Betting on the NBA MVP
by Trevor Whenham - 04/16/2008
The NBA season ends today, so it is time to make the final predictions for the MVP race. Unfortunately, it isn't turning out to be much of a race. It's not that there aren't a lot of deserving players who have had good years. It's just that the powers that be seem to be entirely focused on two players, and one of them seems to have a clear edge. That doesn't mean that the situation has been entirely robbed of betting potential, though.
Let's start by looking at the two guys who are theoretically still in the race, but who don't stand a chance of winning unless something completely unpredictable and bizarre happens. Bodog has LeBron James at 6/1 to win it. His numbers are impressive - he will average more than 30 points per game which will lead the league, and has put up career highs in assists, rebounds, and field goal percentage. He is playing out of this world, and he is unquestionably among the best players in the league. The problem he faces is that his team isn't that impressive, and he hasn't been able to elevate them to a higher level. His team limped down the stretch and, unlike Detroit and Boston, hasn't really been able to take advantage of the weak East. The Cavs would obviously be much worse without James, but all three of the other main contenders have made their team significantly better and has their team in position to go very deep in the playoffs. James has not. Simply put, the Cavs just aren't good enough to have an MVP.
Kevin Garnett probably deserves more attention that he is getting. The Celtics have enjoyed the biggest single season turn around in the league and they have the best record in the league, and Garnett is a big reason for all of that. The biggest reason, really. As good as he has been, though, there are a couple of big things standing in the way of a win for him. First of all, his numbers aren't as gaudy and impressive as those of the other contenders. More significantly, they aren't as good as they were last year for Minnesota. He is unquestionably more valuable this year because he is on a better team and is playing with more interest and leadership, but the numbers just don't stack up, and it is hard to reward him for taking a statistical step back.
It is clearly a two horse race between Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant. Bryant is ahead, though I am surprised that the odds have him as far ahead as they do - Bryant is at 1/5 while Paul is tied with Garnett at 3/1. Certainly, the media have the race much closer than that. I'm personally fairly confident that it will be Kobe, and I have been for a while, but let's deal with Paul first.
Chris Paul is only 22 years old and just in his third year out of Wake Forest, but you would never guess it by the way he plays. The point guard has turned New Orleans into a legitimate contender, and that's really something. They have a solid roster, but they lack superstars, and Paul has unquestionably elevated the play of every guy on the team. He has taken over the league lead in assists from Steve Nash, and he adds 21 points and four rebounds per game for good measure. He leads the league in steals by a wide margin, and that is just one of the ways that he can swing the momentum in a game when he chooses to. He is unquestionably a deserving MVP, and he probably would be if he were in the running against any other guy.
Kobe Bryant has his big lead for three big reasons. His numbers are predictably fantastic - he's second in league scoring to James, and his rebounds and assists are at or near career highs. They are certainly good enough to take home the hardware. He's also led his teams to levels that would have seemed unbelievable at the start of the year - the best record in the very tough Western Conference. Bryant had some help - Andrew Bynum was significantly improved before his injury, and Pau Gasol was the biggest steal in a busy trading season. Bryant is the one constant, though, and he is the singular reason why the team is where it is. He has led his team through injuries and he has never missed a game or faltered. Those aren't the big reasons why Bryant is seemingly a lock to win this time, though. It's because he has never won it before. He's been truly dominant for a decade, and has been the unquestioned best player in the league for at least the last five, yet somehow he has always been surpassed by someone else in the end of the year voting. That is absolutely unbelievable, and voters seem likely to look to remedy it now that they have a legitimate opportunity to do so. Paul is at a big disadvantage here because he is so young that he seems to have lots of time left to win an MVP or three. This year he will probably have to defer to his elder.
SO, that's how the race breaks down - the payoff on Kobe probably isn't worth the risk, but the 3/1 on Paul is the only bet that may be worth a gamble. The 10/1 on the field might sound like a nice price, but it is absolutely a suckers' bet.