Where should you attack value in the awards market?
We are nearing the end of the 2023 NBA Summer League season and are still three months away from the actual start of the 2023-24 Miami Heat season.
Earlier this week, DraftKings Sportsbook revealed early NBA win totals for this upcoming season—though the Heat was one of five teams whose win totals were not revealed yet, for obvious reasons.
Regardless, let’s take a couple of steps to the side and explore the awards angle for Miami Heat players and outline why you should and should not bet it, spanning from MVP to Clutch Player of the Year!
(All odds are via DraftKings Sportsbook as of noon EST on July, 14.)
Jimmy Butler (+6000)
Argument for: While he might not be as valuable as Nikola Jokic or Giannis Antetokounmpo, two of the league’s most valuable players since arriving with the Heat, Butler has been one of the NBA’s most valuable players. He’s also coming off arguably the best season of his career, averaging 22.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 53.9 percent shooting, 35.0 percent from deep (1.6 3PA) and 85.0 percent from the free-throw line—equating to a 64.7 true-shooting percentage, four percentage points greater than any other season of his career. In his final 40 games, Butler sported a 24-6-5-2 stat line on a 66.2 percent true-shooting—still very good production, all things considered.
If you don’t believe he had the best season of his career, it’s inarguable that he’s played basketball since joining Miami and has been among the league’s best. Among the 188 qualifiers who have logged at least 5,000 minutes, he has the fourth-most win shares (39.8)—only behind Jokic (55.6!; in 57 more games than Butler), Antetokounmpo (42.9; 23 more games) and Rudy Gobert (41.5; 44 more games)—with the third-highest win-share clip per 48 minutes (.246), seventh-highest VORP (17.8) and eighth-highest PER (25.3) since the start of 2019-20. If the 33-year-old can put together a season where he plays 70-75 games, he has as compelling a case as anyone to make a run at MVP.
Against: Well, we know Butler’s not much for his own personal accolades outside of winning an NBA Title, so I’m unsure how motivated he’ll be to win MVP if the situation arose. Joel Embiid couldn’t have been more motivated to win his, while Jokic was also quite motivated when he won his two MVPs. It also doesn’t help, with the new 65-game threshold, that Butler hasn’t played 65 games since joining the Heat; he’s played 58, 52 (both COVID-shortened seasons, for what it’s worth), 57 and 64 games, respectively. The last time he played 65 was in 2018-19, a threshold he eclipsed in six of his first eight seasons.
Butler also might not receive the regular season notoriety that others would. He doesn’t put up flashy numbers, even though he’s more impactful than the majority of his counterparts. When it comes to the numbers, would a 24-6-5-2 stat line from a below-average regular season 3-point shooter be as appealing to the national eye? Probably not.
There have only been four players to play at least 65 games, averaging 24 or fewer points since 1990: Tim Duncan (‘02-03), Kevin Garnett (‘03-04), Steve Nash (‘04-05, ‘05-06) and Stephen Curry (‘14-15). Their teams won 60, 58, 62, 54 and 67 games, respectively. If Miami can somehow win at least 55-60 games with Butler being the biggest reason why, he might garner some first-place votes. But even then, I don’t see him attracting national attention.
Verdict: The value is worth considering, but I would not bet it.
Rookie of the Year:
Jaime Jaquez Jr. (+10000)
Argument for: Look at that value! Jaquez was regarded as one of the more NBA-ready prospects heading into the draft. In his very limited Summer League time, he’s proved he could be capable of cracking a 9-10-man rotation at some point as a rookie. If he becomes a dominant back-end of the rotation player, he could be a finalist for the award.
He’s missed the last three Summer League games with a shoulder injury he suffered in Sacramento, but that’s likely more precautionary than anything. Expect him to be ready to go by the start of training camp in late September. There’s a reason why Miami drafted Jaquez, a consensus All-American who is reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year and a two-time All-Pac-12 defensive honoree, where they did.
Against: This number could be so drastically big because … few have a grasp on where he’ll be playing basketball three months from now. Even though he signed his rookie contract in early July, which prohibits a rookie from being traded for 30 days, he can still technically be traded—it just won’t become official until after those 30 days expire. Regardless, it will be mountainous to outdo Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson (especially if they’re teammates) and/or Chet Holmgren, among others, no matter which team he’s on.
