LeBron James is now a heavy MVP frontrunner. (Photo by PI/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
- LeBron James’ NBA MVP odds have shortened further in the absence of Anthony Davis
- James is the heavy favorite to win his fifth MVP award ahead of big man duo Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid
- Is there any value beyond LeBron in the MVP market? See updated MVP odds below
LeBron James was already the MVP favorite when Anthony Davis was ruled out for a few weeks due to his calf strain. His price then was +200, but he has now dropped to +150 as he carries a heavier load on both ends of the floor without Davis.
This MVP race has quickly become about James versus Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. The NBA MVP odds reflect this, with the two All-Star centers clearly James’ closest challengers ahead of Steph Curry out at +1100.
Poor team record or missed time has undermined the candidacy of others – who’s the best bet right now?
2021 NBA MVP Odds
Odds taken on Feb 22 from FanDuel
LeBron Leads the Way
The Lakers are the two seed in the West. LeBron James has to completely lead the offense with no Anthony Davis. There is minimal opportunity for possessions off or to cruise through quarters without Davis. This Lakers roster needs LeBron to be scorer and playmaker, and he’s been doing just that in Davis’ absence.
Keeping the Lakers in the top two or three in the West will help the narrative, which is already in LeBron’s favor. According to a recent ESPN poll of potential MVP voters, LeBron already has overwhelming support. There is a desire to give LeBron the award unless someone else emphatically proves otherwise.
Combine that slightly peculiar – perhaps unfair – phenomenon with just how well LeBron has been playing, and how much better the Lakers are with him on the floor (the Lakers are 11.4 points better per 100 possessions with LeBron than without), and it’s already looking like an almost un-winnable argument.
Backing James to win MVP is reliant on the Lakers winning, though. They have lost three of four. They were taken deep by the Thunder and Pistons just before this poor run. Start to drop a few more, and the Lakers fall into the chasing pack in the West. That would surely harm LeBron’s candidacy.
LeBron isn’t a lock to win it right now. The odds are probably fair given his potential for crazy numbers with no Davis, but the Lakers are suddenly slightly vulnerable.
Big Ask for Big Men
Games played is Joel Embiid’s biggest obstacle. Embiid has already missed six games this season. If he continues to sit out at that rate, there will be a significant minutes difference between Embiid and James. Missing time has kept Kawhi Leonard out of recent MVP conversations, and Embiid could suffer the same fate.
Nikola Jokic has no such worry. He’s fifth in the NBA in total minutes. The stats are bonkers for Jokic across the board, but the Nuggets record is underwhelming. With the West so bunched up, being in seventh isn’t the problem as such. Denver is 3.5 games behind fourth and 5.5 behind the two-seed Lakers. Having a worse record than the depleted Blazers and the Spurs would make it incredibly difficult for The Joker to win MVP.
Health and load management can stop Embiid truly rivalling LeBron. The Sixers, like the Lakers, need to get back to winning ways, too. Although still atop the Eastern Conference, Embiid’s Sixers have lost four of six.
With Denver unlikely to be a top three team, Jokic has to keep posting video game numbers. Being top 10 in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals is the bare minimum for Jokic to really take this deep with James.
MVP Candidates’s on-off (the difference in team’s NRtg when the player is on the floor vs off):
Rudy Gobert +15.3
Kawhi Leonard + 14.9
Joel Embiid +10.8
LeBron James +9.4
Giannis Antetokounmpo +7.6
Nikola Jokic +5.9
Damian Lillard +4.5
Stephen Curry +2.2
Luka Doncic +0.9
— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) February 19, 2021
Both Embiid and Jokic have been more efficient than ever. Jokic’s 65.2% true shooting is spectacular, and Embiid’s 65.7% is by far a career high. They are scoring from all over the floor. Embiid has gone from below average as a mid-range shooter to among the best in the NBA – he’s been more efficient than DeMar DeRozan from non-rim two-point attempts. They need to sustain these levels to keep this MVP race alive into the spring months.
Back the Joker
It takes a lot of confidence in the Nuggets to back Jokic for MVP. Denver, though, is sixth in net rating. There’s reason to expect the Spurs and Blazers to cool off – a top four seed is well within reach for the Nuggets. Of course, if Portland doesn’t cool off, Damian Lillard could be a great MVP bet at +2600.
Jokic with the triple-double on his birthday:
🥳 16 Pts
🥳 12 Reb
🥳 10 Ast pic.twitter.com/PdlaZLjzeY
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 20, 2021
Durability is a big thing. If Embiid misses 10 or more games (which seems very likely), that’s going to damage his candidacy with a lot of voters. Jokic does not have the same injury history, and there is absolutely no sign of load management in 2020-21.
It’s LeBron’s award to lose as it stands. It will take a spectacular statistical season to beat him, and that’s exactly what Jokic is doing. The +550 price is great value for a player producing like Jokic is on a team with as much talent as Denver.
Sam Cox is a freelance writer and sports junkie, who has spent the past several years immersed in the online gaming industry. He has worked with 888sport, Oddschecker, and Colossus Bets to name a few. Based in the UK, Sam also runs Franchise Sports with his brother.