Every season, I sprinkle a little on the NBA MVP race. It’s not typically a volatile futures bet, but you have to let it breathe when it comes to this particular futures category.
Sure, you can lay some cash down in the pre-season, but you’ll be significantly more accurate by waiting to see how things are playing out in the first third of the season. This season is yet another example of why it’s a wise move to wait a little while.
The three current frontrunners for MVP have varied roughly the same odds since the beginning of the season. Giannis’ odds have dropped, while Lebron’s and Embiid’s have risen. You could’ve bet Lebron and Embiid pre-season, but you also could’ve bet Harden and Kawhi (at what you thought were goods odds) and you’re drawing practically dead now.
The five current leaders are not surprising, but there’s a lot of room for movement with this group. We’ll go through each player and the scenario it’s going to take for them to win. These odds come to us through the DraftKings Online Sportsbook.
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, crisis counseling, and referral services can be accessed by calling 1-800 GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) (IL) Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER (NJ/WV/PA) or 1-800-9-WITH-IT (IN only) or 1-800-BETS-OFF (IA only) or 1-800-522-4700 (CO Only) *21+. NJ/IN/WV/PA/IA/CO only. In partnership with Meadows Racetrack and Casino. Offer not valid for users physically located in NH. Deposit bonus is in DK Dollars which have no cash value and must be used on DraftKings. Bonus requires 25x Play-Thru. Eligibility restrictions apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Lebron James +250
Lebron isn’t having a career year by any means. Statistically, he’s having an amazing year from deep, but his overall numbers are almost identical to what they’ve been recently. He’s only averaging 7.9 assists per game, down from 10.2 last season.
The reason he’s currently favored is three-fold.
For one, the Lakers are second the West, and Lebron has been carrying much of the load. Lebron has averaged nearly 40 minutes per game over his past nine games, while Anthony Davis is averaging a few less minutes over that span. Second, no one else is noticeably blowing the doors off the stat line (other than Jokic in a small market). Last, Lebron is 36 and he’s in year 18, and this has been mentioned about fifty thousand times already this season. Lebron is getting the “let us bask in this historic greatness” plug ad nauseam.
It sort of makes you wonder how he’s actually doing this. A lot of people will say, “he’s just built different” or, “he’s the hardest-working guy in the league.” Look, that’s fine, but nobody has continued to play at the same level of explosiveness from year one to year 18. Many guys will evolve their game and most lost burst and some hops around 30.
Whether Lebron is actually just built differently or he’s getting some assistance, I wouldn’t bank on his slowing down now, especially since he hasn’t shown any drop-off in the slightest. For Lebron to win this award, the Lakers need to continue grappling for the top seed in the West, and Lebron has to continue to remain heavily involved, without too much of a production dip.
Verdict: Okay bet – Lebron is averaging 43 minutes over his last few games and currently dealing with knee soreness. You can put this bet on the shelf for a week and the odds may actually improve slightly.
Joel Embiid +400
Embiid has always been considered a top-tier talent. The issue with him has always been his health. This season, Embiid is having his best season in shooting, free throw percentage, points, and steals. Lebron’s line is 25/8/8 and Embiid is 29/11/3.
Statistically, it’s his best season so far, and his best shot to finish the season with full participation (or close). Embiid’s big moment this season was defeating the Lakers earlier in the season via a gutsy performance. It was a memorable win for the Sixers and the kind of signature win to be used in his case for MVP.
The path for Joel is staying healthy, continuing to put up big numbers, and leading the Sixers to the top seed in the East. If he can do all that and everyone else continues on their current trajectory, Embiid will be closer to a coin-flip for the award.
Verdict: Mediocre bet, at best – The truth here is, Embiid can’t ever seem to stay healthy. He was injured coming into the league and has still yet to exceed 64 games in a single season. He’s going to need at least 70 to present a strong enough case.
Nikola Jokic +450
A few years ago, if you had the same three guys at the top in their ages at that time, Jokic would be leading the MVP odds. However, the emphasis on defense was heavy over the past couple of years, as Giannis dominated the discussion with defense being a major reason why.
In 2021, Jokic is less convincing off-paper. On paper, he’s got the best resume for the award. He’s averaging career highs in shot attempts, free throw percentage, three-pointers made per game, steals, points, rebounds, and assists. Jokic’s line this season is 27/11/9. That’s the best among the top three.
The problem for Jokic is three-fold. First, his team is currently seventh in the West. It’s way too talented of a squad to be just 13-11. Second, his team is in a smaller market and they don’t get much attention. Last, he doesn’t do much on the defensive end.
Verdict: Good bet – This bet has tremendous upside. Surely, the Nuggets will make a run in the West at some point. With Michael Porter Jr and Jamaal Murray on the squad, this season has been a disappointment, especially considering how good Murray was in the Playoffs last season. Jokic has played in at least 73 games in each of his previous five seasons, so durability is not a big concern.
Drawing Nearly Dead:
Kevin Durant +900
Durant’s problem is his new teammates. The Nets probably won’t win the East, because their defense flat-out sucks, and stringing together multiple offensively efficient games is difficult in the NBA. He also has the problem of sharing the load with James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
The history of a guy winning the MVP — with two other offensively-focused All-Stars playing alongside him — is non-existent. I think the presence of the other two takes away too much away from Durant. Put your money elsewhere.
Luka Doncic +1000
Doncic’s likely not going to be a true contender for this award for two reasons. The first is that the Mavericks simply aren’t good. The Mavericks are 12-14 and 11th in the West. He’s going to need to average a triple-double to even be considered here.
Luka’s averages are down in a few areas — one-less PPG, one-less RPG — but his assists are slightly up. The problem is shooting percentage and turnovers. Luka is shooting 46% and he’s averaging 4.2 turnovers per game. Even if he irons those out, there are four guys ahead of him on much better teams. Don’t take the bait.
Giannis Antetokounmpo +1200
Giannis may be in the territory Lebron was in the past few years: Voters have gotten tired of him. Statistically, Giannis is having a monster season, very similar to his MVP season last year.
He is averaging two less rebounds per game and one less point per game this season. Aside from that, the numbers are almost identical. The rub here is that Giannis underperformed in the playoffs last year. So, the overall feel for him across the league now is that he may be more of a stat-stuffer than a truly elite player when it matters.
The Bucks are a game and a half off the lead in the East, but they haven’t looked like the world-beaters they were a season ago. For Giannis to win this award again, he’s going to have to make an absurd push down the stretch, and the Bucks are going to have to pull away from Brooklyn and Philly.
Honestly, Giannis just isn’t doing enough statistically to distance himself from the rest, especially after winning this award two years in a row.