2018-19 NBA Awards: Will LeBron James Bring the MVP to Los Angeles?

by Taylor Smith
on August 16, 2018
9

Minute Read

The landscape of the NBA shifted considerably this summer when LeBron James announced his decision to leave Cleveland for the bright lights of Los Angeles. There were a few other big-name players making moves, but no other single player has the same kind of impact that James does. LeBron will be calling the Western Conference home for the first time in his career, and his move to the Lakers makes the gap between the two conferences even larger than it was before.

While LeBron has been known almost universally as the league’s best player for about a decade now, he isn’t often recognized as the league’s Most Valuable Player. James does have 4 league MVP trophies to his name, but he hasn’t been bestowed with the honor since 2013 when he was a member of the Miami Heat. Since James last won the award, Stephen Curry has won it twice, with former Oklahoma City teammates Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden having won in each of the other 3 seasons.

James has reached the point of his career in which his greatness is simply taken for granted. This guy has been in the NBA Finals every year since 2010, which is actually one of the more under-appreciated accomplishments on his ledger. Will he finally do enough to win his fifth MVP award in his first season in Los Angeles, or will another player take home the honors?

Here are the odds to win the 2018-19 NBA MVP award:

  • LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers +250
  • Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans +300
  • James Harden, Houston Rockets +400
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo +400
  • Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors +650
  • Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors +800
  • Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors +1200
  • Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder +1400
  • Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics +1500
  • Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers +1600

The Case for LeBron

LeBron is . Barring some sort of catastrophic, injury-riddled campaign, James will be right there among the frontrunners for MVP yet again. LeBron finished second behind James Harden in the voting this past season, when he helped an incredibly weak and disjointed Cavaliers team to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year. The Cavs ultimately came up well short in their bid for a second title, but James having arguably his best season at his age was nothing short of remarkable.

The expectations for the Lakers this season are all over the map, but most agree that this should be a playoff team, at minimum. The Lakers have undergone arguably the most dramatic roster overhaul of any team in the league this summer while also retaining their core youngsters. Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart are still here. In addition to James, the team also signed free agents JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was brought back for a second term, as well.

Obviously LeBron’s MVP case is going to be enhanced by the fact that he will now be hooping it up for the league’s most prestigious franchise in the country’s second-largest media market. LeBron still got all sorts of attention playing his home games in Cleveland, but now that he’s in L.A. you can expect the coverage to be even more over-the-top. James won’t have to deal with championship expectations, but if he can help lead the Lakers back to the playoffs with one of the higher seeds in the Western Conference his MVP case will speak for itself.

While the Lakers do have some potential future All-Stars, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll be the team’s lone All-Star representative next season. James has spent the last near-decade playing on super teams with guys like Kyrie Irving, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love and Dwyane Wade. James will have some quality teammates in L.A., but he’s going to be the lone superstar in town for at least his first season with the club. If he’s able to bring the Lakers back to respectability in his first year in town, it’s hard to see LeBron not winning MVP, frankly. Assuming he puts up his standard stellar individual numbers while leading the Lake Show to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, James looks like an awesome bet at +250. There’s still profit potential there.

The Brow?

After DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles last January, most expected the New Orleans Pelicans to go the way of the buffalo. Instead, Anthony Davis found a new gear and helped his team storm their way into the playoffs. Not only did New Orleans make the playoffs, they would go on to sweep the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round with Davis leading the charge.

Cousins has left for Golden State, leaving Davis once again as the lone superstar in the Big Easy. He doesn’t get a ton of attention due to the fact that he plays in a small market, but there are times every year in which Davis looks like the most unstoppable player on the planet. Honestly, this shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s a legitimate 7-footer with an ungodly wingspan and range beyond the 3-point line. In 75 games last year, The Brow averaged 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. He has the ability to be an unstoppable force on both ends of the floor. For good measure, he also connected on a career-high 34 percent of his looks from beyond the arc.

Nobody really knows what to make of the Pels next season. They’re obviously not in the same tier as the Warriors or the Rockets, but it’s fair to say they should finish somewhere just below that. The Western Conferene is going to be an all-out war, so there’s still a chance New Orleans fails to make the playoffs altogether.

The Pels in free agency, but they were replaced with comparable players in Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton. Nikola Mirotic looked great after coming over from Chicago last year, while Jrue Holiday may be the most underrated guard in the game. There’s still an awful lot to like with the Pelicans’ roster. However, how far they go will be determined largely by the play of Davis.

Davis will win an MVP at some point in his career, it’s just a matter of when. I think James is justifiably the heavy favorite to win it next season in his first year with the Lakers, but I think Davis at +300 makes some sense if you’re looking for a pivot.

