NBA MVP Odds

by Chris Scheeren
on October 8, 2017

The NBA Season is just two weeks away, and one of the more intriguing races in NBA history is about to unfold. No, not the chase for the Title. While that will be interesting, it is hard to make a reasonable argument that anyone, despite a flurry of offseason movement, has substantially narrowed the gap on the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors enter the season as Tiger-in-his-prime like “Warriors vs. the Field” situation for good reason. They are the clear-cut best team in the NBA (and the best team I have ever seen, so let the 1996 Bulls emails commence…)

But the MVP race has no such obvious nature. In fact, the mere fact that KAWHI LEONARD is the current favorite at +350 tells you all you need to know; this thing is WIDE OPEN. The NBA MVP Award has become professional sports version of the Heisman Trophy; the most coveted and celebrated individual award in sports. The last three years have been bananas. MVP talk has dominated the regular season, even in seasons where Golden State was chasing (and reaching) history. It began ramping up in 2015 with the Harden vs. Steph debate that ended with Curry winning the Award, despite the players given their new award to James Harden. The same debate happened, though less fervently in 2016, and last year Russell vs. Harden talk took us all the way to the end of the season.

Notice a trend? James Harden has entered Albert Pujols/Mike Trout “always second place” territory. Perhaps a lifetime achievement award is on tap this season??

There are a ton of strong candidates and a few punt plays worth considering.

Here’s a look at the current odds to win the NBA MVP.

2017-2018 NBA MVP ODDS (courtesy Bovada.lv)

  • Kawhi Leonard +350
  • LeBron James +450
  • Kevin Durant +550
  • Russell Westbrook +600
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo +1000
  • James Harden +1000
  • Steph Curry +1200
  • Kyrie Irving +1800
  • Antony Davis +1800
  • Paul George +3000
  • Chris Paul +3300
  • John Wall +3300
  • Karl Anthony Towns +3500
  • Isaiah Thomas +3500
  • DeMarcus Cousins +4000
  • Blake Griffin +4000
  • Joel Embiid +4000
  • Nikola Jokic +4000
  • Damian Lillard +5000

The field is loaded, and the competition at the top will be fierce – and every option comes with some MAJOR question marks. So, let’s look at the pro/con for each of the frontrunners.

THE FAVORITE(S):

The Two Way Silent Star – Kawhi Leonard (+350)

kawhi leonard
I’m not gonna lie; this one surprised me. Not that Kawhi isn’t a great candidate and a great player, but the Vegas favorite for MVP of the league? It tells me that Vegas has a lot more confidence in San Antonio that I do. Not to tip my hand too early, but I hate the value here. Kawhi could very well be a 25/10 guy on a top four team, but I’d put him fourth on my personal preseason ballot, maybe even fifth.

Pros: The Spurs are always good. No matter what. And this season, assuming they ARE really good, Kawhi will be the clear and unquestioned Alpha. He will get points, rebounds, steals, blocks, and his reputation as the best two-way player on Earth will likely grow and flourish. He is also one of only two candidates without a legitimate MVP candidate sharing the same roster.

Cons: But voters don’t always give a care about “two-way players.” They like offense and stats. And I don’t think Kawhi will lead in the traditional counting categories. He may wind up leading in PER, but are voters sophisticated enough to reward that accomplishment? Is the metric main-stream enough for the sportswriter crowd who controls a large portion of the vote? Also, is San Antonio really going to be the second-best team in the West? If they finish behind Houston and Oklahoma City, is Kawhi even a legitimate candidate anymore?

Verdict: The Cons outweigh the pros. I think San Antonio takes a step back this season, and I’m not touching Kawhi at the overly-slim +350

The Heavyweight Champion of the World – LeBron James (+400)

Pros: LeBron hasn’t been the actual MVP in half a decade, but it is fair to also say he has never NOT been the Real MVP. The mantle of “best player in the world” has been unquestioned for nearly ten years, but it hasn’t resulted in many MVP Awards. Michael Jordan has the same experience. It didn’t crush either’s spirit (obviously) but you can tell it pisses LeBron off just a little bit.

LeBron is also in a unique situation this season with the primary scoring option aside from himself (Kyrie) departing for Boston and so many other primary scorers acquiring LEGIT running mates in the offseason. Harden got Chris Paul. . Even emerging threats like Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns have DeMarcus Cousins and Jimmy Butler to split some stats. LeBron got a BIG TIME scorer in Isaiah Thomas, but who knows how long it will be until he is back on the court dropping 30-plus. In the meantime, it is ALL ‘Bron.

The best player in the world on the clear-cut best team in the East? That’s not a bad starting point.

Cons: LeBron is entering his 16th season in the NBA. He has been to seven straight Finals. The miles are piling up, and the meaning of the regular season is becoming less and less. The Cavs are winning the East. They don’t need home court advantage to win the conference; they’ve proven that time and again – or at least LeBron has. So why burn him out during the regular season and the meaningless journey? That makes him less valuable than the +400 initially seems. I think his minutes (or at least his games played) will finally be curtailed, even if he fights it at first.

Verdict: I’ll pass. Once again LeBron will be the Best Player on Earth but lack the accumulation stats for MVP consideration.

STRONG CONTENDERS:

Passing of the Torch – Kevin Durant (+550)

Pros: The NBA Finals served as a metaphorical passing of the torch. Steph Curry might be a two-time MVP and the adorable face of the NBA, but the Golden State Warriors are now led by a new Alpha; Kevin Durant. The 2014 MVP’s move to Golden State last season ensured the continuation of the dynasty for as long as the Warriors Core Four remain healthy. Durant eliminates the “if they shoot poorly, maybe they can be beat” vulnerability of the Warriors. Durant can get buckets in so many ways, and so effortlessly, and so UNGUARDABLY, that no matter how many options the Warriors have, Durant will always be the best one, and the least variable.

