Two longshots in the NBA MVP race have better credentials than the biggest US sportsbooks would have bettors believe. But can CP3 or Jimmy Buckets actually win the award?
Player A, known as a long-distance marksman, has missed 33 of his last 44 3-point attempts, and it has now been more than 2 months since he shot better than 50% from the field in consecutive games. He is shooting 37.6% from long distance, which would be the worst full-season performance by 4.5 percentage points in his entire 13-year-career. But if you ask around, the guy is the betting favorite and considered a virtual lock for NBA Most Valuable Player.
Does this sound strange? Wait, there’s more.
Player B is tied for the league lead in assists with 10.1 per game, but is committing only 2.3 turnovers per game, less than half of the 4.8 miscues that the player (James Harden) tied with him for the league lead in dimes averages. Player B’s team has the NBA’s best record, 36-9, and he leads the league in total steals with 89.
Player C just broke LeBron James’ record for most triple-doubles in Miami Heat franchise history, earning his 10th in a victory over James and the Lakers that moved Miami into sole possession of first place in the East. Player C also has missed 17 games, which means he is not even listed as the team’s leader in scoring because he does not yet qualify for the leaderboard.
Player A is considered the leading candidate to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award, currently listed with odds of +190 (bet $100 to win $190). His name is Stephen Curry.
Player B is barely part of the conversation. He’s listed behind 10 other players and sits at +6000 odds with a little less than half of the season remaining. He’s Chris Paul.
Player C is not even in the conversation. His odds are +12000, placing him just ahead of Harden and just behind Donovan Mitchell. Call him Jimmy Butler.
Could this be right? Especially given that there is a Player D, currently out for 4-6 weeks with a sprained knee, who is the sixth choice (+2200 odds) for the NBA’s most prestigious individual postseason award (you know him as Kevin Durant). Or a Player E, who has scored 31 or more points in 13 of his last 14 games and in 15 of 16. He is currently on the MVP board with odds of +600. Ahoy, Joel Embiid.
And then there is the reigning MVP, Nikola Jokic. Despite his Denver Nuggets being sixth in the West, he has been averaging 26 .1 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 7.6 assists, and his blocks and steals averages are tied for his career high. His coach is advocating for his candidacy every night, but is it falling on deaf ears?
Here is something you need to know about sports gambling if you are going to have a hankering for a wager or two. Sometimes, the sportsbooks anoint an early leader for a particular regular season award and stick with him too long. We saw this last year when Embiid was running away with the award until he went down with an injury, opening the door for Jokic’s star turn.
And with the 30 NBA teams having between 34 games (Boston) remaining and 32 games remaining (Milwaukee), we remain a long way from the finish line. And it is important to know that voters’ ballots are not due into the league office until the day after the regular season ends.
So while Curry was the toast of the Association in November and December when he was busy breaking Ray Allen’s all-time 3-point record and carrying his Warriors offensively in the absence of Klay Thompson, the good will he had built up is evaporating. Just in the past month, Curry has shot 1-11, 4-13, 6-16, 4-10, 4-11, 1-9, and 1-10 from downtown. He ranks 59th in 3-point percentage at 37.6, just behind Cam Reddish and ahead of Anthony Edwards.
“Shots just aren’t going. He’s human,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I think what’s happening right now is he’s reminding everybody that he actually is human. He’s seemed inhuman for so long. So I think everybody expects him to be in a groove all season long. And that’s just not the way it works. I’m really proud of how hard he’s playing and how well he’s playing in every other aspect of the game. The shooting will come back. We know that.”
Let’s look closer at Embiid, because nobody is coming on stronger lately. He is averaging 33.8 points and has gone over 30 points in 15 of 16 games while also reaching double figures in rebounds nine times over that span. He’s done all of this despite not having the luxury of easy buckets served up by Ben Simmons, who remains sidelined awaiting his trade demand to be fulfilled. Without him, Embiid has led the Sixers into sixth place in the tightly-packed East, where the team is just a game behind the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks in the standings.
And then we have Jokic, the defending MVP, who is being wholeheartedly supported by Nuggets coach Mike Malone to anyone who will listen.
Jokic’s numbers are spectacular, especially when you consider that he is carrying the Nuggets despite the absences of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Jokic has been especially good this month, making at least 55.6% of his shots in 12 of his 13 games with five triple-doubles. He is seventh in the NBA in scoring, second in rebounding, and ninth in assists, and his VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) is a league-leading 5.4, giving him a huge lead over runner-up Giannis Antetokounmpo (4.0).
