Summer has come and gone and the NFL season has finally kicked off for 2019. While most of the sports betting world is deep into football betting, both professional and college, many might be forgetting the looming NBA season. Training camp for some NBA teams tips off next week, so what better time to check in on some offseason betting news.
A great way to dip your toes into the NBA season this early on is to survey the MVP field for the upcoming campaign. Luckily, sports bettors are more keen on premature results than might be expected elsewhere in their lives. With that in mind, let’s take an early look into NBA MVP futures for the upcoming season.
The big question really comes down to whether or not Giannis Antetokounmpo defends his crown and wins back-to-back MVP awards or does the value lay in the field? Can Steph Curry step up with a depleted roster to re-join the MVP race? Will James Harden be able to put up MVP numbers with his current supporting cast? Will guys like Joel Embiid or Nikla Jokic step up and hoist the hardware come season’s end? Or will a dark horse come out of nowhere to shock the world?
Let’s take a deep dive into the best the NBA has to offer and find the best bet to win the NBA MVP award.
There are a few key stats to be aware of before we embark on this journey of the NBA’s finest. First off, for those LeBron James, marks it is important to understand that MVP winners are traditionally young bucks (or Bucks, in Giannis’ case). Year after year, I see a flock of bettors drop money on LBJ to reign supreme yet again, despite the fact that his last MVP campaign was in 2013.
In reality, of the last 20 MVP winners, all but four of them fall within the ages of 24 to 28. That is a very small window of qualified players to pick from if you take this statistic seriously, which you should. The fact of the matter is, the NBA wants to push their young stars and one has to believe that these young studs get preferential treatment when it comes to MVP voting.
That is a rather specific age range but it’s worth noting that it also bodes unfairly to younger players. Each and every MVP since 1983 has been over the age of 24 years old except for one single exception, Derrick Rose in 2011. The final consideration for bettors looking at dark horse candidates is that MVP winners almost exclusively play for winning teams. This is a trend in all major US sports and one which requires strong consideration when betting futures. Whether you agree or not, 15 of the last 20 MVP winners came from 1-seed teams heading into the playoffs that season. Four of the other winners came from lowly 2 seeds and a single winner, Russell Westbrook, came from a six seed.
The last thing to consider is the MVP award is a trophy which rewards scoring above all else. The previous dozen MVP award winners have averaged at least 25 points per game and this is a trend which I expect to continue.
Taking into account all of the aforementioned trends we have a clear window of viable players to bet on. This season requires a bit more research however with a lot of top-tier players falling outside of the age category alone. James, Curry, Harden and Westbrook fall outside the 28-year-old range while others might be on teams that aren’t winning enough games. With all this in mind lets break down the top-5 candidates to win the NBA MVP award and make our predictions.
Current NBA MVP Odds
Giannis Antetokounmpo +300
Stephen Curry +500
James Harden +700
Kawhi Leonard +800
LeBron James +900
Anthony Davis +1000
Joel Embiid +1200
Luka Doncic +1600
Nikola Jokic +1600
Karl Anthony-Towns +2000
Damian Lillard +2500
Paul George +2500
Russell Westbrook +2500
Donovan Mitchell +3300
Kyrie Irving +3300
Zion Williamson +5000
Jimmy Butler +6600
Kemba Walker +6600
Blake Griffin +8000
DeMar DeRozan +8000
Ben Simmons +10000
Bradley Beal +10000
D’Angelo Russell +10000
Devin Booker +10000
Draymond Green +10000
Jayson Tatum +10000
Mike Conley +10000
Nikola Vucevic +10000
Giannis Antetokounmpo | Milwaukee Bucks +300
This season’s obvious frontrunner is the reigning MVP, Giannis, which is how I will refer to him for the remainder of this article because I loathe trying to get his last name right more than once a week. With the Milwaukee Bucks expected to contend for the Eastern Conference Championship, he already ticks on a box in our aforementioned requirements. If the Bucks do in fact win the East this will most likely put Giannis in the top-3 finalists as he would need to shoot the lights out this season.
The one way he can really set himself apart from the field is if he can find his stroke behind the arc. Despite his meteoric rise, the Greek Freak hit just 34% of his three-point attempts after the All-Star break and through the playoffs. Not only are these not MVP numbers but it’s partially the reason for the Bucks exit from the playoffs.
Hitting the long ball is not a skill which is easily required at his age and to win games, he might not even need to. This brings up an important aspect of MVP voting: Stats are king. There are many players who contribute a lot to their team’s success whose work is not necessarily shown on the box score. This might come into effect this year when it comes down to Giannis MVP voting as the Bucks are playing so well that G doesn’t need to play full games on the regular.
