NBA Awards Odds: Locking in the Favorites Entering Season's Critical Point
While the kids are off playing in their tournament, the NBA season moves ever closer to their postseason.
But in the spirit of March Madness, we take a look at the Final Four candidates for each NBA award broken down (loosely) by region.
The 82-game regular-season tournament has presented Cinderellas and perennial favorites for each category.
But who will take final honors in this bracket special of NBA awards odds?
Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich
Coaches always make the best Dancers.
With many great stories of turnarounds in the NBA, one coach has stayed consistently successful.
East Region: Doc Rivers (15 percent chance of title)
It’s time to give Rivers his due. The Boston Celtics have surged into the heart of the Eastern Conference, and they’ve done it without star Rajon Rondo.
Rivers is guiding veterans and emerging role players with his gift of leadership.
The Celtics could finish with home-court advantage in the first round. Currently a No. 7 seed in the East, the Celtics are 1.5 games back of the Atlanta Hawks and could land a first-round matchup against the Brooklyn Nets.
Speaking of the Nets, they’ve quietly maintained a top-four spot in the East, and credit needs to be given to the interim coach. P.J. Carlesimo has done an excellent job since Avery Johnson’s firing.
West Region: Mark Jackson (20 percent chance of title)
The Golden State Warriors could make the playoffs for just the second time in 19 seasons.
That’s a huge stride for the franchise.
The Warriors, currently a No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, have improved defensively, and the players respond to Jackson’s voice in the locker room. It is difficult to turn around a losing narrative and culture, but Jackson has been steadfast in his efforts.
Midwest Region: Frank Vogel (20 percent chance of title)
No Danny Granger, no problem.
Vogel has the Indiana Pacers in the runner-up spot of the Eastern Conference with a collection of talent that is less impressive on paper than Vogel has them playing.
Paul George has become a superstar under Vogel, and veteran David West has returned to form.
South Region: Gregg Popovich (45 percent chance of title)
Popovich controls the South, though he had to sneak past Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat in the Elite Eight after moving past the Memphis Grizzlies’ Lionel Hollins in the Sweet 16.
The San Antonio Spurs still hold the West’s best record despite the loss of Tony Parker. Popovich has a knack for motivating guys to play over their head. He continues to plug in the pieces, and the Spurs system functions as it always has.
The Spurs plan to keep home-court advantage in the West with the slipping Oklahoma City Thunder now trailing by 2.5 games.
Finals: Popovich over Vogel
The NBA’s greatest coach hangs onto his title for a second consecutive season. Vogel's job is impressive, but Popovich will claim his conference's best record.
Defensive Player of the Year: Joakim Noah
NBA general managers take note: The league’s top defenders each play for one of the league’s better teams.
The understated part of the NBA will be awarded to one of the game’s most feisty stars.
West Region: Paul George (25 percent chance of title)
As a California kid, George enters from the West.
He has to be on the list, as he’s the best wing defender in the game. Defense is not just about stats, but George does have 1.75 steals per game.
The Indiana Pacers are the most efficient defense in the NBA, they allow just 89.8 points per game—second best in the league. The best defender on the best defensive team is George.
Midwest Region: Joakim Noah (35 percent chance of title)
Noah is the league’s most valuable defender.
He’s obnoxious about playing defense, flying everywhere on the floor with an aggression and intelligence rarely found in interior defenders.
He's the captain of the Chicago Bulls' third-best defense in the league, averaging 3.4 blocks in his last 10 games.
Larry Sanders has been incredible this season as a lengthy, active shot-blocker for the Milwaukee Bucks. He may be a runner-up for the award, but the Midwest belongs to Noah.
East Region: Marc Gasol (25 percent chance of title)
While New York Knicks star Tyson Chandler has struggled with injury and hasn't played to his top-quality level this season, he has cleared the way for another big man to be recognized.
But we have to keep going east—waaaaay more east.
Gasol consumes the paint of the Memphis Grizzlies' league-best defense. He is averaging 1.72 blocks per game, but his real value is in that he creates a seven-foot roadblock for perimeter slashers and fellow bigs.
South Region: Tim Duncan (15 percent chance of title)
While Duncan never made it further than the Sweet 16 with Wake Forest, he's more than made up for that with four NBA championships.
At 36 years old, he's still winning.
