The NBA is a star-driven league. At the conclusion of the season, the star of all stars is crowned the Most Valuable Player (MVP), as voted upon by a panel of 100 media members who are not affiliated with any NBA franchises.
Each member of the panel casts a vote for first to fifth place selections. Each vote counts incrementally towards a players’ total, with first-place votes netting 10 points and fifth-place votes counting for only 1 point.
In the history of NBA MVP voting, only Steph Curry (2015-16) has received every first-place vote from the entire panel to be named MVP unanimously. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the award a record six times and LeBron James has won four MVP awards, which makes him the leader among active players.
Since the 1975-76 season, only two players have been named MVP in a season where their team failed to win 50 games. That includes Russell Westbrook in 2016-17, but it has become a rarity for a player from a mediocre team to win the award.
NBA MVP as a futures bet
Betting on the MVP winner is one of the more popular options for outright bets known as “Futures,” which are usually wagers on a season-long outcome such as the NBA champion, NBA division winner, or individual award winners. It’s also possible to bet Over or Under on Team Win totals, i.e. the number of games a team is expected to win during the regular season.
Odds for futures bets are set during the preseason, but can change throughout the season based on news and results.
For the purposes of MVP betting, players will be listed in order of the favorites. So, defending MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (+300 on DraftKings Sportsbook) was considered the most likely to win the award.
These odds refer to the potential payout if the bet is successful. So, a $100 bet on Giannis to repeat as champion could pay out $300. These odds are set based on how the book evaluates the market and they can change following each game if players perform well or start to slide.
NBA MVP odds (January 21, 2020)
NBA MVP odds report (Jan. 14)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (-139): The reigning MVP has been even better this season with a league-best He leads the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (32.9) and defensive rating (96.5), ending the argument about the best two-player in the league this year.
Antetokounmpo’s odds sat around +120 on DraftKings Sportsbook over the first two months and with no lengthy absences and the Bucks on a 70-win pace, he’s dropped into negative odds at -139. It may take an unlucky injury or a surprising dropoff in Milwaukee’s collective play to prevent him from repeating.
Luka Doncic (+400): After missing four games with an ankle sprain, Doncic got back to posting his gaudy numbers. Only his team is 5-5 with a modest 1.9 net rating over their last 10 games and Kristaps Porzingis (knee) has missed 7 straight. Since Porzingis is showcasing his value through his absence and Doncic has dropped below Giannis and Harden in PER (30.4), we’re not expecting him to become the youngest MVP in league history. Doncic might become the leading candidate for Most Improved Player as a consolation prize.
James Harden (+500): Harden continues to put up eye-popping numbers at a somewhat inefficient clip. He leads the NBA in PPG (37.7), Offensive Win Shares (6.8), and Value Over Replacement (4.4) this season. He also leads the league in missed FGs and turnovers, but has climbed past Doncic in overall PER (31.5) and is separating from Giannis (34.8) in terms of points per 36 minutes (36.6).
If Houston shores up its overall defensive issues and makes a run for the second seed in the West, Harden could also make a run for MVP. He would need Giannis to slip up or for the Bucks to slow down on their 70-win pace, because voters aren’t going to neglect the best player on a 70-win team.
LeBron James (+800): Injuries to his superstar teammate could thrust LeBron back into the thick of the MVP race. Anthony Davis (tailbone) has missed three straight games and the Lakers haven’t missed a beat. Granted, LeBron missed one of those contests with an illness and the Lake Show kept rolling, but he’s been the key cog in a team that’s 9-0 with a league-best 15.5 net rating since losing to the Clippers on Christmas. LeBron is locked in defensively and controlling every aspect of the game offensively. He may wind up as the best two-way player to compare next to Giannis and could see a leg up if Davis suffers a more long-term injury.
Anthony Davis (+1400): Davis is still in the conversation since he’s the anchor of the league’s third-ranked defense and the primary reason the Lakers lead the NBA in defensive rating in fourth quarters. Yet his inability to stay healthy and the fact that he’s sharing the limelight with LeBron makes it extremely unlikely that he’ll win MVP this year.