He averaged just 31.7 minutes per game last year and even took 10 games off just to rest. This marked his fewer total minutes since his rookie campaign. Despite playing fewer minutes, his stats have shot through the roof each and every season of his relatively young career. While I mentioned his lack of minutes last season, he did win the MVP, so perhaps Giannis doesn’t need to play a full season of complete games to win it all. Even with the 31.7-minute average last year he threw down 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and almost six assists a game.
Let’s exclude his season by season uptick in stats and ask the critical question here. Can Giannis Antetokoumpo match his stats from last year, and if he does, can anybody surpass him?
Maybe. And that answer is the reason he is the prohibitive favorite to win the MVP in the first place. Generally, I would not recommend betting on an incumbent winner in most awards in professional sports, but it’s hard to make an argument against the Greek Freak. I will now spend the rest of this article in search of such an argument.
Stephen Curry | Golden State Warriors +500
Let’s be honest, the Golden State Warriors have gone from big distraction in the locker room to average joe who is hoping the air conditioning isn’t on too high. With the departure of Kevin Durant, all eyes are laser-focused on Steph Curry to keep Golden State in the NBA Finals conversation. It’s easy to look at who the Warriors were before KD and assume that it will be business as usual in Oakland. I shall now squash those hopes and dreams.
The Warriors were a far younger and healthier team when they were battling the Cavaliers for NBA supremacy. Even with Durant on the roster, they failed to win it all last season. So why expect anything close to that in 2019? Well personally I don’t, but that made bode well for the chef to step back into the spotlight and shoot the doors off the entire NBA. Health is the real issue here as Curry has only played 120 over the previous two regular seasons and I lack the faith he has the legs under him for another MVP run at his age.
The obvious reason for his place on the odds board is his presumed workload. With Durant gone and Klay Thompson on the shelf, who is left to put up big numbers on a nightly basis? If Curry plays a full 75 games, and that is a big if, and if he manages to drag the Warriors to a top seed in the playoffs, he has a shot. He needs to make it through the spring healthy for a shot, but I see him coming up short once the playoffs start.
James Harden | Houston Rockets +700
James Harden is a perennial entrant on this list, having finished in the top-2 of the MVP in four of the previous five seasons. Despite this, and his obvious skill, I expect this year to be a step back for the annual candidate. Not that I am suggesting he won’t be in the hunt, nor am I suggesting he will struggle this year. The issue I have is the team he around him is so strong I have trouble finding where his numbers will come from.
With Russell Westbook’s addition, I have to assume that Harden’s scoring numbers will take a drastic dip. There is just no way around it. I expect the Rockets to dominate their opponents and for the organization to ease up on Harden’s minutes down the stretch to save him for the playoffs. Harden is no doubt able to put up MVP numbers, but based on other factors I don’t see him doing it this year.
Kawhi Leonard | Los Angeles Clippers +750
Spoiler alert: I love Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers. Sure, he finished 9th in voting last year, but he really took his game to another level in the postseason and I expect him to carry that momentum into 2019-20. I feel this is a pretty straightforward assessment. If Kawhi leads the Clippers to a 1-2 seed in the west and they make it to the NBA finals, he will win the MVP. Write that down in pen, hell a marker if you have one.
His real shortcoming rears its ugly head in his health. Leonard has averaged just 66 games over his career and has never eclipsed 74, not a full season on the books. He also has issues when looking at the numbers MVP players put up, he has never quite stacked up. We’re really relying on the ‘best player on the best team’ vote here. I expect him to play postseason level ball for the Clippers for most, hopefully, all, of the regular season and inset himself into the top-3 in the MVP race.
LeBron James | Los Angeles Lakers +900
Year after year LeBron James brings his best. And his best is consistently equal to or better than anyone else lacing up their shoes that season. He hasn’t won four MVP trophies and three finals MVP awards by accident. Over the last decade or so, LeBron James has been the best player on the court, hands down. There no denying his talent, so let’s just skip right over any talk of that. LeBron’s MVP hopes lay solely on his usage and desire to pass really.
Despite his age, LeBron has proven durable so that will also not come into consideration. He would tie Karl Malone as the oldest MVP in league history by the way at 35 years of age. Personally, I believe the reason LeBron hasn’t won the MVP since 2013 is that he really isn’t trying to anymore. He has conquered every mountain the NBA has to offer so why not do what’s best for the team and share the love?
This becomes an even bigger consideration with Anthony Davis on the roster. When was the last time LeBron had such a talent in the paint? I would have to say it’s been since the Chris Bosh days, and he wasn’t even a traditional big man. Maybe Big Z was the last true banger down low that LeBron has had the luxury of calling a teammate.
I see a world where LeBron racks up assists on a new level and even takes some time off late in the season provided the Lakers are vying for a top-4 seed. I believe that Anthony Davis shines bright for this team and will create a situation where LeBron shares more than scores.
NBA MVP Best Bet: Kawhi Leonard +750