NBA: Early Look at Top MVP Favorites and Sleepers

We admittedly have a long way to go before we can crown a new NBA MVP. Nobody will argue against Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo being the early favorite, but it’s arguably much too early to hand him the hardware just yet.

Instead, fans and bettors alike probably need to look at every viable option and consider every path to the MVP before finalizing their wagers.

Then again, sometimes it pays to bet hard and do so immediately. After all, had you placed a wager on The Greek Freak well before the season started, you’d have gotten a far better price than you’re getting now.

The same could be said about someone else – say last year’s winner, James Harden. Now doesn’t seem like the time to bet on Harden, but what if he rises to the top by the end of the year? Suddenly betting now would be the exact right thing to do.

Still, there are so many options to look at this year. And that, more than anything, just might tell us that this race is far from over.

2018-19 NBA MVP Odds

As I touched on, Antetokounmpo is the early odds on favorite to win league MVP. His Milwaukee Bucks got off to a scorching hot start and remain one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

Assuming Milwaukee stays near the top of the east and Giannis keeps dropping crazy numbers, he’s a solid bet to stay the course. But that’s not a guarantee.

Bettors need to consider every viable option and judging by the latest NBA MVP odds, there’s quite a few:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Bucks (+175)
  • LeBron James, F, Lakers (+550)
  • Kawhi Leonard, F, Raptors (+550)
  • Anthony Davis, F, Pelicans (+600)
  • Stephen Curry, G, Warriors (+750)
  • James Harden, G, Rockets (+1000)
  • Joel Embiid, C, 76ers (+1000)
  • Kevin Durant, F, Warriors (+1400)
  • Russell Westbrook, G, Thunder (+1800)
  • Damian Lillard, G, Trail Blazers (+5000)
  • Kemba Walker, G, Hornets (+8000)

Everyone on this list deserves to be here and at the very worst has a faint case to be named league MVP. I always like to start things off by pointing out the worthy contenders that aren’t listed, though.

To me, Paul George and Blake Griffin (and perhaps a couple others) all at least should be listed.

If they’re long shots with crazy odds, so be it. But all of those guys are putting up serious points and/or are playing a huge hand in their teams positioning for a playoff spot to get the season rolling.

That being said, I do think SportsInteraction is getting it right here. You can assign NBA MVP odds to every single player in the league, but you’re still only coming back to a handful of guys who can truly vie for this award.

MVP Criteria

Pretty much everyone here has a legit shot at taking home the hardware. Some have better odds than others, quite obviously, but these are just numbers to try to separate players that are actually quite even when you look at their stats.

The main ways to differentiate for me have to be the following:

  • Team Performance & Success
  • Player Stats & Comparison
  • Team MVP and League Importance

No matter how gifted or prolific a player is, they’re not going to win league MVP if their team is terrible. Those stats would ring hollow, so you need to be able to lift your team in some regard or at least carry them.

James Harden certainly did that last year and the year before Russell Westbrook dropped a triple-double while doing the same. LeBron James has been doing it forever and hasn’t won in years, though, so that isn’t the only box bettors will want to check.

The stats need to be there, too. They need to be eye-popping and they need to be multi-dimensional. Just leading the league in scoring won’t cut it. You probably need to be the far and away statistical leader on your own squad and you need to have your hands in more than one statistical category.

Big men need to be racking up points while swatting shots and cleaning the glass, while guards need to pile up buckets while dishing dimes and getting steals. One way or another, you need to put up big numbers and they need to compare favorably to your competition.

The last piece of criteria for MVP is team performance and player importance. You can’t be league MVP if you’re not even the best player on your own team and you probably shouldn’t be the MVP if the league can survive without you.

Anyone who can hit those three points is a viable threat win the NBA MVP. The question, of course, is who does it the best?

Elimination Game

I think this criterion (that I admit isn’t the same as everyone else’s criteria) eliminates Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant – for now.

KD has great numbers, but it’s debatable if he’s even the best player on the Warriors. Even if you can argue he for sure is, he’s still benefiting immensely from all the star talent around him.

Statistically, he’s flat out not the best MVP candidate in Golden State. That’s Stephen Curry, who absolutely hurt the Warriors when he was out with an injury and would negatively impact the league anytime he sits with an ailment.

Durant isn’t an impossible play at +1400, but I don’t see the logic.

Westbrook is very alluring at +1800, but he’s regressed as a scorer, is less efficient than usual and isn’t putting up the same crazy video game numbers we’ve seen over the last two years. I mean, he totally is, but they’re just not what they’ve been.

