is making a Ja Morant leap right now — plus defense.
We mentioned some of the other MIP candidates above.
Haliburton is a very strong contender. Can Oklahoma City or Indiana win enough to keep either of these two in contention? That’s the key question. The same question goes for Markkanen or Fox, who haven’t improved quite as much as SGA or Hali but are certainly in the conversation. The odds are that one of those four teams makes the playoffs. Does MIP go to the star of the team that does?
Bane will probably get some consideration, but I’m skeptical his numbers hold up once Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr. ramp up more. Donovan Mitchell could be an interesting long shot if he keeps this up, but he’s a three-time All-Star and probably already too good for the award. Names like Devin Vassell, Bol Bol, and Dennis Smith Jr. have made big improvements but don’t fit the caliber of player that wins this award these days.
Right now, MIP looks like a four-player race between Gilgeous-Alexander, Haliburton, Markkanen, and Fox. That’s the order I’d rate their individual performances so far, but team finish may end up just as important.
Coach of the Year: Will Hardy
If the Jazz finish as the 1-seed like they did in our season, this thing is a wrap. Utah is on a 61.5-win pace. Coach of the Year typically needs at least 55 wins, so the Jazz can’t fall off much.
The runner-up choice here is Cleveland’s J.B. Bickerstaff. The Cavs look like a much better threat to keep their winning pace up, so Bickerstaff would be my COY favorite moving forward.
Rookie of the Year: Paolo Banchero
At about 23.5/8.5/3.5, Paolo is not leaving many questions. He’s yet to score fewer than 15 points in any of his 11 games.
If he keeps that high of a floor and stays healthy, he will walk to this award — though Bennedict Mathurin is a very strong second at 19.4 PPG if anything happens. Still, Banchero has been so great he might be an All-Star candidate if he played out West.
Sixth Man of the Year: Kevin Love
This is one award race that looks wide open. Love would be a surefire winner for me but at under 20 MPG in an award for counting numbers, he’s probably this year’s Joe Ingles, not a real winner candidate.
Russell Westbrook has become the betting favorite, and at 16/6/6 and climbing, he would be a pretty easy pick… if he doesn’t get traded, exiled, moved back into the starting lineup, or otherwise.
Jordan Poole is right there, even after an awful start. Christian Wood is in the mix, though I still have my doubts about his role and whether he’ll start in time. Malcolm Brogdon is a name to keep an eye on. Mathurin could be in the mix but will likely start eventually.
This award is a soft market right now. Pay attention.
Defensive Player of the Year: Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Bucks have the league’s best defense by a wide margin. Milwaukee is still stopping everything at the rim, and now the Bucks don’t give up many 3-point attempts either. They also smash on the glass, and rebounds end possessions.
The Bucks are lapping the field defensively. They’re further ahead of the No. 4 Defensive Rating team right now than that team is ahead of No. 28. This is championship level defense, and with all due respect to Holiday and Lopez, there’s no question who the best defender on the team is.
Voters love to reward repeat winners for DPOY, and the runner-up here is probably Evan Mobley, who doesn’t fit the historic profile. It’s probably time to add some Giannis DPOY stock at +350 at BetRivers. If the defense stays this good, you’ll want Bucks futures too.
Most Valuable Player: Luka Doncic
This is the big one, so I’ll give you my full five-man ballot:
1. Luka Doncic
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
3. Steph Curry
4. Nikola Jokic
5. Donovan Mitchell
It’s a two-man race at the top right now, and it’s splitting hairs, so much so that I literally just swapped my top two, then swapped them back again.
Giannis was nearly undefeated in our “season,” but I still think Doncic has been a little better. What he’s doing — 36/8/8 on 63% True Shooting — is absolutely absurd. Luka’s 13.5 BPM would rank second in NBA history right now. And what’s wild is that he’s shooting under 30% on 3s, so when that hot streak inevitably comes, he could push this toward 40 PPG.
I haven’t given Doncic much credit in the MVP race because I didn’t think the Mavs would be good enough, but their team profile is really good. Dallas leads the league in 2-point percentage and free-throw percentage, and the Mavs are top-five in EFG and still have the same characteristics of last year’s great defense. With Doncic playing this well and the Mavs this good, he is in this race for the long haul.
Keep an eye on the Warriors. Golden State hasn’t been good, and the depth and defense are incredibly problematic, but Steph Curry has been magnificent. At almost 33/7/7 on 51/43/93 shooting, Curry is absolutely putting up MVP numbers. He’s a worth contender, but only if his teammates show up.
It’s a drop-off from those three to Jokic, who is somehow more efficient than ever by taking six fewer shots per game and not going to win MVP at under 21 PPG. If he’s ramping down production with better teammates back, he may not be a real contender.
After Jokic is a drop to any number of contenders for the final spot on the ballot. I went with Spida, but you can make a nice case for Tatum, Dame, SGA, Siakam, Durant, Morant, or others. They’re all guys to keep an eye on, but there’s also a real gap right now between them and the names at the top.
This is a two — maybe 2.5– man race right now.
7 Betting Takeaways After One Month
Alright, let’s make some way-too-soon conclusions with our one month of NBA data. How can we use what we’ve learned so far to inform our betting going forward?
- Luka Doncic is a genuine MVP contender the way he and his teammates are playing. And with his lack of shots, Nikola Jokic might not be.
- Steph Curry is a buy-low MVP candidate if you believe in the Warriors.
- The 6MOY market is soft and wide open. That looks like the award race with the best value. Fire away if there’s a sleeper you like.
- Most Improved Player might go to whichever one of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyrese Haliburton, Lauri Markkanen, or De’Aaron Fox makes the playoffs, and it could be tough for anyone else to get into the mix, especially in the East.
- The Bucks defense is a monster. It’s time to grab that Giannis +350 DPOY ticket, and look for the right spot to back Milwaukee postseason futures.
- Will Hardy is the Coach of the Month, but J.B. Bickerstaff could push for Coach of the Year. The Cavs have an elite defensive profile and a surprisingly strong offense, and Cleveland has the league’s best Net Rating and SRS. Bickerstaff looks like the best way for voters to reward Cleveland if they stay this hot.
- Has the East passed the West? Look at the bottom of those All-Star teams again. The East is deep and loaded. The West is starrier at the top, but that may be the conference you want a sleeper in this season.