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The NBA season is right around the corner, which means this is when you can get the best value on NBA MVP bets. It’s also when there’s the most risk, of course; we know the least.
The two leaders going into last season were Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis, and
boy did those paths separate.
Davis and Antetokounmpo were even at +400 last preseason, while James Harden, who very
nearly took it, was +650.
Odds as of Thursday. Check out PointsBet, where Action Network users can
access an exclusive promotion to get a 200% deposit match (deposit $50, bet with $150).
I’m not a fan of getting in on one player this early. You’ll have the opportunity to hedge or
double-down later when the race clarifies. Now you want to use the good odds to your
So let’s build a three-player position, taking from three distinct categories: the favorites, the
darkhorses, and the longshots. You should go heavier, obviously, on the favorites, with lighter
positions on the darkhorses and the long shots.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (+275, DraftKings)
The reigning MVP is set to only get better. Antetokounmpo dabbled in his 3-ball last season,
and of course there’s a possibility he expands it. If he does, that might be a wrap given his
defensive and athletic advantages. The Bucks had the best offense in the league last season,
along with the best record.
I’m hesitant, though, on Antetokounmpo, because I’m not certain the Bucks will repeat last
year’s success. Win 50 games? Absolutely. Best record in the league? In the conference?
Those are more up in the air, and I’m expecting some regression from Milwaukee. Those little
chips at his resume could have big impacts on the vote, especially with how unstable the new
Steph Curry (+600, Westgate)
I made the case for Curry last month; you can read more here. However, preseason has cooled me a little bit. Curry popped off for 40 vs. the Wolves the other night in just 25 minutes.
That should be a sign of how great his season could be. However, the Wolves were still in that
game, albeit a preseason game, until late even with Curry going off. The reality is that the
preseason indicates the defense and bench is in even more trouble than we thought.
I’m still putting Curry in this favorites section, based on his potential for production and carrying
the team to wins, but I’ve cooled a bit based on the fact the Warriors may not win enough
games to put him in serious contention.
James Harden (+750, Westgate)
This number is patently absurd. Harden has finished top-two in four of the past five years, with
two of his losses coming in two of the most competitive races we’ve seen in 20 years.
The value on the number is just ridiculous. Harden’s preseason has given no signs that he’s
going to wind up sacrificing numbers in a big way. Even if his scoring dips below the galaxy-
brain levels of last season, it will correspond with an increase in assists both to Russell
Westbrook and on the extra pass off Westbrook drive-and-kicks.
If the defense collapses on Westbrook, the help defender on the wing has to choose between
Harden and another shooter. He’ll choose Harden every time, leaving the extra man open. The
Rockets look primed to pick up right where they left off offensively.
The Rockets could disappoint, which could remove him from discussion, but in that event,
someone else has jumped up as a result, which allows for an in-season hedge/double-up. If
you’re looking for max return out of this tier, Harden is the choice.
Anthony Davis (+750, FanDuel)
Davis is among the top-four liabilities for MVP at the Westgate. That’s to be expected, as any
Lakers star is going to get a lot of tickets in Vegas. His number is down to +500 at Westgate, so
the +700 to +750 you can get at other books has some value.
The preseason early results have shown a genuine commitment by LeBron James to set up
Davis. If the Lakers outperform expectations, which seems likely, the narrative power will
undoubtedly be with Davis, finally recognized on the big stage for his contributions.
(Note: This is blatantly and cruelly unfair to New Orleans, but what about their situation has
been fair besides getting Zion over the past three years?)
The thumb sprain Davis suffered in preseason isn’t just a slight downtick to his chances, it’s also
a reminder that any bet on Davis carries the risk of being sabotaged by his constant
“questionable to return” status. But narrative, opportunity and skill set still land him in this tier.
LeBron James (+1000, Westgate)
It’s weird to put the player universally regarded as the best player on the planet over the past 10
years in the darkhorse category, but he has to be here. James has openly said he wants to take
a backseat to Davis and has fallen over himself to prove his commitment to that.
At the same time, with Davis’ injury history and what appears to a renewed sense of focus and
commitment from James than last season, he has to appear here.
Like with Davis, the Lakers’ narrative will be strong, augmented by a media core both with
strong L.A. representation and fond memories of the great Lakers teams of old.
That, plus the strong narrative satisfaction of James potentially winning his fifth MVP in a
“revenge” year, means he has to be on this list.