He’s also no longer the best player on his own team. Only time will tell, but right now Paul George is on fire and in my opinion is the best player in OKC. That’s one big reason why PG-13 being listed amongst the NBA MVP contenders would be nice, but also why Westbrook isn’t as big of a threat as some would normally think.

Top NBA MVP Sleepers

Is there even such a thing as a sleeper on this list? The pickings are slim, but if you want elite betting value and players that actually have a shot at surprising by the end of the year, look no further than Joel Embiid and James Harden.

Everyone else is probably a favorite at this point and it just depends on how you prefer to rank them.

Embiid was absolutely smashing earlier in the year and his season numbers still stack up nicely against everyone else. The only problem is the Sixers haven’t really separated themselves from the pack at all and that’s with added help from the Jimmy Butler trade.

If Embiid was posting monster numbers and getting Philly to a top-three seed just with Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick at his side, then yeah, he might be the favorite. But that isn’t the case anymore.

Not only does Embiid now have extra help, but Butler will also be cutting into his offensive upside. If the 76ers don’t improve and contend for a top-three seed, Embiid’s MVP outlook looks even worse.

Still, Embiid is putting up almost 27 points, 13 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game. He is flat out wrecking at both ends of the court and he’s a massive reason why Philly is a viable title threat. Betting on him to win MVP at his current +1000 price tag isn’t silly at all.

True, but I’m not sure anyone on this entire list offers more value than Harden.

The defending league MVP is right back where he was a year ago, as he’s seemingly risen the Houston Rockets from the dead whilst leading the league in scoring at 31 points per game.

Houston lost two key role players in free agency, Carmelo Anthony was a bust and this team got off to a terrible start. Throw in two different Chris Paul injuries and Harden is doing insane work with a roster of spares.

On top of that, Harden is dishing out over eight dimes per game and ranks fourth in steals per game.

Harden is doing it all at a high level and he’s keeping a less than elite Houston team afloat. If he can keep doing that with CP3 sidelined and the Rockets get back to being a title contender under his watch, a repeat as league MVP may be in order.

The path is already set for Harden to do this. At +1000, bettors need to lend him a long, lustful cursory glance.

Who Will Win MVP?

I note the value on this list and if I’m placing bets, I absolutely am looking at 1-2 sleepers I love and throwing some cash down. But when it comes to who is going to win, I’ll probably only go hard after 1-2 other options.

This is for early season betting, too. Once we really get into the thick of things and the picture is clearer, you should have one favorite you’re targeting and perhaps one more bet as a value sleeper. To me, though, the value is attackable right now and you should already start to have a good idea of who your favorite is.

Harden is the elite value to go after at the moment, while LeBron James (+550) is the top contender I’d be most willing to back for NBA MVP right now.

Anthony Davis is crushing it, but his Pelicans are currently in last place in the Southwest Division. That division seems to change by the day, but Davis isn’t leading the league in scoring like Harden, no elevating his team like a few other players do.

Kawhi Leonard offers nice value at +550, but Toronto has won some impressive games with him on the sidelines this year. They also were the best team in the east before he got here. The only way he secures the MVP is if they get to and/or win the Finals.

Stephen Curry will eventually thrust himself back into this race as a more realistic contender, but some time off due to injuries has sapped the memory of how dominant he was to start the year. If he can continue to be that guy, you can toss some cash on him at +750. Unfortunately, he suffers the same reality as KD.

Please Note:

I see that everyone is enthralled with the high-level versatility of The Greek Freak and the Bucks are in contention for the best record in The Association. I’m just not sure it will last. Antetokounmpo is a fantastic player, but he doesn’t have a reliable jumper and he’s not alone in Milwaukee. He’s got a good team around him, yet the Bucks are having trouble fending off the Pacers in the Central Division.

These are all slight knocks, but they’re knocks nonetheless. LeBron James, meanwhile, knowingly moved to the Western Conference. He accepted the stiff challenge of turning a bad Lakers team back into a playoff threat.

Through just 31 games (at the time of this writing), James is averaging 28 points per game and making a team of young, inexperienced players better. They already have 18 wins after winning 35 all of last year and they stand in as the fourth best team in the conference.

James is doing what he did in Cleveland, but he’s doing it in a much more difficult conference. Depending on where this season takes him and the Lakers, he may be an incredibly obvious MVP favorite in a matter of months.

I’m jumping all over James at this cool +550 price, especially since he was my favorite before the season started.

My Pick