Traditionally there are 2 schools of thought on the National Basketball Association’s annual MVP award. Some players and coaches have always felt that the honor should go to the best player on the best team. Others have argued for a “fairness” system in which even a cager on a .500-or-worse club should win Most Valuable Player if he is indeed holding up the world on his own for the franchise.
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors would be an obvious choice as “best player on the best team.” Curry’s 2018-19 numbers are somewhat modest in places, since he’s part of an ensemble cast of All-Stars in Oakland’s starting 5. But look around the edges and the brilliance is still there – Curry is dishing out 6.6 assists and grabbing almost 5 rebounds per game, while scoring 23+ points an outing and hitting almost 44% from downtown. The Warriors are strong betting favorites to win the NBA Finals.
LeBron James – Curry’s old nemesis – could pitch himself as “Atlas” holding up the L.A. Lakers by himself. James is averaging 27+ points and even more assists than Curry. But his Lakers are in 11th place in the Western Conference…not a great way to inspire an MVP buzz.
The sportswriters who pick the Most Valuable Player these days often try to split the difference between the 2 selection strategies. NBA betting aficionados must try to guess what they’re thinking.
Meanwhile the favorites are all as you might expect – world-class performers on excellent clubs which have not stacked their lineups quite as much as Golden State has. That means that while Curry may take his Warriors to the mountaintop once again, the athletes who are single-handedly dominating games night-in and night-out play for the Bucks, Rockets, and Thunder.
Here’s a closer view of 5 of the candidates and their current futures odds at MyBookie.
2018-19 National Basketball Association MVP Candidates and Odds
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks ((-175 Odds-to-Win 2018-19 MVP at MyBookie)
Antetokounmpo is having his best statistical season to date with averages of 27 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. His impact as a leader has reverberated across the Milwaukee organization, and the Bucks are sitting with the NBA’s best record at 51-17.
The “Greek Freak” would be an old-fashioned MVP choice in the sense that Milwaukee is leading the league, even if Las Vegas handicappers and the sports-writing community agree that Golden State is still the best team in the NBA.
Antetokounmpo was consistently tabbed as being one of the next breakout stars of the league, but it took until 2018-19 for the 6’11” power forward to really take off as a superstar. A top-20 ranking in scoring, rebounds, assists, blocks, and field-goal percentage has made the Wisconsin dynamo the most versatile threat in the game, offensively and defensively.
Thanks largely to the big man’s efforts, the team ranks 2nd in scoring with 117.6 points and tops the league in field-goal defense, holding opponents to a paltry 43.4 percent.
The odds-on MVP favorite’s versatility was on full display in a 98-97 victory over Paul George’s Boston Celtics on February 21st. A stellar 30-point, 13-rebound, and 6-assist double-double paved a path as the Bucks secured a win in the final seconds.
“Oh, Giannis!” indeed.
James Harden, Houston Rockets (+130)
The reigning MVP has had another phenomenal season despite the Rockets win-loss record not being quite up to sky-high expectations. Harden’s running mate, point guard Chris Paul, and big man Clint Capela have each missed action due to injury and much of the grunt work has fallen on the imposing shoulders of Harden.
He’s not a big fan of grunt work, except when driving down low and hitting the glass.
The Rockets have managed to claw their way to a division-lead and currently hold 3rd place in the Western Conference standings at 42-25, just 3.5 games from homecourt advantage.
Harden led the league in scoring with an average of 30.4 points, guided the Rockets to the league’s best regular season record at 65-17, and was a single win away from an NBA Finals appearance in 2017-18. But from a personal standpoint, his numbers have exploded this season.
In addition to the breathtaking 30+ point-scoring streak, the 29-year-old Harden has dominated the NBA’s 2018-19 campaign with a 36.2 scoring average. A top-10 ranking in assists (7.5) and a league 2nd-best in steals (2.14) have further propelled his quest for a 2nd straight MVP award.
Harden was outstanding in a 107-95 road victory against Toronto on March 5th. A 35-point outburst and a perfect 8-8 from the charity stripe helped the Rockets pull away from the Eastern Conference contenders.
The announcer doesn’t “flow” too well over the rap beat on this highlight reel, but I think someone told him to ignore the tune-age.
Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder (+900)
George has surged late in the season and is putting up some of the best numbers of his career.
Although teammate Russell Westbrook has garnered much of the praise since the pair joined forces in OKC last season, the buzz is shifting toward George’s ability on both ends of the floor. His 28.2 point, 4.2 assist, and 8.2 rebound average has the Thunder sitting at 41-26 and tied for 4th in a tight Western Conference race.
The 28-year-old’s leaps and bounds have earned him consideration as a legitimate MVP candidate. Not only is George the 2nd-leading scorer in the NBA, but he shown tenacious defensive capabilities by leading the league in steals. George has further demonstrated his commitment to defense by leading the league in loose balls-recovered and currently tying for a league-high in deflections. His tremendous efficiency helped the Thunder score victories in 11 out of 12 contests headed into the All-Star break earlier this season, including wins over the Sixers, Trail Blazers, Bucks, and Rockets.
Paul George mesmerized the basketball community with a jaw-dropping 47 point, 12 rebound, and 10 assist triple-double in a 120-11 victory against Portland.
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (+6600)
A much-hyped debut season for LeBron has not produced the results that fans in the City of Angels had hoped for. The team has struggled to a 31-36 record and playoff hopes appear bleak at 6.5 games behind the cut line.
King James has not faded, however. He’s still playing ball like one of the all-time greats, with team leading averages of 27.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 8.0 assists. He’s top 5 in the league in several categories.
But the Lakers’ season was derailed when James suffered a groin injury in a pyrrhic 101 win over the Warriors on Christmas Day. 17 consecutive absences for the King led the Lakers to 6-11 and the team has not been able to turn the tide since that ugly slump.
Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors (+6600)
Leonard may be tied-in-price with LeBron as a long-shot futures betting option at MyBookie, but he’s arguably making a bigger impact with his club. Following a tumultuous farewell season with the Spurs a year ago, Leonard has produced career-highs in points and rebounds.
The All-Star, former NBA Finals MVP, and 2-time Defensive Player of the Year has guided the Toronto Raptors to the league’s 2nd-best record at 48-20.
Leonard has also sat-out close to 20 games during the season, but it has mostly been attributed to keeping his legs fresh to prevent fatigue. The style of careful body-management has allowed Leonard to be more aggressive attacking the rim. He’s shooting a career-high 7.4 free throws per game, which is a deadly number when coupled with his accuracy from the field and stripe.
No doubt The Claw is an almost sneaky-great asset for any franchise, like Kevin McHale or Scottie Pippen in days of yore. But I’m not sure the voting sportswriters are going to look for “sneaky.” I’m also not sure the answer is that “they value offense and hype over efficiency” or any of that.
Rather, the gambler’s best chance for success in this market is to follow – and try to predict – the headlines over the final stretch of the NBA’s season.
Picking an NBA MVP Futures Bet: Look for Splashes, Not Just Buckets
Handicapping the 2020 election can help teach Americans how mainstream news is produced, and about what motivates the bad vinegar behind grudges and rivalries in the media. It should also illustrate that public opinion is molded in big, broad strokes, and the media’s opinion along with it.
NBA writers can say that they dive deeply into the numbers when making an MVP pick. Maybe some of them do, but the choice in 2019 is going to have more to do with headlines than numbers.
Antetokounmpo and Harden may be the current near-prohibitive favorites, but their teams could conceivably choose to coast to the finish line and prepare for the playoffs.
Suppose LeBron and the Lakers made some miracle run to the playoffs over the final weeks of the regular season? That’s not going to happen, but if it did, James would have to get serious consideration for Most Valuable Player. In that situation, there would be 99% agreement that it was all due to his individual performances on the court and his leadership off of it.
Even a pipe dream can bring home the point. A current underdog in the MVP race could become a favorite if his club – not just his stat line – makes a meteoric charge in the last handful of tip-offs.
I’m liking Paul George, whose team has shown rapid improvement already, and isn’t afraid of daunting opponents and road trips. George’s payoff line is so much sweeter than the Freak’s or Harden’s (and it’s a little demoralizing to cheer for slump-and-turn defenders like Harden to win MVP awards anyway) that he’s well worth the gamble at (+900).