MVP Favorites and Contenders: Playing the Odds

We’re still approximately two weeks away from the season officially tipping off, but it’s never to early to start looking at some high value picks to start cashing in on. This year’s MVP race projects to be a bit more up in the air with another superstar joining last year’s winner in the Bay Area this season. Still, there are a few players worth examining that may be being overlooked in Vegas as potential Most Valuable Players in the 2016-17 NBA season.

Notable Players at High Value

Kawhi Leonard +1000

Leonard is the first one that really sticks out when looking at this year’s landscape, and 10:1 might be a steal to latch on to early in the season. The San Antonio Spurs did a good job of replacing Tim Duncan with Pau Gasol, and if anyone can revive the career of David Lee, Popovich is certainly that person. The Spurs will be in contention once again this season among the top two or three in the West, and Leonard is going to be a huge part of this team on both sides of the ball.

His ability to play on-ball defense is the best in the league and he’s arguably up there in terms of all-time defenders. He is the standout favorite for Defensive Player of the Year this season, which would make this his third consecutive year. However, his offensive ability has continued to improve through his first five years in the league, and the steady progression should continue into this season. If he can continue to shoot from long range in the manner he did last season, 44.3% from beyond the arc (nearly a 10% increase from the year before), his arsenal and potential to be an offensive threat will continue to be the key to the San Antonio Spurs’ offensive attack.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are a year older and a step slower, so each of them will presumably be coasting their way through the regular season again with built-in nights off throughout the heart of the season. This should clear the way for the league’s most unassuming superstar to continue his progression at a higher offensive usage rate this season.

At 10:1, Kawhi Leonard is easily one of the best values in the preseason odds for this season’s MVP race and could be a strong contender with the other frontrunners in this year’s race.

James Harden +1000

Last season was a disaster in Houston, as they went through two coaches before ultimately missing the playoffs. However, the Houston Rockets added the offensive-minded D’Antoni while also shedding the space-eater, slowed down, drama that is Dwight Howard. This year could result in a season that sees Houston’s offense become one of the best in the league in terms of offensive efficiency and, certainly, points per game.

D’Antoni has officially handed over the point guard duties to Harden, though at a 32.5% usage rate, he already was the lead ball handler, scorer, and playmaker within the offense. However, this year, with the added shooting ability of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson in the rotation, Houston’s offense will be creating much more space for Harden pick and rolls and playmaking within the offense. The new system should bring in more movement and more opportunities for Harden to be a scorer as well as showcase his generally underrated passing abilities in an offense centered around driving and kicking.

This is going to be a guy who, due to the speed this team will play at and their general lack of interest on the defensive end of the floor, will likely be leading the NBA’s highest scoring team. They will certainly be challenging the NBA record for threes attempted in a season, and might even challenge the NBA’s all-time mark of 126.5 points per game by Denver in the 1980s.

2015’s MVP runner-up projects as one of the favorites to make an MVP run, and the odds sit at just 10:1 this preseason.

Kyrie Irving +3300

This one could be a bit of a stretch, considering Kyrie Irving will be sharing the court with LeBron James, but at 33:1 it’s worth taking the chance here that Irving’s name makes it into the MVP discussion as the season moves along. Generally, playing with LeBron James could be a hindrance to Irving’s chances, but perhaps this is the season that James really begins to take a back seat during the regular season and hands the keys over to his point guard.

With the Cleveland Cavaliers so far ahead of the competition in the East, what seed they wind up with in the playoffs shouldn’t be a large factor in their ability to advance to the NBA Finals for the third straight season. Nothing is a given in this league (ask the 73-win Warriors), but a healthier, and more rested LeBron James in late April and May will be far more important for this Cleveland team than their seed or home-court advantage.

Thus, perhaps LeBron opts to play something closer to 65 games this regular season and gives Kyrie Irving the opportunity to build off the momentum of his high-level Finals performance.

Irving did struggle to find his groove after a late start to last season, shooting just 32% from beyond the arc and averaging his lowest point per game total since his rookie season, but he really found his groove in the postseason. His three-point percentage jumped to 44% when the playoffs began. His 25.2 points per game in the playoffs were much higher than in the regular season as he stepped up when it mattered most.

If this carries over into this season, with Irving having the chance at a full training camp and preseason to go along with a full season with Tyronn Lue at the helm, Kyrie Irving has showed that he has the ability to play himself in to the MVP discussion.

Honorable Mention

Karl-Anthony Towns +3300

Karl-Anthony Towns took the league by storm last year as the quintessential big man in the NBA’s recent shift towards small ball. He can protect the rim, he has the lateral quickness to switch along the perimeter, and he can spread the floor offensively.

It is going to be interesting to watch him, along with his League Pass-darling of a team and an actual NBA-level head coach this season, to see how much development KAT does from season 1 to 2. He is still a long shot to win the MVP award in just his second season in the NBA, and the Timberwolves likely will not win enough games for someone on the team to be considered as a realistic winner of the award at season’s end. However, he is as close as it gets to being a sure thing in terms of being a future star in this league, and his MVP seasons may not be as far away as you think.

Russell Westbrook +200

I put Russell Westbrook here, despite the league-wide consensus that he is the runaway favorite at this point in time, because the value is not great. Westbrook is certainly going to be garnering plenty of attention in his first full season without Kevin Durant, but it’s still yet to be seen whether or not he can be efficient enough on offense to garner MVP-type accolades.

The per game numbers will certainly be there. His usage percentage will likely increase on the offensive end, which is a bit scary, but the Oklahoma City Thunder struggled to come away with wins the last time Westbrook was in charge of this offense. He will need to add a bit more in the way of efficiency to really take a step forward as the catalyst for this team, but this will certainly be a fun team to watch with Russ running the show.

Staying Away

Steph Curry +450 and Kevin Durant +1000

Even though Klay Thompson won’t be “sacrificing sh*t” this season with the addition of Kevin Durant, many of the players on this roster will see their numbers go down. Durant and Curry will probably be more efficient, if that is even possible, but the volume of “are you kidding me?” shots that Curry puts in will likely decrease this season.

This team is going to be special, and the basketball world’s eyes will be all-in on this team for most of the season, but it is going to be tough for one of these players to run away with the MVP vote while playing with each other. I’d stay away from these two, along with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, especially given the value they are going for right now.

LeBron James +450

Again, I’m not huge on a LeBron MVP run this season, and it has nothing to do with his lack of ability to make a run. Last years NBA Finals proved that LeBron still has the capability to be the best player in the NBA on a night-in, night-out basis when he has the urge to. I simply do not see him making this a priority for this season as he readies himself for another run at the Golden State Warriors in June.

Odds courtesy of Bovada’s preseason props

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