Kawhi Leonard (+1200, Westgate)
It’s odd that Leonard, the two-time and reigning Finals MVP, not only has odds this low, but that
I can’t find strong enough reason to move him higher.
Leonard is undeniably in the conversation for “Best Player in the NBA.” He has prior vote
credentials, finishing third in the epic 2017 race. He is the best player on the team widely
regarded as the best team in the league entering the season.
He is slowly managing to rewrite his narrative from withdrawn, silent, stoic figure to “fun guy”
from California looking to build his own empire by power-brokering free agency behind the
There is a thought that Leonard might rest too much this season. The math on that is
On the one hand, Leonard still had troubles with his leg in the playoffs; it flared up several times,
and it looked like he was hobbling in each round. He has a proven path of success in resting 22
games, as he did last season.
However, the Clippers said there’s no such plan in place for Leonard this season. He’s now two
years removed from a very confusing, very nebulous leg injury. Let’s say he misses only 16
games due to injury and rest. That six-game differential, for whatever reason, probably shifts the
conversation and makes voters feel more confident in voting for him.
Bear in mind that Leonard averaged more points and rebounds last season per game than he
did in 2017 when he finished third. His shooting wasn’t quite as efficient, but that only leaves
room for growth.
The three reasons he wasn’t in the conversation last season were: He missed more games than
the other candidates, his numbers weren’t astronomical and (the biggest reason) the Raptors
weren’t the story last year until the playoffs.
The Bucks were the No. 1 seed rising up with LeBron’s departure; the Warriors were still
expected to win it all.
Leonard trying to make the Clippers into a serious force, both in basketball and in business
(something even Chris Paul and Blake Griffin couldn’t do), is a story voters can get behind, and
the Clippers have a very real chance of landing the No. 1 record in the league. Though I lean towards their under.
Nikola Jokic (+1200, PointsBet)
If you want to play “value vs. the number,” you want to package Harden and Jokic. The Nuggets
finished No. 2 in the West last season behind the Warriors, who are no longer the Warriors.
They feature a cast of weapons as deep as any team in the league, and Jokic is the player who
facilitates all of them. He is a weapons system unto himself.
Jokic became the first center since 1975 (the earliest possession data can be tracked) to
average 30 points and more than 10 assists per 100 possessions. He averaged the most
assists per game for a center since Wilt Chamberlain.
If Denver, which returns the most continuity of any team in the West, secures the No. 1 seed in
a brutal conference, Jokic would have to be in the conversation prominently.
Essentially, if you can imagine Utah falling short, the Lakers and Clippers stumbling out of the
gate and/or resting, the Harden-Westbrook relationship not clicking enough and
Milwaukee regressing, Jokic would be a de facto choice alongside Joel Embiid (which would
make for an absolutely wonderful MVP race alongside an absolutely toxic online discussion of
Joel Embiid (+1600, FanDuel)
Speak of the devil.
I’m notoriously high on the Sixers. I’m projecting them for 56 wins and the best record in the NBA. So it should come as no surprise that Embiid’s value here is incredible in my eyes.
The Sixers re-oriented their team around Embiid this summer. On the surface, it looks like they
patched things together after Jimmy Butler took his talents to South Beach. But adding Josh
Richardson and Al Horford, while keeping Tobias Harris, was done to augment Embiid’s game.
Embiid is probably the most impactful player in the league right now, in that he forces teams to
account for him. You’ll struggle with everything LeBron brings to the table, Leonard will burn you
no matter what you do while also locking you down, Jokic makes everyone better.
But when Embiid steps on the floor with his size and skill, you have to deal with him. It’s why so
many will maintain that he’s a better player than Jokic despite Jokic having a better stat line
(factoring assists and shooting percentages).
When Jokic dominates a team, you’re surprised, like “Oh, hey, look at the chubby dude
dominate.” But you never expect it to happen again, because it feels so unlikely.
Embiid feels like a monster on the court. He’s a better defensive player (though
Jokic is underrated in that aspect). He will back down and obliterate smaller players with dunks
(whereas Jokic will simply turn and shoot over them from a comfortable distance).
If the Sixers are as good as they could be this season, Embiid will be the biggest reason why,
which is why he’s great value.
His injury history, likelihood to rest multiple games, tenuous chemistry with Ben Simmons and
offensive decision-making are all reasons to be cautious. His injury status will always make him
a darkhorse entering the season until he wins the award.
