Why You Should Bet on James Harden to Win NBA MVP
Last week, I wrote about why I think Oklahoma City Thunder’s Paul George is being undervalued in the NBA MVP discussion.
While I still think that’s the case, the same can be said for reigning league MVP James Harden. As of this writing, you can still get Harden at +250 to win the award this season. That is highway robbery.
The Rockets got off to a shaky start this season, but they have certainly righted the ship since.
After a thrilling overtime win in Oakland over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, the Rockets are just 3.5 games back of Denver for the best record in the Western Conference. It’s been quite a leap for a team that was second-to-last in the conference about a month ago.
What’s behind the Rockets’ surge? There are a number of important lesser factors, but the clear impetus behind Houston’s extreme momentum shift has been the stellar play of Harden.
MVP Betting Odds
Harden almost single-handedly willed Houston to the aforementioned dramatic win over the Warriors on Thursday night, as he put up 44 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds in what was an astounding effort.
Clearly, oddsmakers took note. Harden, who could be bet as low as +1200 just a couple of weeks ago to win this year’s MVP trophy, is now the prohibitive betting favorite. Funny how that works.
Here are the updated NBA MVP odds for this season:
- James Harden +250
- Giannis Antetokounmpo +450
- LeBron James +500
- Anthony Davis +750
- Kawhi Leonard +1000
- Stephen Curry +1200
- Kevin Durant +1200
- Joel Embiid +1500
- Paul George +2500
- Russell Westbrook +3000
The Rockets have been without Chris Paul for the last couple of weeks, while Eric Gordon has missed the last couple of games with an injury of his own. Despite being incredibly short-handed in the backcourt, Houston has still managed to win 11 of their last 12 games overall.
Harden has been playing the best basketball of his career, and he is in the midst of arguably the best individual offensive stretch in the history of the NBA. That may sound like prisoner-of-the-moment hyperbole, but the numbers themselves can’t be disputed.
Harden has now scored at least 35 points in each of his last 9 games. He became the first player in NBA history to score at least 35 points with at least 5 assists in 9 straight games, as well. He averaged better than 36 points along with nearly 8 assists and 6 rebounds per game in the month of December.
On the season, Harden is now averaging 33.6 points per game, which is the highest individual scoring average we’ve seen in the league since the peak Kobe Bryant years. Not even Russell Westbrook averaged this many points in a season.
We still have a few months left in the campaign, of course, but the way Harden has played this season has been otherworldly.
Harden is doing this on incredible volume, but he has also been remarkably efficient. Unlike Westbrook, he isn’t just scoring this much because he’s shooting more than anybody else. Yes, Harden takes as many shots as any player in the league, but he’s making them at a higher clip than Westbrook ever has.
The defending league MVP is shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range this season, which would be close to the highest mark of his career if he keeps it up for the rest of the year. Maybe the most impressive aspect of that percentage is that he’s making them at that kind of a clip while taking 12.2 of them per game.
Harden has taken a league-leading 416 3-point shots this season. Kemba Walker ranks second in the league…with 335 attempts.
During Houston’s 6-game winning streak, the Beard is averaging a crazy 42.2 points and 9.5 assists while connecting on nearly 42 percent of his 3-point attempts, many of which come with incredible degrees of difficulty.
It is difficult for one player to win the Most Valuable Player Award in back-to-back seasons, but it’s not like it’s unheard of. Steph Curry was the last to do so when he won back-to-back MVPs in 2014-15 and 2015-16. LeBron James accomplished the feat in 2008-09 and 2009-10, while Steve Nash did so in the middle of the last decade.
That said, winning the MVP in 2 straight years nowadays may be more difficult because the argument can be made that there has never been more talent in the league than there is these days. Just look at the list of contenders also vying for the award.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been playing at an MVP level all season long while also lifting the Bucks to near the top of the Eastern Conference. LeBron James is LeBron James, and him playing for the iconic Lakers definitely doesn’t hurt his standing with voters.
Anthony Davis has been putting up similarly eye-popping numbers, though his team isn’t enjoying the success Harden’s Rockets have been of late.
Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are in the MVP race every year, though playing on the same team likely hurts both player’s chances of actually winning it. Ditto for Paul George and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, though you know I’m high on George’s case.
I think Joel Embiid is another player potentially being undervalued here from a betting perspective, but his case may hinge on whether the 76ers can weather this .
I don’t think voters would necessarily be eager to hand the award to Harden for a second year running, but if he keeps producing at this level, do they really have a choice? The man has essentially lifted the Rockets out of the cellar and hoisted them to a spot near the top of the competitive Western Conference within the span of a month.
Betting Value Is There
Toward the end of last season, Harden was around -300 to win the MVP award. He led the Rockets to the best record in the league last season, and he put up stellar numbers in the process. Many thought he should have won the award the season prior, so his crowning was something of a lifetime achievement type of award last year.
If you bet on Harden to win it when his odds were +1000 and above, congrats. That bet has an excellent chance at winning you some cash at the end of the season. If you didn’t jump on those favorable odds, there is still time to capitalize.
A lot can happen between now and the end of the regular season. Maybe Harden gets hurt at some point and torpedoes his entire MVP case. Maybe Giannis or Embiid or George or LeBron goes on a similar tear and eventually overtakes Harden, who figures to see his numbers take a hit once Chris Paul returns.
Maybe the Rockets stumble down the stretch and find themselves at the bottom of the playoff picture. Obviously, nothing is a sure thing with this much time left in the season.
Still, I think this is a bet to prioritize. Taking Harden at +250 to win MVP now gives you quite a bit more profit potential than it will later on, as the odds will continue to get slashed as the season progresses. Bet on James Harden to repeat as your NBA MVP this season.