Duncan continues to guard the rim. In just 29.8 minutes per game, he is averaging 2.7 blocks per game, and 8.1 of his 9.9 rebounds per game are defensive ones.
Finals and winner: Noah over Gasol
Noah, who won an NCAA championship with the Florida Gators, is clearly the defender that teams would least want to face. He's more active around the whole court than Gasol.
Most Improved Player: James Harden
You don't have to be a dark horse to win the Most Improved Player award.
It's not a rags-to-riches story as much as it is about the year-to-year jump.
West Region: Stephen Curry (20 percent chance of title)
The league’s best three-point shooter has propelled the Golden State Warriors to a likely postseason—just the franchise’s second in 19 years.
There is no award for most improved franchise, but Curry is the symbol of rebirth for Bay Area basketball. Coming off two ankle surgeries, Curry deserved to be an All-Star, and he’s leading the league in three-pointers made (218) and is second in three-point percentage (45.5 percent).
He is tallying 22.2 points and 6.6 assists per game.
South Region: James Harden (40 percent chance of title)
Harden has become the league’s latest elite scorer since joining the Houston Rockets.
Harden has become a top-five scorer in the NBA. He is up to 26.3 points a game after scoring 16.3 points last season, and is now the leader of a Rockets team headed to the postseason.
Harden is scoring more than ever, but he's also continuing to increase his assists per year; he has climbed to 5.9 assists this season. With more minutes, he's also accomplished a career-high 4.8 rebounds.
East Region: Jrue Holiday (30 percent chance of title)
The UCLA product is hitting career highs in points (18.6), assists (8.6) and rebounds (4.3) in his fourth season in the league. The point guard has been a bright spot in a rough year for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The first-time All-Star is making plays against the best of the league.
Midwest Region: Larry Sanders (10 percent chance of title)
Sanders has made a name for himself as an interior defender for the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s explosive as a guardian of the rim, but he’s also improved as an all-around player.
Sanders leads the league in blocks, but he's also increased his shooting percentage to 50.6 percent from 45.7 percent last season and 43.3 percent in his rookie season.
Finals: Harden over Holiday
It’s not easy to become a superstar.
Harden has been crowned in Houston, and he’s leading his team to the playoffs. That’s a bigger leap than any other player.
Sixth Man of the Year: Jarrett Jack
The emphasis is often on the five faces shown prior to each NBA tip, but the minutes of reserves prove just as valuable down the stretch.
Just like in the NCAA tournament, a team is often only as good as the guys they can trust to handle big moments off the bench.
West Region: Jarrett Jack (35 percent chance of title)
An argument can be made that the Golden State Warriors are not a playoff team without Jarrett Jack.
The soon-to-be free agent will be incredibly regarded this offseason for his ability to step in as a backcourt leader. He's shooting 45 percent for 13.2 points per game, but it's been his big-moment shots that have been of such value to Golden State.
He's also moving the offense, averaging 5.5 assists.
South Region: Manu Ginobili (15 percent chance of title)
Just think how valuable it is to have a guy like Ginobili coming off the bench.
The 35-year-old continues to be a source of offensive spark and energy for the San Antonio Spurs. Ginobili has been critical in leading the Spurs off the bench, as the guard is averaging 12.9 points and 6.8 assists in March.
East Region: J.R. Smith (30 percent chance of title)
Smith can be erratic, but he’s having a tremendous year playing 33.3 minutes a game for the old New York Knicks team.
He's having the most productive season of his career, coming off the bench in each of the 66 games he's played as the Knicks' second-highest scorer behind Carmelo Anthony.
The 27-year-old is putting up plenty of shots—15.3 per game—and he's shooting 40.2 percent to earn his career-high 16.8 points per game.
Midwest Region: Jamal Crawford (20 percent chance of title)
The Michigan Wolverine gets a pass into the Midwest. Crawford is middle-America offense: handles and scoring.
He is scoring 16.9 points on 44 percent shooting as part of the Los Angeles Clippers' captivating season.
Of Crawford's shooting, 5.1 of his 13.5 attempts per game come from behind the arc, where he is shooting just 38 percent. But that's what the Clippers want and need out of Crawford, and so far the recipe has worked.
Finals: Jack over Smith
Jack is a traditional bench player, and he also helps Stephen Curry finish games. His value is greater than Smith because Jack makes his teammates better late in games.
