2021 NBA MVP Odds: Fades and Best Bets at Online Sportsbooks
Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to Wednesday’s trade between the Washington Wizards and Houston Rockets that sent Russell Westbrook to D.C in exchange for John Wall and a first-round pick.
While I can’t promise this will be the most valuable piece (see what I did there? MVP? Ugh, nevermind…) that you read on the subject, I am going to give it a Stephen Curry 2015-16 type of effort. For those that don’t know, Curry, in that specific season, was the only player in league history to win the NBA MVP award unanimously. And since at least half of you are already considering closing the tab on your browser after that terrible dad joke I led with, I better jump right into things now!
I think a good starting place when looking for winning NBA MVP bets is to first look at the recent winners of this award to see if we can identify any recent betting trends to shine light on where value might be at online sportsbooks. And sure enough, when I went back and looked at the list, one immediate thing jumped out at me. Below, I am going to list seven different percentages; see if you can guess what they reflect before continuing on with the rest of the article:
Do you have your guesses in? Are all pencils down? In chronological order (starting with the 2013-2014 season), those are the winning percentages of the MVP’s team the past seven seasons.
I am sure you see one clear outlier in there, and that is the 2016-17 MVP season for Russell Westbrook. Of course, that was the season in which he averaged 31.6 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game, and 10.4 assists per game, which just so happened to be the first time a player averaged a triple-double since Oscar Robertson in 1962. So even though the Thunder only had a 47-35 record, voters jumped all over the historical aspect of Westbrook’s accomplishment.
(Tangent: The funny part is how quickly that mystique faded away. Russ also averaged a triple-double the next two seasons, with the Thunder finishing with a similar record in both seasons too (48-34; 49-33). Russ finished fifth in the MVP voting in ’17-18 and all the way down at 10th in ’18-19!)
So the one clear trend I see here is, unless a player is going to do something of historical proportions from a statistical perspective, they darn sure better be on an extremely successful regular season team.
2021 NBA MVP Odds at Online Sportsbooks
2021 NBA MVP Candidates to Fade
When looking at 2021 MVP odds, I can’t eliminate as many candidates as I presumed I’d be able to when I first caught the trend. That being said, there is one player that is going to get left out pretty easily, and he just so happens to be quite high on the list of favorites. That guy is Bradley Beal for the Washington Wizards.
Quite frankly, I just don’t see a realistic path to Beal winning MVP award this season. He averaged the second most points per game in the league last season (30.5) and didn’t even log a single MVP vote! No one even threw him a bone with a fifth place vote. So statistically, I don’t really see what else he can do. And if the Wizards somehow drastically overachieve, you’d have to think Wall has a big say in that. Even if Beal remains the alpha on this team in that scenario, the stats probably come down a little and Wall probably gets enough credit to take away some glamour from Beal.
The only path I see to Beal winning MVP is if Wall looks like a shell of himself all year while Beal puts up Harden-like numbers en route to leading the Wizards to a top-four seed in the East. Maybe if he was something like +2000 I’d have a sliver of interest, but I see absolutely no reason to take him at his current betting odds; he is an easy cross-off for me.
Is there anyone else we can cross off?
Well, maybe not in ink like we did with Beal but we might be able to find some guys that we can cross off with a pencil. Using similar logic as above, I can’t say I love James Harden to win MVP this season since I expect the Rockets to take a step back as a team overall.
As soon as Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni left Houston this past offseason, the Rockets have headed on a direct path towards Dysfunction City. They shipped Robert Covington to Portland and also lost Jeff Green and Austin Rivers in free agency. On top of that, Harden and Russell Westbrook have already let it be known they want to be traded. The only positive this offseason was that they did pick up a great center for their system in Christian Wood.
But what kind of system will they run in Houston under a new head coach (Stephen Silas) and GM (Rafael Stone)? Is it going to be the system Morey/D’Antoni advocated for, that resulted in the absurd Harden stat lines we have become accustomed to season after season? Or is Silas going to change things around a bit? Since Silas was with the Dallas Mavericks the past two seasons as an assistant coach (which coincided with the first two seasons for Luka Doncic), I am going to guess we see a somewhat similar style of ball-dominance out of Harden. But will it result in similar stats and/or a bunch of wins? That remains to be seen.
