2021-22 NBA MVP Odds, Betting Trends, and Picks
After a wild two years for the NBA, the league is back on their normal calendar for the upcoming 2021-22 season. Last season, Nikola Jokic was able to ultimately seal his MVP case by playing in all 72 regular season games, while countless other NBA superstars who had a similar case on a per-game basis missed a bunch of time.
Prior to 2020, Jokic’s MVP odds were somewhere in the +2500-3000 range. So who can be this year’s Jokic, if anyone? Or was last year such an anomaly, that we should put more of our focus on the favorites? Let’s dive in and see what we can find!
Looking Back: NBA MVP Trends
For awards like this, it is always important to analyze previous winners so we know what NBA bettors should be looking for. What do voters value? Win/loss record? Stats? Games played? Do they care at all about defense?
The very first thing that jumps out to me is this: to be an MVP, your team better be a contender heading into the playoffs. Starting with the most recent and working our way back, here are some relevant numbers for the last several MVPs.
- 2020-21, Nikola Jokic: 47-25 (#3 seed; 5 games behind #1 seed)
- 2019-20, Giannis Antetokounmpo: 56-17 (#1 seed; best record in the league)
- 2018-19, Giannis Antetokounmpo: 60-22 (#1 seed; best record in the league)
- 2017-18, James Harden: 65-17 (#1 seed; best record in the league)
- 2016-17, Russell Westbrook: 47-35 (#6 seed; 20 games behind #1 seed)
- 2015-16, Stephen Curry: 73-9 (#1 seed; best record in the league)
- 2014-15, Stephen Curry: 67-15 (#1 seed; best record in the league)
We see one clear outlier in the past seven seasons (2016-17), which was when Russell Westbrook became just the second player in league history (Oscar Robertson, 1962) to average a triple-double. Since that coincided with OKC’s first season without Kevin Durant, the hype on what Westbrook was doing catapulted him to the MVP over James Harden. Since his MVP 2016-17 season, Westbrook has since averaged a triple-double in three other seasons. Here is where he finished in the voting each time:
- 2017-18: 5th
- 2018-19: 10th
- 2020-21: 11th
Clearly, stats only get you so far these days. Heck, Jokic was the only non-#1 seed (besides Westbrook, of course) to win it in the past seven years.
And that is the perfect segue into the next thing that should be at the top of our list: games played.
Looking back to last season, there were actually plenty of smart people out there that thought Joel Embiid was more valuable to his team than Jokic was to his, especially when factoring in defense. But those same people will admit they wouldn’t have voted for Embiid for MVP. Why? Embiid played in just 51 of 72 games, while Jokic played in all 72. I’m guessing I could find similar examples in the past few years if I wanted to as well.
A smart person (I’m guessing they were smart, at least) once said, “The best ability is availability.” Availability matters for MVPs too. You aren’t valuable to your team if you aren’t playing in games.
And finally, there are two very small but important things to touch on. One is obvious, the other perhaps not so much.
The first is that stats obviously matter…but only to a certain extent. For example, Bradley Beal (31.3) finished a hair behind Stephen Curry (32.0) last season for the most points per game in the league. Yet did Beal finish within the Top 15 vote-getters for MVP? No, no he did not.
The last thing to note is that there is such a thing as “voter fatigue”. What that means is, voters don’t want to vote for the same player year after year after year. Since the MVP became an award back in the 1950’s, only three players have won it three times in a row. Two of them were in the 1960’s (Bill Russell & Wilt Chamberlain), and the other was Larry Bird in the mid 80’s. Giannis my friend, you were damn near drawing dead this season no matter what you did!
Now the three-times-in-a-row thing obviously doesn’t apply to Jokic, but I do think there will always be voter fatigue on some level. So for Jokic to win it again this season, he will most likely need to take yet another leap in his performance (which he might be able to do since Jamal Murray will be out for a while)…but the Nuggets might need to as well. The latter will probably be a little more difficult.
So with all of that being said, who is standing out as a potential MVP for the 2021-22 season? Is there anyone who stands out as this year’s Jokic? Well, let’s go ahead and look!
2021-22 NBA MVP Odds
As of Monday, August 16th, there are nine players at BetMGM that have odds below +2000 to win MVP this season.
- Luka Doncic (+400)
- Joel Embiid (+700)
- Kevin Durant (+700)
- Giannis Antetokounmpo (+800)
- Stephen Curry (+900)
- Damian Lillard (+1100)
- LeBron James (+1400)
- Nikola Jokic (+1600)
- Trae Young (+1600)
The favorite, Luka Doncic, also just so happened to be the favorite this time a year ago. Luka had a great third season, there is no questioning that. But his numbers were actually slightly down from his second season, and the Mavs were only able to finish as the #5 seed in the Western Conference, five games behind Jokic’s Denver Nuggets.
What I find interesting about looking at Luka’s odds ahead of the 2021-22 season is that BetMGM has the Mavs at +1400 to come out of the Western Conference, with six other teams —Lakers, Warriors, Suns, Clippers, Jazz, Nuggets—in front of them. For Luka to win MVP, I really think the Mavs need to finish in the top two or three in the West, while Luka equals or bests his 2019-20 season. Considering he is only 22 years old, I have no doubt that he can make a huge leap. I do wonder, however, if he has the supporting cast capable of vaulting this team into the upper echelon of the West.
If I were forced to make a few cuts from this list, I’d probably start with Damian Lillard and Trae Young. In regards to Trae, I don’t doubt that he is capable of making another leap this season either, especially after how well he performed in the playoffs. However, I think the East is just slightly too top-heavy for him to be able to bump the Hawks into those top three or four teams. And as we have already laid out, your team’s record does matter.