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard
Most of the NBA's rookies have a fresh memory of March Madness, but none of our rookies will play in the postseason.
West Region: Damian Lillard (80 percent chance of title)
Lillard didn’t get a shot with his Weber State Wildcats to play in the NCAA tournament last season.
He’s doing bigger things now.
Though the NBA’s leading rookie will miss the postseason again, Lillard is finishing his first year as a No. 1 seed. Through March, Lillard is averaging 22.1 points, shooting 49.4 percent and distributing 7.4 assists per game (19.0 point, 43.0 percent and 6.6 assists on the year).
South Region: Anthony Davis (15 percent chance of title)
Davis had his fun a year ago when he left as the greatest Dancer and Most Valuable Player of the NCAA champion Kentucky Wildcats.
Davis is the best rookie big man this season, and his 13.1 points and 7.9 rebounds for the New Orleans Hornets have been a nice complement to his great interior defense.
Not bad for a guy who just turned 20.
East Region: Bradley Beal (2.5 percent chance of title)
Beal had been nursing a sprained ankle for most of March, sitting out six games before recently returning to play limited minutes.
Beal averaged 20 points per game from Feb. 11 until hurting his ankle on March 3.Still, he’s become a bright spot in another down year for the Washington Wizards.
He shot 48.1 percent in February, and his scoring will be a nice complement to John Wall for years to come.
Midwest Region: Dion Waiters (2.5 percent chance of title)
Waiters is also dealing with injury, as he's week-to-week with a bum knee.
Waiters has a knack for scoring and has no problem taking shots for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is averaging 13.4 field-goal attempts to score his 14.7 points per game.
His shooting dipped early in the season, but he shot 51.4 percent through February. The Cavaliers, like the Wizards' situation with Beal and Wall, have a young, threatening backcourt.
Finals: Lillard over Davis
Portland’s rookie has owned this award wire-to-wire. Davis may have climbed within single-digits at points this season, but Lillard has firm control of this award.
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James over the Field
The Final Four of MVPs is a talented pool, but only one king can reign.
East Region: Carmelo Anthony (5 percent chance of title)
The knee injury was an issue. Apparently, it’s not anymore.
Anthony, who recently missed six of eight games with a right knee injury, says he's no longer thinking about the knee. Ian Begley of ESPN NewYork quoted the New York Knicks star as saying, "I feel good...Now I'm just playing ball at this point."
Anthony's scoring average of 27.4 points is the highest since his 28.2-point average in 2009-10. The scorer's rebounding and assists are down, despite starting strong, and the hype of the "wow, he's playing defense now" has also fallen off.
The Knicks may have hit their peak in the first half of the season, but they’re still a top team in the Eastern Conference.
West Region: Kobe Bryant (5 percent chance of title)
The Lakers are no longer the worst thing since Ron Artest’s name change.
But the only reason they have been able to bound into the postseason is because of the year-long spectacular play of Bryant.
He's averaging 27.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds. He's not taking on too much, either, as he's been an efficient 46.8 percent and his three-point percentage is up from recent seasons to 33.9 percent.
Plus, he’s embraced Twitter this year.
@xlakersx_rakshu thx but I honestly still don't know what a hashtag is really for haha— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 20, 2013
Midwest Region: Kevin Durant (10 percent chance of title)
Oklahoma City is right on the border of the South and Midwest, but there was no way giving Durant a No. 2 seed.
Durant is as elite of a scorer as they come, and his incredible ability to score from anywhere on the floor remains astonishing.
Durant is the league's leading scorer, plays the most minutes and performs at an all-around elite level, as he's third in the league in triple-doubles. His player efficiency rating of 28.01 is second-best in the league.
South Region: LeBron James (80 percent chance of title)
James will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats, and we could be witnessing the greatest season of James’ career.
He also might just be hitting his stride. Imagine if he still hasn't touched that ceiling.
He now gets that elbow in on his shot and is a greater threat from the perimeter. James can turn it on whenever he wants, and his PER is the highest in the league at 30.96.
Finals: James over Durant
While the game started neck-and-neck, James went on a long run and his Miami Heat win streak wraps up the award.
Jimmy Spencer is an NBA Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him at @JimmySpencerNBA