Damian Lillard (+2800, FanDuel)
I list this first because it is my favorite longshot option.
Lillard is beloved by players, media and fans. He has been with one team his entire career and
just re-upped on a big, long-term extension. He is the consummate teammate and professional.
The voters want to reward a guy like Dame.
Dame has averaged 25 points and six assists with an eFG% better than 50% the last four
seasons, for a team that every year finishes higher than we expect.
Let’s say the Blazers somehow sneak into the top four in the West with 50 wins, with a worse
roster than last year, with Jusuf Nurkic out until at least mid-season and Dame bumps his
scoring up to 28 points per game (where Antetokounmpo was last season).
His defense has made huge strides the past two seasons, so he can’t take hits for that. It’s all
on the Blazers. If they win enough and he averages a career-high in points, he’s going to be in
the conversation and this number looks sweet.
Luka Doncic (+5000, DraftKings)
I am not a Mavs believer. I don’t think they’ll be anywhere close to .500, let alone the 50-plus wins you’re going to need for him to be in serious consideration. I have him here because he’s a popular player on a team getting a lot of buzz. He’s a complete
player, in that he passes, scores, shoots, rebounds … he does everything offensively.
If Kristaps Porzingis unlocks everything and the Mavericks just shockingly rattle through
everything on pace to 50-plus wins, Doncic is going to be in the discussion.
But a defensively-limited player who struggled after the trades of veterans last season on a
team I don’t think finishes .500? I’m out.
Ben Simmons (+5000, PointsBet)
I wrote up a little bit about Simmons when he hit that 3 in preseason and
instantly became the top liability for MVP at two books. Let’s say Embiid has issues and can’t
play more than half the season — a reasonable scenario.
The Sixers still have the talent to compete for 50 wins in a weak Eastern Conference in a
weaker Atlantic division. Simmons isn’t going to be some jumper maniac, but he’s going to be so
impactful on both ends that if Philly has the best defense with less than 75% of a season from
Embiid, Simmons will command attention.
This is not as insane as it seems.
Kemba Walker (+15000, DraftKings)
There’s a gap after Philly and Milwaukee for the third-best team in the East. Some think Boston,
some think Orlando, some think Miami, some think Toronto.
Let’s say it’s Boston, and let’s say that either Philly or Milwaukee suffer one of those “seasons
from hell” with regards to injury and bad luck. Nothing goes right.
This opens the door for the Celtics to sneak up there. Let’s say they win 50 games after last
year’s poor showing, finish second in the East and Kemba does what I described with Lillard above, getting to 27-28 points per game along with seven assists (which would be a career-
That probably gets him in the conversation if no one else has really separated themselves. At
100-1 for a player of his caliber with this kind of stage for the first time, it’s not bad for the
Donovan Mitchell (+8000, FanDuel)
The Jazz are going to win more than 50 games.
Their defense is too good, their offense too improved.
Even if Mike Conley misses a fair amount due to injuries and rest, the Jazz will still crush bad
teams like they have and perform much better vs. the good teams that used to be tougher for
If the Jazz hit 55, it’s because Mitchell made the leap, with a supporting cast that will make
sending multiple defenders at him difficult.
Mitchell had a down year last season, posting a 23-4 line with 36% shooting from beyond the
arc. He’s more likely than most to see a huge bump in production with a better offensive system
If Utah wins the No. 1 seed in the West, Mitchell is more likely than Gobert to be credited with
the team’s jump. The Jazz have set the roster to enable Mitchell. Banking on him is good for the
Paul George (+3000, Westgate)
He’s slated to miss 10 games to start the season, and it could be more if his conditioning isn’t
game-ready by then. Then there are the odds of re-injury or other issues to slow him down, plus expected rest for a team with a much higher playoff ceiling.
Kyrie Irving (+6000, Westgate)
The Nets are missing their best player in Kevin Durant. That drastically reduces their ceiling.
Even if they outperform expectations, that ceiling only barely scrapes 50 in most reasonable
Combined with his baggage from last season’s Celtics, his knee and face issues (he suffers a
lot of face injuries for some reason), it’s tough to find a narrative that befits him.
Next season? Maybe, if he carries the team in the event Durant doesn’t come back 100%. But
not this year.
My MVP Position
Putting it all together, here’s my favorite three-person MVP position currently:
- James Harden: +750
- Anthony Davis: +750
- Damian Lillard: +2800