The Finals clearly showed there is room for Durant to get his numbers without anyone else sacrificing their own personal success. The Warriors are fully healthy and entering their second season together. Last year they learned how to play together. Don’t be surprised if they make a real run at 70-plus wins again this season – even if they aren’t TRYING to win 70.

If the Warriors can win 70-plus with Durant established as the clear centerpiece, it could be enough to for KD to reclaim the MVP hardware.

Cons: There’s some Warriors fatigue, and some lingering sentiment that the Warriors were ALREADY great, so how “valuable” can Durant actually be?? I don’t agree, but it’s a very real perception issue that could hurt him in the MVP balloting.

Verdict: I like this one. Durant is poised to take the mantle of clear-cut “Best Player on the Best Team” which is always a nice chip in the MVP debate.

The Reigning MVP – Russell Westbrook (+600)

russell westbrook
Pros: Russ won it last year with a pedestrian supporting cast and the #6 seed in the West. This year, the Thunder could challenge for a #2 seed thanks to the addition of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Russell is a statistical monster and the pound-for-pound most unstoppable force in the game. Even with a few more legit dudes to split the offensive burden, don’t be surprised if Russ still finds a way to get his…at least tries.

Cons: He won the MVP last year by being the first player in modern NBA history to average a triple-double; something people thought was impossible just a few years ago. This year, it WILL be nearly impossible to average a triple-double – barring a rule change to add an additional basketball on the court. There’s just more talent on the floor, more options, more need to share, and less ball-domination. Those are all GOOD things for the Thunder, but BAD things for Russell’s quest for back-to-back MVP honors. He will be a better player, but a worse MVP candidate.

Verdict: I’ll pass. Russ was an unlikely candidate last year, to begin with.  He won on the power of the most statistically insane year in the modern era. The stats will regress this year, and Russ’s MVP chances will probably regress along with the stats.

No More Runner-Up, Finally – James Harden (+1000)

Pros: Harden’s counting stats, particularly his assists, will likely decline with the addition of Chris Paul. But his overall PLAY, particularly his efficiency, should sky-rocket. Chris Paul makes players better more than any other guy in the NBA – he’s as good at is as anyone in the modern era. Harden could easily score over 30 points a game with Paul setting the table and could see his shooting percentage climb three or four points without having to jack late shot clock desperation heaves or “no one else can score, so I’m gonna go one-on-three” possessions while he is exhausted late in the games.

Cons: His counting stats will likely decrease. He won’t dominate the ball in the same way. He will be a better player, but from 10,000 feet, people will likely notice a statistical decline. I’m also not sure the Rockets can close the gap on Golden State or hold off Oklahoma City, who made TWO big additions to Houston’s one.

Verdict: Not a bad play. Harden’s PER was always strong, and with some increased efficiency, he should be even better. He’s also been the runner-up three years in a row. He’s due. There could be some “lifetime achievement effect” in play.

LONGER SHOTS:

The Greek Freak – Giannis Antetokounmpo (+1000)


Pros: Voters love a new flavor. And no player has a greater opportunity to take a HUGE leap forward this season than Giannis. He is a statistical MONSTER, the clear alpha on a team that has some potential to make some noise in the reshuffled East. He will likely be the most statistically dominant player in the Eastern Conference, and if he can get the Bucks into Top Two playoff positioning, perhaps he has a shot.

Cons: It’s the EAST, dude. The Junior Varsity. There’s no way, barring a 55-win season with a triple-double season average that voters will be able to ignore the bigger-name, bigger-team candidates in the West.

Verdict: If this were in the +2000 to +2500 range, I’d be more inclined to like this as a fun value-added punt play. But at +1000, no thanks.

The Apprentice No More – Kyrie Irving (+1800)

Pros: Kyrie desperately wanted out from the long shadow of LeBron James. Well, the best rim-finisher I’ve seen in my life will get his opportunity to shine in the spotlight this season in Boston. Kyrie will be a Top Five scorer in the league (if he stays healthy) and the dominant playmaker for the new-look Celtics. With the additional move of signing Gordon Hayward, the Celtics could very well be the #1 seed in the East once again, and Kyrie will get a lot of the credit.

Cons: He’s a smallish-point guard in a year where some two-way monsters are going to put up near triple-double numbers. Can a defensively-deficient point guard vault over the Durants, Westbrooks, Hardens and Lebrons of the world.

Verdict: I like the value of this wager. The East is ripe for the picking and Kyrie is both flashy enough and statistically potent enough to take home the prize. It’s a long shot punt play, but not an unreasonable one.

The Best Punt Play

The Future is Here – Karl-Anthony Towns (+3500)


Pros: The is a good chance the Big KAT will be the best player in the NBA soon. Possibly even this year. He has a chance to lead a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in well over a decade to a Top Four seed and be the centerpiece of the NBA’s new emerging darling. Last year NBA GM’s named him the number one player they’d choose if starting a franchise from scratch – ahead of LeBron and Anthony Davis and Durant; the Big KAT.

Cons: It’s a big leap from “first-time All-Star” to NBA MVP. And it remains to be seen if Minnesota’s new-look roster is really ready to compete with Houston, OKC and San Antonio.

Verdict: My favorite punt play on the board. No other player longer than +1800 has the requisite combo of ELITE talent, stat-stuffing versatility, and quality team potential.

The NBA season tips on October 17th
Let the Race for MVP begin!
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