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Four Narratives From the NBA’s MVP Odds

It’s a weird year with no clear front-runner—what can we make of that?

A photo collage of LeBron James, Victor Oladipo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jayson Tatum Getty Images/Ringer illustration

For a league currently being dominated by a dynasty, the MVP race is surprisingly wide open. Bovada released its initial odds for the NBA’s MVP award last week, and a few surprising names were near the top. The odds have moved slightly since then, so let’s take a look at the current numbers:

NBA MVP Odds

Player Odds
Player Odds
LeBron James +333
Anthony Davis +400
Giannis Antetokounmpo +450
James Harden +550
Kevin Durant +900
Kawhi Leonard +1100
Russell Westbrook +1400
Stephen Curry +1600
Joel Embiid +1600
Kyrie Irving +1600
Ben Simmons +2800
Damian Lillard +3500
Karl-Anthony Towns +5000
Donovan Mitchell +6600
John Wall +7500
DeMar DeRozan +8000
Nikola Jokic +10000
Victor Oladipo +10000
Chris Paul +10000
Jimmy Butler +10000
Paul George +12500
LaMarcus Aldridge +12500
Gordon Hayward +15000
Jayson Tatum +15000
DeMarcus Cousins +17000
Blake Griffin +22500
Kristaps Porzingis +27500
Devin Booker +27500
Kyle Lowry +32500
Lonzo Ball +45000

There are an equal number of Celtics with solid Vegas odds to win the MVP award as there are Warriors. Two sophomores, Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell, are not only in the running, but have decent chances. LeBron James leads with the shortest odds, but has a handful of players behind him who could realistically replace him at the top after the first month. Here are the four most interesting story lines from the MVP odds:

Don’t Sleep on Victor Oladipo

The most intriguing outsider is Dipo. His odds (+10,000) are worse than John Wall’s (+7,500), DeMar DeRozan’s (+8,000), and Karl-Anthony Towns’s (+5,000), but of that group, Oladipo came the closest to MVP contention last season. Finally making the jump that was expected a couple years ago, Oladipo handily won the Most Improved Player award and took the Pacers to a 5-seed in the East. Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard dominated the “it won’t happen, but it’s fun to talk about” MVP category in the latter half of the season, but Oladipo was worthy of at least a nod, too.

The Eastern Conference lost James, but will be more well rounded at the top: Boston is healthy [knocks on wood and the plate and screws removed from Gordon Hayward’s leg], Philadelphia is growing up, and Toronto is refurbished. Indiana is in the tier below that group, but could defy expectations again after having the smartest offseason in the conference. With more help around him, Oladipo could lead the way to a regular-season upset.

The Field Is Wide Open

LeBron being the MVP favorite (+333) is like a video game reverting to the default setting after pressing restart. But Los Angeles’s success is far less certain than Golden State’s or Houston’s, to such a degree that it will be an uphill battle for LeBron to win MVP. The Western Conference is even deeper than it was last season, and playoff success isn’t a lock for LeBron like it was when he played in the East. If anything, his odds say less about his chances, which are standard for LeBron at the start of every season, and more about the lack of another clear front-runner.

The top of the running is deep: Seven players (LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook) appear before we even get to Steph Curry, who has the same odds (+1,600) as Kyrie Irving and Joel Embiid. Last season, Harden was an obvious “we owe ya one” candidate; KD was coming off a Finals MVP; LeBron was LeBron. The same is true of Durant and Bron entering 2018-19, but there isn’t an obvious standout like Harden was last year. As of now, the MVP story line is that there really isn’t a front-runner.

Boston’s Hierarchy Is TBD

Vegas has three eligible Celtics listed, and Al Horford still isn’t one of them. Again, Irving is +1,600, while Hayward and Jayson Tatum are even at +15,000. Neither forward strikes me as even a bubble MVP candidate. Hayward isn’t flashy, especially next to Irving, and won’t have the usage he did with Utah; Tatum isn’t Boston’s focal point (yet). Still, how Hayward and Tatum play off each other is one of most watch-worthy new on-court relationships. More than likely, one will emerge as the go-to. It might not be the one with the maximum contract.

The Year of Giannis Antetokounmpo

Outside of Kawhi sitting out most of the season, Giannis and the Bucks underperforming their skill level was 2017-18’s biggest disappointment. At the start of the season, Antetokounmpo was an MVP candidate alongside LeBron and Harden. But Milwaukee struggled, and Giannis’s ill-equipped surrounding cast wound up costing him any chance at building an MVP narrative.

Bringing in Mike Budenholzer, role-player whisperer, as head coach could change that. Antetokounmpo has consistently gotten better throughout his NBA career despite poor coaching; it’s scary (yet appropriate considering his length) to know that he still should have a bigger leap to make. What’s held him back so far could change soon, making his odds (+450, third best) his most believable yet.