Golden State’s Army

With the ridiculous addition of Cousins this summer, the Warriors will be able to boast a starting lineup with 5 legitimate All-Stars and (possibly) 5 future Hall of Famers. The Warriors breezed their way past the Cavs once they beat the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals last summer, and it’s fair to say that they actually managed to improve themselves.

Whatever they get out of Cousins will be gravy. The big man is still working his way back from the aforementioned Achilles injury, and there’s no telling when he’ll be ready to hit the floor. Boogie says he wants to be ready to roll by the time training camp begins, but that looks a bit optimistic. This isn’t an injury that most players easily bounce back from.

Golden State will likely finish the regular season with the best record in basketball, but it’s also fair to assume that their stars are going to cannibalize each other’s MVP hopes. Curry’s MVP hopes have been diminished considerably since Kevin Durant came to town. Durant has a pair of Finals MVPs to his name since coming to the Bay Area, but the presence of Curry likely means another regular season MVP trophy isn’t coming his way.

Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are essentially role players with this team. Neither of them makes for a legitimate MVP candidate. I don’t think Cousins will play enough next season to warrant consideration of his own, either.

Nobody will argue that Curry and Durant are MVP-caliber players, but neither will win the award as long as they’re teammates.

What About the East?

Kyrie Irving was building a viable MVP case for himself last season before his campaign was prematurely halted by a knee procedure. The Celtics nearly went on to make it to the NBA Finals without both he and Gordon Hayward, who broke his leg in the first game of the year. With LeBron now out of the picture, the Celtics are the odds-on favorites to get back to the Finals next season.

Kyrie is an interesting long shot at +1500. If any Celtic is to win the award, it’ll likely be Irving, who figures to be their leading scorer once again. However, I’m much more intrigued by Kawhi Leonard at +800.

This will be a fascinating season for Leonard. He played just 9 games last season with San Antonio as he was hampered by a nagging quad injury, and he essentially forced a trade out of town over the summer. Kawhi wanted to go play with LeBron in Los Angeles, but instead the Spurs shipped him to Toronto in a package centered around DeMar DeRozan.

We’ll see what next summer holds for Leonard one he’s a free agent, but one would imagine he’ll have to seriously. Even if he doesn’t want to stay with the Raps on a long-term basis, he simply can’t afford to punt on another season. I’m expecting to see full-throttle Kawhi this year.

We saw 2 seasons ago that Leonard is absolutely an MVP-caliber talent. If he plays up to his paper and the Raptors emerge as a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference, I love the value you can get here at +800. He may be the best two-way player in basketball, and if he plays with focus and dedication this season I think there’s a very real chance we see him lift the MVP trophy in the end. I think Toronto is shaping up to be a scary team next season with Kawhi leading the way. +800 is an amazing value.

I also love Joel Embiid here at +1600. The 76ers are going to be right there with the Celtics and Raptors atop the East, thanks in large part to their dynamic big man. He finally stayed healthy last season, and he proved that he may be the most gifted center in all of basketball. The Sixers are transformed on both ends of the floor when he’s out there. He isn’t as explosive as someone like Anthony Davis, but Embiid plays the game with an ease rarely seen these days.

If the Sixers turn out to be legitimate contenders, Embiid will be in the thick of the MVP convo. You can do a lot worse than  long shot punt at +1600 here.

The Beard and the Greek Freak

James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo check in with the same odds to capture next season’s MVP at +400. Harden obviously won this award last year after helping the Rockets to the league’s best regular season record, while Antetokounmpo put together his best individual campaign to date.

The Bucks will be interesting this season. They finally seem to have gotten themselves a legitimate coach in ex-Hawks boss Mike Budenholzer. Milwaukee has had all sorts of talent over the last few years, but their coaches haven’t been able to get the most out of said talent. I’m a believer in Bud, so I think we’ll see a sneakily dangerous Milwaukee team next season. Giannis is obviously leading the way.

I don’t think Harden has much of a chance to repeat as MVP next year. He should’ve won the award 2 years ago when Russell Westbrook stole it, but The Beard was rightfully last season. Harden will once again be a contender, but winning the MVP in back-to-back seasons is an increasingly rare feat. Voter fatigue is real. Just look at LeBron. He should absolutely have more than 4 MVP trophies on his mantle at this point.

Harden at +400 just doesn’t feel like a good use of your funds. I’d much rather take Antetokounmpo at the same price.

In order of likelihood and value, here are my favorite NBA MVP bets heading into the new season.

  1. LeBron James +250
  2. Kawhi Leonard +800
  3. Anthony Davis +300
  4. Joel Embiid +1600
  5. Giannis Antetokounmpo +400
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