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Handicapping the 2019-20 NBA MVP Award


The NBA MVP award is arguably the most important individual honor in all of American sports. Each year, the race for the crown is obsessed over by fans and pundits alike. It is also a favorite future bet for many NBA bettors. Let’s take a break from our divisional previews and look at some preseason MVP future odds. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo (+270 to win NBA MVP) 

Unsurprisingly, the shortest odds on the board go to the defending NBA MVP. Despite solid competition from Houston Rockets superstar James Harden, the combination of Giannis’ incredible improvement, overwhelming numbers, and maybe some Harden voter fatigue, The Greek Freak became the youngest MVP winner since Derrick Rose took home the award at only 22 years old. Giannis himself is only 24, and as insane as it seems, he may only be scratching the surfaceMost frighteningly for the rest of the league, one area it seems Antetokounmpo can improve is behind the arc. He shot a mere 25.6% from three last season (on 2.8 attempts). It may not happen this year, but if he can even become a halfway decent long-distance shooter, he will be undeniable.  

More MVP’s are in Giannis’ future, but this number is low, and voters may be more enraptured by another narrative this season. That said, betting against a back-to-back MVP campaign from Antetokounmpo is a dangerous game. There’s every chance this young star gets even better, and his numbers may be simply too much to ignore. 

Stephen Curry (+500) 

Golden State’s two-time league MVP comes in as the second favorite. While Curry has continued to put up historically great offensive seasons since his last MVP award in 2016, the Warrior’s addition of Kevin Durant made any Warrior winning MVP almost impossible. Durant has left to Brooklyn, but what makes Curry’s candidacy particularly intriguing is that he will also be without fellow Smash Brother Klay Thompson for most, if not all, of the regular season. This is uncharted territory for Steph Curry the Superstar. Frankly, we’ve never seen a shooter of his capability with an offense almost entirely to himself. Now, that’s partly because there’s never been a shooter of his capability, but still.  

Assuming Curry’s incredible efficiency basically holds up, his ability to put up video-game numbers will come down to usage. Last season, even with Durant and Thompson in tow, Curry still finished 13th in the league in Usage Rate at 30.4%. In his most recent MVP campaign, Curry was second league-wide, at 32.6%. That number, along with the highest PER since 1991 and the single-season record for three-pointers made were produced within the unselfish offense of the breathtaking 73-9 Warriors team. What happens next is anyone’s guess. Sure, Curry may find it more difficult to feast on open looks and he is sharing a backcourt with a ball-hungry DAngelo Russell, so those factors may mitigate Curry’s ceiling. But one would imagine Russell will be taking a clear secondary role to Steph, and the new addition’s ability to get to the rim, space the floor, and play effective pick-and-roll should all help Curry get what he wants. 

Two other factors that make a Curry MVP future appealing are motivation and narrative. An MVP-caliber season would be monumental for a man who probably feels that he had to take something of a backseat in the circus that became the Warriors in the Durant years. Combine that with Thompson’s injury, and the excruciating Finals defeat to the Toronto Raptors, and you’ve got a recipe for a superstar shooting season the likes of which we’ve never seen. What is certain to motivate Curry is also what will build the sort of narrative voters often look for. A man-on-a-mission, hellbent on maintaining the Warriors’ dynasty, holding down the fort until his brother-in-arms returns, reminding the entire basketball world exactly who Stephen Curry is. If the Warriors manage to be a 50-win team, there will be a lot of people pushing the former MVP back to the top of the pile. 

Nikola Jokic (+1100) 

Obviously, players like Harden, Lebron, Davis, Kawhi, and Embiid all deserve consideration. But out of those listed with second tier prices (+750 to +1600), Jokic stands out. First, while Jamal Murray is a player of great potential, he’s not at the level and stature of the teammates of the stars listed above. Each one of them are paired with a likewise great player, while Jokic remains the absolute focal point of everything the Denver Nuggets want to do.  

Last season, Jokic took his place among the game’s very best. Watching him is an absolute joy. His control of the game, his vision, his touch, all of it in this rather strange and lumbering big man body that belies the grace with which he plays. For Jokic to really contend for the MVP, he’d likely have to see a substantial uptick in his overall usage numbers. Despite only ranking 29th in the NBA on that score, he managed to put up 20.1 ppg, 10.8 rpg, and 7.3 apg (sixth in the NBA)He also tied for fourth in Player Efficiency Rating (PER). While Jokic had for a little while intimated at the type of player he has become, last season was the first real glimpse at something approaching a final form. It’s not inconceivable to think he could reach even greater heights this season. With the Nuggets promising to compete for the top seed out westJokic could be a nice value. 

Karl-Anthony Towns (+5000) 

Among the long shots, one could certainly make an argument for Ben Simmons (also +5000), especially if the three-point shot he hit in a recent preseason game, which seemed to cause a ticker tape parade in Philadelphia, is a sign of things to come. Strictly from a productivity perspective, however, Towns warrants a closer lookThe Minnesota Timberwolves center had an awful start to the 2018-2019, and much of the blame for that can be given to the dysfunction of the team in the short-lived Jimmy Butler era. When Jimmy was there to start the year, KAT averaged 19.9 ppg. In the 64 games Towns played without Butler, he jumped to 25.3 ppg. Despite the slow start, Towns tied Jokic for fourth in PER and moved up to 21st in Usage% by the end of the year.  

Of course, the line on Towns isn’t where it is because of his lack of numbers. He’s lost in an NBA wilderness known as Minnesota. And, while being on a losing team will never lead to an MVP trophy, the bar is lower for what counts as exceeded expectations. Remember, this is a Wolves team, though mightily flawed, that is only a season removed from a playoff berth. Unlikely as it seems, if Towns wills his team back into playoff contention, it will no doubt be on the back of an incredible season. Considering last season’s post-Butler boom, something like 26 ppg13 rpg, and 4 apg with a top 5 finish in Blocks is well within reason. You could do much worse at 50/1.