Before the NBA season, odds-makers decided that 36 year old Lebron James was not the favorite to win the coveted NBA MVP award. The King of the NBA was third, and in some models, fourth, in the preseason MVP odds.
Ahead of him were players who were all younger and all on the rise: 21 year old phenom Luka Doncic, two time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and his own teammate, Anthony Davis.
Anyone who was prescient enough to bet on LeBron winning his fifth MVP award before the season began, is surely enjoying the odds on their ticket compared to what they have moved to in recent weeks.
It’s all on him…for now
How could LeBron James be the most valuable player in the league when he is not undoubtedly the best player on his own team? The voters decided again that Giannis was more valuable to his team than LeBron was, presumably due to the massive impact made on a nightly basis by superstar Anthony Davis.
The NBA world hung its head briefly several weeks back when Davis limped off the court with slow, agonizing steps. Stephen A. Smith even defiantly proclaimed that his first thought when A.D. limped off was that the Brooklyn Nets were going to win the championship. Davis was pegged to be out for a month at least.
No matter how long Davis misses, this injury will play a major role in the psyche of MVP voters. LeBron was already being touted by the media for his super-human minutes count and games played streak at his advanced age of 36. They may need Davis to win the title again, but LeBron will get them to the playoffs and the MVP voters will recognize that.
I think the Lakers right now, I think their championship aspirations are compromised…without Anthony Davis — Stephen A Smith, February 16, 2021
The Phenom Favorite Fades
Luka Doncic is playing some incredible basketball this season, but he does not seem to think so. As you may expect of such a fierce competitor, Luka is judging his performance this season not on stat accumulation, but on the accumulation of wins by his team, the Dallas Mavericks. This has proved to be more difficult than Luka would have liked so far this season.
The team win metric may be more important for Luka’s chances to win the MVP award this season. If Dallas climbs the Western Conference standings, Luka’s chances of winning the award climbs with it.
But the whole reason that Luka was favored over James to begin with had more to do with their respective superstar teammate or lack thereof. If Davis misses any significant time, James will have the “more valuable to the team” argument over Luka, who may have the more eye-popping stat lines on a nightly basis.
Beating Out The Big Men
If you simply look at this year in isolation, two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetekoumnpo would be a very serious contender to win the MVP award. The stats are there and so is the clear and massive impact of his play on the overall success of the team.
But the hurdle that Giannis has to clear this year with voters is the simple fact that he’s the two-time reigning award winner. The only players in NBA history to win three consecutive MVP awards in the NBA are Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird. Giannis is a great player, but he would have to be even better than he was last year, and he has not been.
This past week, the betting headline dropped that Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers was now the betting favorite to win the MVP award. The news came during a midseason lull for both LeBron and the Lakers when it comes to nightly dominance. Embiid has been dominant all season and the line shift seemed to make sense. The very next day, Embiid goes down with a leg injury.
LeBron is the favorite again and will win the MVP for the same reason Embiid won’t: durability. Even at the ripe old age of 36, LeBron remains superhumanly durable. His efforts this year will finally bring another MVP trophy to his long list of accolades as one of the greatest to ever play the game.