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The Larry Bird and Magic Johnson Trophies are just other examples of how corny the NBA has become. On top of “supermax” contracts and not having to show up for regular-season work, NBA players get the most random awards.
Golden State Warriors legend Steph Curry took home the 1st-ever Magic Johnson Trophy when the Dubs eliminated the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals (WCF).
Boston Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum won the inaugural Larry Bird Trophy in the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals (ECF) after defeating this year’s opponent, the Miami Heat.
Both conference finals will be rematches from the 2020 NBA Orlando Bubble. The Los Angeles Lakers will meet the Denver Nuggets in the WCF. The Miami Heat visit the Boston Celtics in the 2023 ECF.
NBA Conference Finals MVPs
Magic Johnson Trophy
- Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.
Nuggets C Nikola Jokic to win 2023 WCF MVP (-120)
In the 1st round this postseason, Nikola Jokic tore up T-Wolves’ big, and 3-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert. Then he made minced meat of Suns big Deandre Ayton in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Granted, Lakers big Anthony Davis is a much better player than Gobert and Ayton on both ends of the floor. But, this is the best Nuggets team they’ve ever assembled and the best version of Jokic we’ve ever seen.
Technically, Jokic’s points-per-game (PPG) average climbed from 19.9 PPG in the 2019-20 regular season to 24.4 PPG in the NBA Orlando Bubble playoffs.
But, AD held Jokic to 21.8 PPG in the 2020 WCF. Jokic needs to score closer to 30 PPG in the 2023 WCF if the Nuggets are going to the NBA Finals. I like Jokic to win the 2023 WCF MVP (-120) more than Denver (-155) to beat LA in this series.
An NBA team’s best player needs to perform better in the playoffs than they did in the regular season if their team wants to win a ring. It’s a universal law of championship basketball.
Jokic leads the NBA playoffs in PER, Win Shares Per 48, Box +/-, and VORP. He averaged 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 9.8 assists per game this season.
Jokic is averaging 30.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 9.7 assists per game in these playoffs. His regular-season usage rate was 27.2%, up to 32.8% this postseason.
Only longshot worth betting: Lakers’ Anthony Davis to win 2023 WCF MVP (+360)
To be honest, despite the pro-Davis case I’m about to make, I won’t be betting on AD here. I prefer to use my NBA betting bankroll to attack single games in both conference finals.
Regardless, there is a world where Davis wins the 2023 Magic Johnson Trophy. AD out-played Jokic in the 2022 Orlando Bubble WCF and he looked like the best player in the world at times this season.
Davis won the NBA’s Player of the Month in March. That’s right, the NBA gives out monthly awards to feed their players’ egos. I digress. AD averaged 27.9 PPG and 12.1 rebounds in March while playing elite defense.
Also, I haven’t seen enough out of LeBron James to suggest he can be the best player in this series. The Nuggets have an All-NBA-caliber defender in F Aaron Gordon who will make life tough for LeBron.
The Lakers need Davis to lock up Jokic and put up Shaq-like numbers offensively. LAL is +130 to beat the Nuggets in the 2023 WCF and I just don’t see them beating Denver without AD going nuclear.
My official pick to win the Magic Johnson trophy is Jokic at -120. But, if you like the Lakers in this series, then there is more value on Davis to win the 2023 WCF MVP than LAL winning this series.
Larry Bird Trophy
- Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.
Celtics SF Jayson Tatum to win the 2023 ECF MVP (-220)
For the record, this is only a pick and not a bet on Tatum his 2nd straight Larry Bird Trophy. Tatum isn’t as big of a lock as he needs to be to justify a -220 bet.
He erupted for a Game 7-record 51 points Sunday in Boston’s closeout win vs. the 76ers in the 2nd round. Yet Tatum’s scoring average dropped from 30.1 PPG during the regular season to 26.3 PPG in these playoffs.
While I agree Boston should be a heavy favorite over Miami in this series, I am not counting the Heat out. They have the more established head coach and the best player in the series, Playoff Jimmy Butler.
He is a better two-way player and Butler has more responsibility for Miami than Tatum with Boston. Butler was the best player in last year’s Heat-Celtics ECF and his numbers have increased from the regular season.
There isn’t a price break for Butler to win the 2023 ECF MVP at +380 since Miami’s ECF series odds are +400 as of Sunday. If Butler’s odds to win the Larry Bird Trophy were around 6-to-1, perhaps I’d nibble.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any sexy bets to win the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird Trophies. I like both of the favorites to win their series. As a result, the favorites to win the conference finals MVPs will likely cash.
Listen to the ‘OutKick Bets with Geoff Clark’ podcast HERE.
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