Kawhi Leonard (+5000): Leonard is still one of the first options below the favorites despite the fact that he clearly plans to play around 60 games for a second straight season. The Clippers aren’t even playing well right now with four straight lackluster performances against bad teams, which shows the value of Paul George (+5000).
Nikola Jokic (+5000): Jokic is coming on strong to help the Nuggets post the second-best offensive rating in the NBA over the past month. With Joel Embiid (+5000) set to miss multiple weeks, Jokic stands out as the most versatile and valuable big man in the league. Yet his slow start puts him way behind the favorites.
Jimmy Butler (+10000): Miami continues to crush it at home and lose winnable games on the road. Jimmy Butler is trying to instill some toughness in his young teammates and make them more consistent in tough environments, but intangibles aren’t necessarily what determines MVP voting. Butler also loses some credit with Bam Adebayo likely towards the top of the pack in Most Improved Player voting.
Best NBA MVP betting sites
Where you can bet on the MVP legally
Sports betting is currently legal at a regulated sportsbook in the following states:
Legislation is on the table in a number of states with more states sure to legalize sports betting in the upcoming years.
Residents of Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have access to online sportsbooks, including the platforms created by industry titans DraftKings and FanDuel. William Hill and other online books also offer great opportunities to bet on NBA games and Futures.
In order to bet on MVP, users can click on the NBA tab and find the tab labeled “Futures” and move to “Player Futures.” Regular Season MVP should be one of the categories along with Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and more postseason awards.
Previous winners and trends
As mentioned above, only two MVP winners in the “modern era” have come from teams that won 50 games or fewer. Additionally, since 1985 only two MVPs have come from teams that failed to finish at least second in their conference.
So the starting point for choosing a good bet is finding the best player on a winning team. Heading into the 2019-2020 season, sportsbooks regarded the Clippers (+325), Lakers (+425), Bucks (+650), 76ers (+700) and Rockets (+800) as the top five contenders for an NBA championship.
But we’re looking at a regular-season award, so consider that the Nuggets (+425) and Jazz (+425) were considered two of the most likely teams to finish first in the Western Conference.
Based on Team Win Totals, the Bucks (56.5), Clippers (56.5), Sixers (53.5), Jazz (53.5), Rockets (52.5) and Nuggets (52.5) were the teams expected to finish the season with over 50 wins and thus have a legitimate MVP candidate.
Because the award is voted upon by sportswriters, a players’ body of work tends to put them over the top. Only four MVP winners were younger than 23 and the last rookie to win the MVP was Wes Unseld back in 1969.
Scoring is a key criteria for MVP, as the NBA’s leading scorer has won the award in four of the past five years.
While the Center position is fading in today’s small-ball NBA, that position leads the way in MVP awards with 25, although 22 of those came in the first 28 years of the award.
Over the last 14 years, guards have won the award 8 times, signifying how the NBA has transitioned to a faster-paced, higher-scoring game. The past four guards to win (James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, and Derrick Rose) are not particularly renowned defenders. Posting gaudy offensive numbers can be enough to sway voters.
Shooting guards have won the fewest awards (eight) in the history of the MVP and Michael Jordan snagged 5 of those trophies.
NBA MVP betting favorites in 2019
Giannis Antetokounmpo does impact the game on both sides of the ball and that swayed many voters to take him over James Harden, who averaged a league-best 30.7 PPG last season.
Harden trailed Curry (+500) as the most likely candidates to take the award away from Giannis before the season. This is due to the Rockets addition of Russell Westbrook and the fact that Curry would be asked to do much more with Klay Thompson (knee) out indefinitely and Kevin Durant in Brooklyn. However, an early-season injury to Curry all but ended his chance at winning the award for the third time.
When two superstars are on the same team, it can lead to votes getting split between them. We could see that this year with LeBron James on the same team as Anthony Davis. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George could also split votes.
If looking for value, our best dark horse candidate to win MVP is Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. The versatile big man nearly averaged a triple-double (20.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 7.3 APG) last year and finished fifth in Player Efficiency Rating.
Denver checks all the boxes in terms of having a chance to finish first in the tough Western Conference and win over 53 games this year. And unlike the Clippers, Lakers, or Rockets, the Nuggets have one player who is clearly their most valuable.