I have similar thoughts with Lillard. If he stays in Portland, that team is just really limited in what they can do to improve the roster. Even if the often rumored Ben Simmons for CJ McCollum trade happens, does that even improve Portland’s outlook all that much? As of now, they are at +2,500 to come out of the West, which puts them eighth behind Dallas.
And if Dame ultimately gets traded, you’d have to think it is going to be to a contending team. A contending team would entail there being an NBA superstar or two already on the roster, which would theoretically mean that Dame would see a decline in his statistics. Honestly, it’s hard for me to see a path to Dame having a real MVP candidacy this season.
The other seven guys on the list though check most/all of the boxes I’m looking for, with Luka and Jokic being on the fringe based on the middling outlooks for their respective teams. Both of those two guys are such good contributors across the board (i.e. points, rebounds, and assists), that they probably have a little more leeway when it comes to that whole “their team must be really good” thing.
NBA MVP Predictions – a Favorite and a Longshot
We’ll start with the Favorite first, where I really, really want to write about Joel Embiid. As noted above, he was arguably the per-minute / per-game MVP last season. But that’s just it: he never plays in enough games to the point that the voters give him serious consideration for that top spot.
Despite finishing 2nd in the MVP voting last year, Embiid received exactly one 1st place vote. He got plenty of 2nd place and 3rd place votes (the accumulation of which landed him 2nd overall), but only one voter thought he was worthy of being the MVP of the league since he only played in 51 of 72 games. I can’t say I disagree either, and that has pretty much been symbolic of Embiid’s NBA career to this point (even dating back to him not winning Rookie of the Year for the exact same reason).
So who is my Favorite of choice? Well, I think I am going to roll with Stephen Curry! When zooming out, I think Curry checks all of the boxes I am looking for.
The stats should certainly be there, as he is coming off of the highest points-per-game average of his career (32.0), which also led the entire league. The naysayers will note that Klay Thompson didn’t play last year. My response to that would be, sure, maybe it lowers Steph’s average by a point or two, but it almost certainly will help his efficiency, assists, and perhaps most importantly of all, the Warriors win column.
That win column could be the important factor, as oddsmakers have Golden State just behind the Lakers as Western Conference favorites. Coming off of two down seasons, the Warriors are as “win-now” as they will ever be. Steph is 33 years old, while Klay and Draymond are 31. Their window to grab another championship or two with these guys as their Big Three is much, much smaller than it was back in their dynasty days. And with their recent high draft picks (James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody), they have the assets available if they want to go after another big start in the trade market.
And the last thing to note regarding Curry is you probably have to admit, whether you are a Steph lover or a Steph hater, that the media would eat this narrative up.
A dynasty for five years—winning three titles and losing in the Finals the other two years.
Team goes through some hard times with injuries, starting in the actual Finals itself that was the official end of the dynasty and the start of the downslide.
Team finishes with the worst record in the league in the first season after the dynasty is over.
Team starts clawing back to being competitive last season, squeaking into the play-in tournament before bowing out to an upstart Grizzlies team.
Oh, and one more thing, the media absolutely loooooooves them some Chef Curry! The same media that, ya know, votes on who wins MVP.
The best odds for Curry to win MVP? +900 at BetMGM.
As for my Longshot? Well, I see plenty of big names at +2500 or higher on BetMGM that I could certainly talk myself into, such as James Harden (+2500), Anthony Davis (+2500), and Kyrie Irving (+4000). But there are enough injury concerns—not to mention elite teammates that could result in subpar stat lines (compared to other stars, that is)—that I think I prefer to look elsewhere.
So, can I interest anybody in some Paul George at +4000?
Believe me when I say that I am not George’s biggest fan, so (I think) it says a lot that I am mentioning him here. Even with the uncertainty surrounding Kawhi Leonard and his (partially) torn ACL, oddsmakers still have the Clippers as a top four team in the West. And we know from playing so much NBA DFS that George sees a huge boost in his production when he plays without Kawhi.
This Clippers team, led by George himself, showed in last year’s playoffs that they weren’t just Kawhi Leonard and a supporting cast. Kawhi missed the remainder of the playoffs starting with Game 5 of the Utah series (Western Conference Semifinals). All George and the Clippers did was win those last two games of the Utah series, sans Kawhi, with one of those being on the road in Utah (Game 5). What did George do in that game? Oh, he just put up 37 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block…nbd really. The Clippers of course ultimately bowed out in six games to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals, but they clearly showed that they can still be an elite team without Kawhi.
For George to pull this off, he needs to put up his normal “without Kawhi” production while also playing in the majority of the Clippers’ games. The latter is probably the biggest question mark, as he has shown some durability concerns the past two seasons after it never really being a problem earlier in his career (notwithstanding the freak leg injury several years ago). And with even more responsibility that is going to be put on his shoulders without Kawhi (for however long that may be), bringing his A game approximately every other night is not going to be easy.
In the end though, I don’t think it is at all outlandish to say that George could have a Jokic-like season this year. If he is able, without Kawhi, to keep the Clippers as a top 3 team in the West (like Jokic did last year), while seeing meaningful increases in his stats, aren’t we kind of looking at the same thing here? I certainly think so.
I’m sure it seems a little silly when looking at it now. Paul George to win MVP? No way! But remember, Nikola Jokic was in the +2500-3000 range prior to last season. It probably seemed a little silly at the time to think he’d go on to win MVP. But when Jokic was announced as the winner on June 8th? Didn’t seem so silly then.
Image Credit: Imagn