The Greek Freak is not easily dismissed, either. He is dishing out a career-best 6.0 assists but his 3-point percentage has dropped 2.1 points to 28.3, and his overall shooting percentage is down 3.8 from 56.9 to 53.1. Also, his team is in fourth place, and we have kind of gotten used to his Bucks running away from the East.
What this all adds up to is a confused MP market in which the books have anointed a leader and are sticking with Curry despite his prolonged slump. Why?
“I believe they are keeping the favorite because all of the people who have Embiid and Giannis at much higher numbers. My belief is that the bookies know Curry currently has no chance, but why allow him to gain more value if he turns it back on. “said Andy Roth, a sharp bettor from New York who continues to commute to New Jersey to place his wagers because New York does not allow gambling on individual player awards. “I’ve got Giannis at 9-1, 8-1 and 7-1, Jokic at 12-1, 16-1, Embiid at 12-1 and a bunch at 7-1,” And as far as Butler and Paul go, they have nothing in terms of being in as good of a level as Jokic.”
A year ago, Embiid was the runaway leader in MVP wagering until he was hurt midway though the season. That helped clear the way for Jokic, who was an ironman compared to a number off the other serious contenders who missed several games because of injuries. That is the dynamic that is keeping Kevin Durant out of the mix this season now that he is out up to 6 weeks with a sprained knee.
In theory, that should heighten the chances of Paul and Butler, because after all, finishing first in the standings has to count for something, no?
At BetMGM, Curry has taken a whopping 18% of tickets and 32% of handle in MVP voting. Compare that to Paul’s 2% of tickets and 1% of handle. Meanwhile, Butler owns 0.3% of handle and 1% of tickets, spokesman John Ewing said.
At PointsBet, Curry leads all players in percentage of handle at 19.4 and is third in percentage of tickets (11.0) behind DeMar DeRozan (18.2) and Ja Morant (12.0). There’s then a huge dropoff to Butler (14th at 1.5% ) and Paul (17th at 1.2%).
At FanDuel, Curry — who became a co-favorite along with Antetokounmpo on Monday — has 20% of bet count and 39% of handle, while Butler is 16th with just 0.82%. Paul is 17th with 0.81% of handle.
At DraftKings, Curry has 23% of handle and 37% of tickets compared to Butler’s 2% of handle and Paul’s 0.4%, spokesman Parker Winslow said.
“Jimmy missed so much time, he’s not even listed among the league leaders,” said Ira Winderman, longtime Miami Heat beat writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “He was in the conversation early in the season and should have been, but then started missing all that time. And as long as Jimmy Butler and Chris Paul put scoring secondary, others have a higher profile. Jimmy is a five-tool player, and in the NBA you have to be a scorer to win that award.
“So, if you are a five-way player, does that equate with greatness? And if you are a great (offensive and defensive) two-way player, does that matter? Because Jimmy has much better defensive numbers than Jokic, and we tend to overlook the two-way player too much. But the two-way thing is the strongest argument he has in his favor,” Winderman said.
Paul has the misfortune (in a manner of speaking) of playing with Devin Booker, whose MVP odds (+4500) are significantly shorter than CP3’s. Booker has had one 45-point game and nine other games of 30 points or fewer, whereas Paul has had eight 20-point games with a season-high of 24. But Paul also has had 26 double-figure assist games, and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.57 (4.56 to 1.02 per game) is second in the NBA behind only Memphis’ Tyus Jones who is at 5.40. Perhaps most importantly, the Suns have won nine of 10 since New Year’s Day to widen their Western Conference lead to three full games over Golden State and their MVP frontrunner.
“I’ve said this many times: I have been following his career closely since he came into the league, and I know he was good. But not this good,” said longtime Suns broadcaster Al McCoy. “He does whatever is needed, whether that is a need to score or a need to get others involves. We have had some great point guards out here, from Steve Nash to Kevin Johnson to Jason Kidd, and he is the best of the bunch. He certainly deserves to be an All-Star starter, and he deserves to belong that that [MVP] conversation as well. But the market size has something to do with it. And if you look at every team he has ever been on, he has made all of them better.”
Will that translate into more support as the second half of the season plays out?
Well, ask anyone who eyeballed what Jokic was doing at this time a year ago. He was not among the wagering favorites in late January, but when all was said and done, he was the man.
So for anyone who took a bath Monday in the struggling stock market or on Sunday with Tom Brady and Josh Allen, there just may be a way to make that money back.
If would take an extraordinary confluence of events, true, but with the way Curry has been slumping, half the job is already done — you’ve just gotta pick the right guy waiting in the wings poised to leapfrog him. And there is no shortage of worthy candidates.