The most outstanding player each season in the National Basketball Association wins the league’s most prized award: MVP. Given the incredible breadth of talent currently in the league, predicting the NBA MVP is always a big challenge.
As the 2018-19 NBA regular season gets underway, LeBron James – who has won the award four times previously and this summer joined the Los Angeles Lakers – is the favorite. However, close on his heels are up-and-comers Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis.
There are numerous viable contenders for the award. James Harden won the award last season. Russell Westbrook won it the year before that and has averaged a triple-double in two consecutive seasons. Kawhi Leonard is looking to prove himself once again as he begins his Toronto career.
Below, we explore the award, explain a bit of its history, and provide context to help you make your betting selection.
Explaining the NBA MVP Award
The NBA MVP award originated after the 1955-56 season, when the league gave the honor to Bob Petitt of the St. Louis Hawks. The league named the award the Maurice Podoloff Trophy in honor of Podoloff, who was the first league NBA president (now termed the commissioner) and served in that role from 1946-63.
NBA players voted on the award until the 1979-80 season. The format changed in 1980, however, and since then, a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters have primarily decided who will receive the hardware. Each member of the panel casts votes for five players, ranking them from first to fifth, and the winner is calculated through a point system.
Starting in 2010, the league also incorporated an online fan vote into the MVP decision.
NBA MVP Award History
Every player who has won the award has been inducted into the the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame – though Derrick Rose (the 2010-11 winner) may prove to be the exception.
The second winner of the award, after Petitt, was Bob Cousy and third was Bill Russell. Russell went on to win the award five times, which is tied for second-most MVP awards with Michael Jordan. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the record with six.
Big men dominated the award in its early years. In the first 25 years of the NBA MVP award, a power forward or center claimed the honor 23 times.
A new wave of skilled small forwards and guards – including Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Jordan – bucked that trend.
Johnson won the award four years in a row, from 1986-90. As the game has grown and its star power has increased, it has been increasingly rare for a player to repeat as MVP. No player has won the award more than twice in a row since Johnson’s run.
Recent NBA MVP Winners
Since 2000, four players have won multiple MVPs: Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Stephen Curry, and LeBron James.
Duncan won the award in 2001-02 and 2002-03, while Nash repeated in 2004-05 and 2005-06. Curry did the same in 2014-15 and 2015-16. In 2015-16, he became the first unanimous MVP in league history. He averaged 30.1 points, 6.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.1 steals per game.
Most impressively, he averaged 5.1 made three-pointers per game, connecting on 45.4 percent of his attempts from downtown. And he also shot over 90 percent from the free throw line.
LeBron went on a tear from 2008-13, winning the award four times in five years (with only Rose breaking up his streak). Though he has remained the most dominant player in the game – a title which it becomes clear he retains annually during the postseason – James has not won the highest individual honor in the NBA since 2013.
Since then, the winners include Kevin Durant (who delivered his touching “real MVP” speech), Curry, Westbrook, and Harden.
Understanding NBA MVP Betting Odds
Understanding sports betting odds may seem complicated, but it is, in fact, quite simple. Each player’s odds are listed below with a plus sign. That plus sign and the number following it signify how much money you will receive if you wager on that player.
For example, a $100 bet on LeBron James at +300 would return a total of $400 if he wins MVP. This number includes your original $100, plus $300. A $100 bet on a longshot such as Jayson Tatum, who is +13,000, would return significantly more. In this example, you would receive $13,100 if Tatum were to win the award.
Picking the next NBA MVP Winner
James is the odds-on favorite, and with good reason. He seems due for another MVP campaign, and he will be driven to put on a show in his first season in the purple and gold. Furthermore, he is surrounded by young players, so the burden will be on him to carry the statistical load and carry his team to a high seed in the loaded Western Conference.
However, any of the top players is a good bet. Davis showed last season that he’s ready to emerge as the best player in the league. While powering the Pelicans to a surprising second-round appearance in the Western Conference Playoffs, he put up unbelievable numbers: 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game, while improving his three-point shooting to 34 percent. The Brow is a force on both ends of the court.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden are both interesting candidates. Giannis, the “Greek Freak,” is finally playing for a respected coach after Milwaukee added former Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer this summer. If his jumper has improved in the offseason, he will have a real opportunity to win the award – and that’s not to mention that he’s playing in the much weaker Eastern Conference.
Harden showed last season why many consider him the most gifted isolation player of this generation. If the Beard plays the same way he did in 2017-18, it will be hard to make a case for anyone else winning the award.
If you’re looking for a long shot, give some thought to Nikola Jokic (+6500) and Victor Oladipo (+9000).
NBA MVP Betting Odds
James Harden +150
Giannis Antetokounmpo +150
LeBron James +800
Steph Curry +1100
Kawhi Leonard +1200
Anthony Davis +1600
Kevin Durant +2000
Joel Embiid +2000
Paul George +2800
Russell Westbrook +3500
Nikola Jokic +5000
Damian Lillard +6000