The path to Harden winning MVP this season is him first relenting on his trade demands (I think it would help the narrative if he “wants to be there”) and then posting similar numbers to what he has done previously while leading Houston to a top seed in the West. Remember, Harden won his MVP three seasons ago when his 30.4 points and 8.8 assists per game were the main reason the Rockets finished 65-17 and 1st in the Western Conference. His points per game went up the past two seasons (and assists slightly down), but the Rockets finished fourth in the West both times.
Since I have a hard time picturing Harden improving statistically, his MVP chances lie in the hands of how many games the Rockets can win. And with all of the sudden dysfunction and newness in this organization, I’m convinced they take a step back in 2021. I will say this, though: oddsmakers are certainly doing what they can to lure bettors in. Being able to get +1600 for a guy who averaged 34 points per game last season while finishing third in the MVP voting is quite appealing. I am still going to pass for all of the reasons listed above, and I think we can find similar MVP odds on other players who are more likely to win the award.
What to do with Giannis?
Coming off back-to-back MVP seasons, Giannis is the favorite to win the award once again. Considering how dominant he is in the regular season—and the fact that he shows meaningful improvement in his game each and every season—I’d be a fool to tell you not to bet on him to defend his trophy. So instead, let me make the case for why he won’t win MVP this time. And for that, I got two words for ya! (No, not those two words DX fans)
Only three players ever have won the MVP award three years in a row. Two of them (Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain) were all the way back in the ’60’s, and the most recent one (Larry Bird) was in the mid ’80’s. Think about that for a second. Michael freakin’ Jordan and LeBron freakin’ James have never won the MVP award three seasons in a row. If those guys can’t do it, what are the odds Giannis can? Well, oddsmakers are saying roughly +450, which gives him an implied probability of 18.2%.
I fully expect Giannis to have another magnificent statistical regular season and the Bucks to sit at or near the top of the East when the regular season ends. But I also expect the voters to actively look for reasons to vote for someone else this year. And don’t doubt that the the Bucks’ flameouts in the past two playoffs aren’t sitting in the back of voters’ minds, even if it technically has nothing to do with this year’s award.
2021 NBA MVP Award Best Bets
Aside from those two, I have my eyes on the odds for a former MVP and one of the brightest young stars in the league.
Forward, Brooklyn Nets
Best odds: +1800 at BetMGM (Now +1200)
Let’s address the elephant in the room first. KD is coming off of tearing his Achilles, which means the last real NBA game he played was all the way back on June 10, 2019. And that was only for 12 minutes. If you recall, a calf injury kept him out of the previous nine playoff games leading up to the game he tore his Achilles. So that would take it back to May 8, 2019 if you look at it through that lens.
Fortunately for Durant, he has had extra time to heal since the NBA season is starting later than normal. In fact, he was close enough to being healthy that this past summer that it was rumored that he’d make his Nets debut in the Orlando bubble.
All of the reports I hear/read are that KD looks absolutely phenomenal in his workouts and pickup games. Since that is all hearsay, there is no point in linking you to it. However, there are enough people who are extremely plugged into the league saying this that I absolutely believe it.
And when it comes down to it, KD checks all the boxes. To begin with, he is one of the best basketball players in the world. Dating back to the 2011-12 season, here are the names of the players who have won the NBA MVP award :
You basically need to be the elite of the elite to win this award, and KD is certainly in that upper echelon of players.
Furthermore, we obviously know that he has the skills to put up the stats to make him MVP-worthy. Even though he said it was actually his mom who should have won MVP, it was KD’s 32 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game that won him the MVP in 2013-14.
And now that Durant is in the Eastern Conference, there’s clearly a path for KD and the Nets to meet the pre-requisite of posting a lofty winning percentage during the regular season. If KD, Kyrie Irving, and new head coach Steve Nash can figure out this new situation, I can easily see them finishing with a top record in the East. Maybe I’m an optimist, but doesn’t the following scenario sound pretty plausibe?
