MVP Award Handicapping
The NBA season tips off Tuesday night and this could be the season with the most intrigue in decades: There is so much parity between the 30 teams, and disagreements on the eventual Finals’ teams are abundant with so many actual contenders this season. The individual awards are similarly affected, as team success often drives the selections made by voting media members. That said, we will examine just the top-four most likely to win the MVP award and give a brief mention to some outside-the-lines value picks.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (+280)
Giannis Antetokounmpo won the 2018-19 MVP award, and he is also the favorite in 19-20 to repeat as the league MVP. Many might be scared off by this. Typically, the media tries to award different players year in and year out, with the last to repeat this award having been Steve Nash over a decade ago.
However, it is an award that really should be merit-based, not “story-based,” and on those grounds, Giannis has to be respected in “defending his title,” if it could even be called that. What is more, is that Antetokounmpo seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder and takes it personally that many say James Harden was the “real MVP” of last season.
While not taking the chance to talk down Harden’s game, he simply said: “You know where the trophy resides.” There should be a second one coming because the “Greek Freak” is the best two-way talent in the Association in a very long time. There are few superstars that take over on the defensive end if their offense is a little off, but Antetokounmpo does just that— it is what makes the Milwaukee Bucks the tough team it is. Even when the offense is not clicking, Milwaukee defends, and do not be surprised if the Deer find its way to the 2020 NBA Finals due to such an impeccable model of success already being intact.
Stephen Curry (+500)
This might be the “Season of Steph,” but it comes with some pretty serious consequences and stipulations. First off, Curry cannot simply go atomic and lead the league in scoring to win the MVP Award. The Golden State Warriors also must a good team, or Curry will oddly and undeservedly receive a bunch of blame for any failures. This is highly unfair, but it is the narrative, and as indicated already, this is an award the media tends to reward players for who have the best stories surrounding their seasons.
The best story in Curry’s case would be to guide the Warriors to a deep playoff run with two of its former “Big 4” no longer in the fold. D’Angelo Russell also doubtfully fits with Curry anywhere near as well as Klay Thompson does. With all the things working against the Warriors, and the team has been at such a high level for a half-decade, Curry’s season might appear to be something of failure even if it is not. For that reason, we are fading Curry in this, despite the fact he might have a career year while losing out on the award.
Anthony Davis (+325)
Anthony Davis is doing the L.A. Lakers a huge disservice by refusing to play center. Due to it, the Lakers have three (mediocre) centers on the roster to ensure A.D. can stay at the 4-spot. It borders on silly because L.A.’s frontcourt might be one of the slowest and most mismatched on a regular basis. LeBron James’ defense has declined, and basically putting two centers next to him is not really going to have a net-positive effect.
Davis is also injury prone, adding another dimension to any bettor’s wager that he can play enough games this season to win the MVP award. He is already nursing a thumb injury. New Orleans never reached its potential while Brow was there, and Davis was always afforded plenty of excuses for the underachievement; but what if he was actually a big part and cause of why it was that way? It might be easier to understand, particularly if the New Orleans Pelicans take steps forward in the next two seasons without its former No. 1 overall pick and former franchise keystone. Nevertheless, Davis is an ugly pick for this award due to what his position preference is going to do to the Lakers’ team defense.
James Harden (+700)
James Harden really feels he should have won the MVP award last year, and that is too bad because his chances certainly do not get much better welcoming another mega-star into the lineup in Russell Westbrook. There is one ball to go around. Sure, Harden is still going to post some silly scoring stats and he racks up assists. He even deceives box score watchers into thinking he plays defense by coming up with a lot of steals (by hanging back in passing lanes, do not get it twisted that it is from good defense).
If you tuned into the Rockets’ season preview this week, you would be aware that the Rockets are a team we expect something of impulsion from. Westbrook and Harden might respect and like each other, but that does not mean the on-court chemistry will be there, nor does it mean that the duo can complement one another and thrive together. It is hard to imagine. Although, if there is one coach that knows what to do with gaudy offensive talent, it is definitely Mike D’Antoni. Fading Harden due to the fact he has to share the ball.
Joel Embiid (+1380), Kawhi Leonard (+1100), LeBron James (+1000), Nikola Jokic (+1300)
The Philadelphia 76ers likely will “load manage” Joel Embiid which might hurt his chances some. Al Horford was not signed for no reason, and Philly will not need to risk Embiid’s body by playing him in back-to-backs during the regular season.
Kawhi Leonard just won a Finals MVP award, and winning the regular-season MVP in 2019-20 would not be too surprising. At +1100, he offers tremendous value, because truthfully his chances should be better than LeBron James (+1000), but James is given a slight edge by NBA oddsmakers. Most astute NBA bettors and analysts are aware of James’ decline–but if he staves off “father time” it might be that he is not quite the underdog here as oddsmakers tend to think he is. Time only goes in one direction, though, and it is unlikely James ever goes back to being the elite defender he was for the majority of his career.
Lastly, Nikola Jokic is a hot pick here because the Denver Nuggets just might win the Western Conference while entering the voting period as the No. 1 team in the standings. If Denver is as good as we expect, Jokic will be the one rewarded for it. So, both Leonard and Jokic make excellent values among the players not in the upper echelon of MVP favorites.