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BETTING & FANTASY

Will Stephen Curry’s Dominant Season Turn Sportsbooks Upside Down?

It’s still too early to call it a one-man race for the NBA’s top individual honor, but Steph’s MVP odds have dropped as low as even money this week.

Do not fault the big US sportsbooks if they are secretly hoping that Stephen Curry stumbles from now until the All-Star break. They are taking so much action on Curry for Most Valuable Player that this is looking like the biggest one-horse race since Nixon vs. McGovern.

(Look it up, kids!)

We shall see if this continues after the Golden State Warriors visit the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night in the first meeting between two teams with winning percentages above 85% (minimum 20 games) since Dec. 19, 2019 when the Lakers lost to the Bucks.

Curry is currently tied for the league lead in scoring and has 105 three-pointers after just 20 games, putting him on pace to break his own record of 402 threes set in the 2015-16 season when he became the first unanimous winner of the MVP award in NBA history.

Steph Curry’s MVP Odds

Stephen Curry’s futures betting odds for NBA MVP entering games on Nov. 30, 2021 (via FanDuel)

He is currently listed with odds just above even money at the biggest sportsbooks operating in the legalized US sports betting market. Just look at some of these percentages when it comes to the amount of handle (total money wagered) and bet count (percentage of tickets):

  • At FanDuel Sportsbook, Curry has taken 24% of the handle and 16% of the bet count, spokesman Kevin Hennessy said. His odds at that book are down to +150.
  • At BetMGM, Curry has taken 55.2% of the tickets and 21.1% of the handle, per spokesman Drew O’Dell. Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic is second with 11.6% of handle and 8.5% of tickets. BetMGM’s biggest liability is Curry, who opened at +900 (9-1) and is currently +200.
  • At DraftKings Sportsbook, Curry has taken 28% of the handle and 21 % of bets, spokesman Parker Winslow said. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks is the only other player with double-figure percentages in both categories, drawing 13% of handle and 11% of bets.
  • At PointsBet, which is popular in Illinois, Zach LaVine has the largest percentage of tickets at 13.7, but Curry is taking 16.4% of the handle compared to LaVine’s 8.3%. PointsBet has Curry listed at +190, with Kevin Durant at +350.

    “Zach LaVine being our most-bet player to win MVP can certainly be attributed to our presence in the Illinois market where the Bulls faithful are all-in this season,” said Mike Korn, Trading Content Analyst at PointsBet. “For example, the Bulls are the most bet team to win the NBA Championship at PointsBet, so there’s surely a trend there. That being said, at +10000 bettors certainly see value with LaVine being top 10 in scoring in the league this season.”
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Sizing up the Competition

So, when was the last time — if ever — that we saw something like this?

Jeff Sherman of LV Sportsbook was hesitant to draw a historical parallel and said he was more focused on strategizing to bring money in on other players. His book has Curry at even money, the shortest odds in the country.

“When you look at the 18-2 record and factor in that if Curry misses a game it makes the line on any given night swing by five points — the most of any NBA player — it stands to reason that he is where he is. But Giannis and Durant are still in single digits and Steph does have an injury history, and those other factors still make it an open question as to who is going to win the award.”

The Warriors opened as 2 1/2-point underdogs for Tuesday’s game in Phoenix, the second half of a TNT doubleheader preceded by Knicks-Nets — a game in which Durant will have a chance to show a national TV audience that he should be given some consideration as well. He and James Harden have had to take on a larger offensive load this season given the absence of Kyrie Irving, but the Nets have persevered and are 14-6 and in first place in the Eastern Conference.

Durant is one of the few players capable of passing Curry for the NBA scoring lead. But even if the Warriors sputter and finish with something resembling the same record as Brooklyn at the end of the season, this award sometimes comes down to a popularity contest in the minds of the writers and broadcasters who cover the league and submit 100 of the 101 votes (the extra one is cast by the fans).

“Look, [Curry] is going to play every night. And some of the other contenders are going to take a rest day every week or two, so that works in his favor,” said Johnny Avello, head oddsmaker at DraftKings. “So it’s all good now and there is quite a bit of money on him, and he deserves it because he has always been the driving force on that team, even when they were more loaded than they are now. What he is doing is incredible, and if he can keep this up at even 85% of what he is doing now, I think he will win the award.”

“It’s way too soon to crown anyone on the MVP front just yet, but – to me – Steph is out front by a decent margin over guys like Durant, Giannis, DeRozan, Jokic and Luka at the moment. He’s checking both boxes that typically lead to this hardware: Historic individual play that’s leading to a league-leading team pace. Add in the narrative — the Warriors come roaring back after Durant bolted for Brooklyn – and he’ll be impossible to beat if he (and they) keep this up.,” said Sam Amick, national writer for The Athletic.

It bears mentioning that Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers was a prohibitive favorite at the midpoint of last season before an injury knocked him from contention. Things can change in an instant in the NBA with one misstep or one crazy box-out elbow, as LeBron James and Isaiah Stewart can attest.

But for now, this is looking like a runaway that could hurt the bottom line of the books that took action on Curry at +700 or higher prior to the start of the season.

“We took a $5,000 ticket on Luka Doncic prior to the season at 5-1, and now he is at 15-1, but that was before the season started playing out and Curry started doing what he is doing,” Sherman said.

A Curry runaway would impact the bottom lines of the sportsbooks, whose stocks have been taking a beating over the past month. On Monday, those stocks were relatively stable as the market recovered some of the value that was lost last Wednesday in the biggest one-day drop of any single day in 2021.

Like anything, the market is fluid, and so too is the MVP race, presumably. Of course, that presumption is based on the belief that Curry is not otherworldly, which he is drawing into question this particular November.

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