KD immediately looks like the KD of old and establishes himself as the alpha on this team. After sharing the limelight on the Warriors for three seasons, he comes out to prove that he is one of the most dominant players/scorers the game has ever seen. His resurgence—while surrounded by a pretty deep roster—catapults the Nets to the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Assuming the stats follow, that scenario would put him squarely in the MVP conversation at the season’s end. Personally, I don’t think this is outlandish, far-fetched speculation. And there is one last box that this would all check too: the narrative!
Can you imagine the glowing media coverage that KD and the Nets would get if he returns with MVP-like dominance while the Nets win a bunch of games? We all love a good comeback story, even if that player was already one of the best in the world before an injury knocked him out. If things fall right, I absolutely see KD making another run at the throne this season.
There are obviously things working against him, too. Of course, coming back from that Achilles injury is one of them, as we just won’t know what he truly looks like until we see him on the court. And the other possible hurdle is having to share the court (and ball) with Irving. Will Kyrie be okay ceding some of the spotlight to KD? You never quite know with that guy.
But all things considered, getting Durant +1800 to win MVP is one of my favorite 2021 NBA futures bets, period. Now we just have to wait and see what he looks like when the season tips off on Dec. 22.
Guard, Dallas Mavericks
Best odds: +450 at PointsBet
Luka is right behind Giannis in terms of being the favorite for the 2021 MVP award when we look at the odds. And for reasons listed above, that makes Luka the actual favorite in my eyes.
What he just did in his second season — as a 21-year-old!!!(I can’t put enough exclamation points there honestly) — is pretty much unheard of. Even crazier is how much improvement he showed from his rookie season to his second.
- 2018-19: 32.2 minutes per game, 21.2 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game, 6.0 assists per game, 42.7% FG%, 32.7% 3P%, 71.3% FT%
- 2019-20: 33.6 minutes per game, 28.8 points per game, 9.4 rebounds per game, 8.8 assists per game, 46.3% FG%, 31.6% 3P%, 75.8% FT%
At such a young age, Luka still has plenty of years left in his “improvement” stage. I mean, what in the heck is this next jump going to look like!?
The one thing that dipped this past season was his three-point percentage. With him taking so many difficult step-backs, it’s not hard to see why. If he can improve that number just a tad, we probably see him cross the 30 points per game threshold in his third season in the NBA. I love that his free throw percentage went up last year, as that is usually a good indicator of what kind of shooter someone is going to be.
What is going to help Luka even more early on in the season from a stats perspective is that Kristaps Porzingis will be out with that knee injury. According to Tim MacMahon, Zinger won’t be cleared for on-court activity until January 1st. That is on-court activity; not an actual game. It’s likely several more weeks before he hits the court for an actual game.
With Porzingis off the court last season, Luka put up per-36 numbers of 32.78 points, 10.78 rebounds, and 9.12 assists. So if he did that last season in those 892 minutes, what is he going to do this season if we assume some more improvement in the offseason? And the dude is 21 years old still! It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Mavs inch his minutes up early in their schedule to help keep the Mavs afloat and bide time for Porzingis’s return.
And that last part right is definitely the path to Luka NOT winning the award. Can the Mavs put together a good enough season to make voters want to pick Luka and his (presumably) lofty statistics? After finishing 33-49 in Luka’s rookie season, the Mavericks shot up to 7th in the Western Conference last year with a 43-32 record.
Can they keep that kind of trajectory this year in such a difficult conference and without their other star for a good chunk of their schedule? If they plateau, exactly what kind of line does Luka have to post to get serious MVP consideration? I think it’d have to be at least a triple-double, similar to Westbrook’s MVP season back in 2016-17. Regardless, these are the questions I’m asking myself when looking at his MVP candidacy.
I definitely see Luka straight up torching the league early on. That will give him a good foundation for this award as the season progresses, as he shouldn’t be short of any “MVP buzz” if he takes another jump like we expect him to. Will his elite nightly performances be enough to make the Mavs a Western Conference contender? If they aren’t, will his stat line be enough to make that a moot point for voters? I’m willing to take +450 odds that the answer to at least one of those questions is yes.
Image Credit: Imagn