NBA MVP Odds and Predictions from Expert Pro Basketball Handicapper
The crop is beginning to separate for the NBA awards with the season now passing its halfway point. At the top of this list is the MVP award, which was renamed this year to become the Michael Jordan Trophy. The race for the award has seen some notable line movement this week after the field was seemingly open for most of the season. With plenty of time left in the season, here is a look at the case for the biggest MVP threats and where there may be value beyond the favorites (all odds via FanDuel).
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Nikola Jokic (+100):
After coming into last week tied for the top spot in MVP odds, Nikola Jokic has once again found his way into the lead. The reigning back-to-back MVP has plenty in his favor. Jokic is averaging 25.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 9.9 assists and sitting sixth in the league in true shooting percentage. He is headlining the 32-13 Nuggets, who sit in first place in the West and are riding an eight-game winning streak, having won 15 of their last 18. Jokic has an NBA-best 14 triple-doubles, and Denver is 14-0 in these performances.
However, the Serbian big man has two key things working against him in the MVP race. While he has been widely embraced by the NBA and its trend of advanced analytics, only three players in NBA history have won three consecutive MVPs: (Bill Russell (1960-63), Wilt Chamberlain (1965-68), and Larry Bird (1983-86). Voter fatigue and the possibility of the Nuggets peaking too early should both be massive concerns for Jokic. The West is still open for the taking, and Denver has had some defensive issues show face. If the Nuggets begin to slip in the standings, it will open the door for others to get their name etched on the trophy -- and there are plenty of strong candidates itching for the chance.
Luka Doncic (+420):
Luka Doncic remains second in the MVP race but slipped from +250 last week to +420 this week. The 23-year-old has done a terrific job putting the Mavericks on his back and helped carry them to a 24-22 record that puts them in 5th place in the Western Conference. Doncic is leading the NBA with 37.5 minutes and 33.7 points per game, while also adding 8.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game. He is second in the NBA in usage percentage at 37.2% and has made ridiculous stat lines look normal on a nightly basis.
Reports have come out of Doncic wanting the front office to make a move to help the team win now. They miss the production of Jalen Brunson and adding a true co-star would aid their climb up the standings in a major way. There are no questions about Doncic being the centerpiece of the Mavericks' offense. However, if Dallas adds another key piece and establishes itself as true a contender, this would boost Doncic’s resume in a major way. Doncic has proven to be on the level of the NBA’s most elite, and the stats can hold up in comparison to anyone.
Jayson Tatum (+700):
The path looked to be laid for Jayson Tatum to be an MVP frontrunner, but he has cooled off from his start to the season. Dropping from +450 odds last week to +700 this week, this trend has continued. Boston remains in first place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 33-12 and has bounced back from their eyebrow-raising 150-117 loss to the Thunder with a seven-game winning streak. Tatum is at the heart of this and producing a career-high 31.1 points and 8.3 rebounds as well as 4.3 assists per game.
Boston started at the top this season and has maintained this for the most part. The biggest concern with Tatum has been his lack of efficiency. He also has been provided a notable lift by the career-year Jaylen Brown is having. While this is great for the Celtics, it does not aid Tatum’s MVP stock. It, unfortunately, feels as if Tatum’s chances at the award are trending in the wrong direction, and it will take some heroic performances for him to climb back into a front-running position.
Joel Embiid (+800):
The MVP hype train for Joel Embiid is beginning to roll. Embiid took a leap from +1300 odds last week to +800 this week. After ending the past two seasons as MVP runner-up, the Sixers big man has hit his stride once again. Embiid led the NBA in scoring last season at 30.6 points per game and has increased his scoring by averaging 33.6 points, in addition to 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.7 blocks. The addition of James Harden has helped further unlock Embiid’s scoring ability as he is shooting a career-high 56.3% effective field-goal percentage and 56.9% on two-point attempts.
The two stars have been clicking on all cylinders, and this has been vital to the Sixers' success as well. Philadelphia has climbed to third place in the Eastern Conference with their 28-16 record and has won 16 of their last 20 games. Embiid remains the most important player on both sides of the ball for the Sixers, and the team is 4.5 games back of the top seed. The biggest concern is that Philadelphia has the most difficult schedule for the remainder of the season. However, if Embiid can continue the team’s success in their three matchups with the Celtics and Nets, as well as a number of other difficult opponents, it would pave the way for him to collect some hardware.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (+1000):
The MVP momentum of Giannis Antetokounmpo is trending in the wrong direction, as he has dropped from +480 last week to +1000 this week. A lingering knee injury has kept him out for the past four games, although it is not expected for him to miss much more time. In the 35 games he has played, the two-time MVP has averaged 31.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. He has had some shooting issues this season, but there is still plenty of time to straighten things out. Whether this is a brief blip in his MVP chances, and he will be back in the running or the downfall of his campaign, will be determined by the next few weeks. Milwaukee is second in the Eastern Conference with their 29-16 record, and there is plenty of talent around him. While the competition for the award is stiff, and Antetokounmpo may not have the hype that was the case in past years, a few monster performances from the Bucks star would land him back on the map.
Ja Morant (+3000):
If a Nuggets collapse does occur, expect the Grizzlies to be the beneficiary of this. Memphis sits just half a game back, with their record of 31-13. At the heart of their strong play has been the continued growth of Ja Morant. The 23-year-old is averaging 27.4 points, 7.9 assists, and 5.6 rebounds. He also is getting the free-throw line at a career-high rate and is passing the ball at a higher level than he has in his career. The Grizzlies are one of the most entertaining teams to watch on a nightly basis. Morant’s stats stand up. And if the Grizzlies can overtake the Nuggets for the top seed, Morant has a real argument. While the strong competition for the award will be difficult for the Murray State product to overtake, his odds are much longer than most would expect.
Steph Curry (+4000):
After a slow start to the season, the Warriors have managed to hang around just enough that the rest of the NBA should be concerned. The defending champions sit at 6th in the Western Conference with a 22-22 record. After Steph Curry dropped off the MVP map due to his shoulder injury, he has made his return for the past four games. He most recently produced a 41-point and seven-rebound performance in which he knocked down six three-pointers in the victory over the Wizards. In the 30 games Curry has played, he is averaging 29.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. The championship hangover seems to be working its way out of the Warriors’ bodies, and a climb up the standings could open the door for Curry. The 3rd and 11th seeds in the West are separated by just 4.5 games, so there could be a rapid climb. Curry will be at the heart of all of this, and he has proven capable of delivering in the past.
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