James Harden is 2-0 as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, and a case can be made that he is working his way into Most Valuable Player consideration … especially because the favorites are having blah seasons by their own standards.
But thus far, Harden’s MVP odds have remained long. And that is somewhat perplexing.
NBA MVP odds 2021
Will the real MVP please stand up?
Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been atop the MVP favorites list since the NBA season began, but neither is having a particularly great season for a pair of teams that are not exactly capturing the public’s imagination. The Bucks are 9-5 following last night’s loss in Brooklyn, while the Mavericks are tied with Denver for 10th place in the Western Conference.
Brooklyn, meanwhile, has become the team to watch following last week’s trade for Harden – who has scored or assisted on 129 points in two games as the Nets have defeated the Magic and the Bucks. The Nets will soon have Kyrie Irving back (although there are no guarantees there, given the peculiarities of the Kyrie situation) and currently sit in fifth place in a tightly-packed Eastern Conference in which a half-game separates the top five teams.
The Nets play their next two against Cleveland and then have two in a row at home against Miami – the defending Eastern Conference champs. If the Nets go 4-0 over that stretch, we are not going to see Harden sitting on the same MVP odds we are seeing now.
Players with shorter odds include Doncic, Giannis, Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic, Steph Curry, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum. All are worthy candidates, but less than a month into the season, there is nobody who has risen head and shoulders above of the pack. Harden, though, is changing that dynamic with the Nets bringing more attention to Brooklyn than anyone since Ralph Kramden was coming back to Alice, Ed and Trixie in Bensonhurst after driving his bus.
“[Harden] is 30-1 and is not taking enough action for us to drop him,” said Johnny Avello, head oddsmaker at DraftKings SportsBook. “The reason it’s so hard for a guy like him is that he is a 30-plus point guy year-in and year-out, so what can he bring that’s new to make a team win? That’ll get him to MVP status, but at the same time, isn’t Durant the guy who would get most of the credit? Maybe it’s a question of whether he can keep up the unselfish play for a whole season.”
Doncic was set as the preseason favorite for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that he led the NBA in triple-doubles last season with 17. He has four this season, tied for second with Russell Westbrook of Washington, and behind Jokic (5). But the Mavs have lost three in a row following a four-game winning streak, and ninth-place teams do not produce MVPs (yes, we know it’s early).
Antetokounmpo is the two-time reigning MVP, but last season he had pretty much wrapped up the award by the time the NBA season was shut down because of the pandemic (although LeBron James was gaining ground at the time). The Bucks find themselves in the unfamiliar position of looking up in the standings at several teams, and no player has won three straight MVP awards since Larry Bird did it from 1983-84 through 1985-86.
MVP is NOT the ‘Good Attitude Award’
What could hurt Harden in the minds of voters was the way he forced his way out of Houston, although he is not the first NBA player to do that (think Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, etc.). Also, Harden started the season in Houston with games of 44, 34 and 33 points before having five straight duds – by his standards. The 10-week purgatory that the Rockets endured following his initial trade request will not help Harden’s cause, either.
But memories can sometimes be short, and if Harden leads the Nets to a surge that results in them grabbing the No. 1 seed in the East, he will be in the mix. What remains to be seen is whether Durant and/or Irving are in that mix, too, because that would presumably lead to a split MVP vote.
“We’ve seen sporadic action on Harden for MVP since the trade, but Kevin Durant has been the real winner so far,” said PointsBet’s Andrew Mannino. “We’ve noticed a significant increase in bets on KD for MVP, and have rolled him in from +1000 to +650 as a result. Adding another superstar to the Nets in James Harden is sure to free up KD some, and bettors have responded accordingly.”
Mannino said there has been a 15% increase in bet count for Durant and an 8% increase for Harden since the trade.
“We have only taken one bet on Harden to win MVP since he made his first start last Saturday,” said John Ewing of BetMGM. “For Durant, we have taken three bets on him since Saturday.”
LeBron (18%) and Joel Embiid (16%) are the top players wagered-on in terms of handle at BetMGM.
The bottom line in this whole MVP debate is that nobody has jumped out of the gate as the player to catch as Giannis did a year ago. That is good for the bettor with the clearest crystal ball, and the trick in this NBA season is trying to think like a voter – using “valuable” as the operative word when considering who will be the Most Valuable Player.