Verdict: Throw $1 on it and shoot for the moon … if you have the GUTS
Coach of the Year:
Erik Spoelstra (+750) — odds-on-favorite
Argument for: If you believe in due, Spoelstra is due to win Coach of the Year. He’s only earned two top-4 finishes for the award over the last five years, most recently coming in at 3rd in 2021-22. While a couple of the post-LeBron James seasons were suboptimal, Spoelstra has proved he’s arguably the best head coach in the league—and, at worst, a top-3/5 coach. In terms of schemes and adjustments, Spoelstra’s elite at setting up his players for success and out-smarting the opponent on any given night.
While the 2022-23 regular season was unfruitful, we know what happened next: Miami trucked Milwaukee in five games, fended off the Knicks in six games and persevered in Game 7 against Boston on the road in the Eastern Conference Finals. Many forget the Heat have more playoff victories (38) than any other franchise over the last four years and are 2-1 apiece against the Bucks and Celtics—two teams who have been continuously labeled as significantly better than Miami—over that span. The biggest reason those gaps have repeatedly closed is because of its three-headed monster: Butler-Bam-Spo. Erik Spoelstra is a basketball genius.
Against: You could argue the Coach of the Year is tied to preseason expectation more than any other individual award based on recent precedent. Sacramento’s Mike Brown unanimously won the award last season after not being expected to place anywhere close to the No. 3 seed in the West; Phoenix’s Monty Williams won the award after the Suns finished 64-18, the NBA’s best record by eight games; Tom Thibodeau brought the Knicks out of pandemonium in his first season in the Big Apple, winning the award in 2020-21; Nick Nurse took it home in 2019-20 after a 53-win campaign (COVID-shortened), a season after losing Kawhi Leonard.
Spoelstra is the odds-on-favorite to win the award. If the Heat makes the splashy-est of splashes on the trade market, they’re going to be expected to win at least 55-60 games. It’s obviously not impossible, but Miami might have to completely dominate the rest of the NBA for Spoelstra to win the award if there aren’t one or more teams that greatly over-perform.
Verdict: I’d lean towards betting it, but I could be talked out of it.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Bam Adebayo (+900)
Argument for: Bam Adebayo is arguably the best defensive player in basketball, and that’s not an understatement. The Heat has been a top-10 defense and each of the last three seasons and were No. 12 in 2019-20, and Adebayo, a four-time All-Defensive team honoree, is the lynchpin of it. While he’s not going to average the most steals or blocks, no player is tasked with more responsibility defensively.
Adebayo’s ability to navigate switching 1-5, play drop, occasionally blitz, battle for position down-low against the opposition’s best big, box out myriad players and communicate assignments/positioning for others on its back-line is unheralded. He exists as the ultimate backbone and defensive connector at arguably the league’s most important defensive position. That matters.
Assuming he plays alongside Lillard, Adebayo will receive far more notoriety than the inverse—especially if the Heat is top-5/10 defense yet again. While Miami did lose Gabe Vincent to the Lakers, he still gets to play alongside Butler, Josh Richardson and Haywood Highsmith—who could be thrust into a much larger role (depending on how the roster shakes out)—so it’s
Against: While Adebayo has garnered respect amongst his peers on the court for his defensive aptitude, he’s never finished above No. 4 in DPOY voting. Who’s to say the national (untrained) eye continues to not give him enough credit amongst his peers, even alongside Lillard? The number of stocks (steals + blocks) matters in some media members’ eyes, based on recent precedent, and that’s not Adebayo’s bread-and-butter defensively.
Perhaps Adebayo’s stout defense during this most recent playoff run puts more eyeballs on him?
Verdict: Bet it.
Clutch Player of the Year:
Jimmy Butler (+2000)
Argument for: Butler finished second behind Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox for the first annual Clutch Player of the Year award. Fox led the NBA in clutch scoring (194 PTS) on 52.9 percent shooting and 7-of-22 from 3-point range (31.8 percent). Butler was third in scoring with 151 points on 50.5 percent shooting with a pair of triples on nine attempts, but knocked down 10 more free-throws. Maybe he breaks through?
Against: While Butler is a very good fourth-quarter player, I don’t think this team will play more than 1,789,054 clutch games again, for better or worse. And, if Miami lands Lillard, his numbers in those situations will dip.