- Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ja Morant remain strong favorites to win MVP and Rookie of the Year
- Zion Williamson’s early performances will attract bettors’ attention
- LeBron James could push the Greek Freak as he looks for a fifth MVP – read below for our best betting options
The NBA season kicks on after the All-Star break. Teams are eyeing up postseason berths, and the contest for favorable seeding heats up. On an individual level, the award discussion ramps up.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ja Morant, as has been the case for a while now, are the runaway favorites to win MVP and Rookie of the Year, respectively. Antetokounmpo is -450 to go back-to-back, while Morant is -350 to hold off a late push from Zion Williamson.
NBA MVP Odds
All odds taken Feb. 17.
Greek Freak’s to Lose
The Milwaukee Bucks are cruising towards 65 or more wins. They are blowing teams out with a ruthless regularity. Antetokounmpo has the best PER in a single season in NBA history, ahead of Wilt Chamberlain in 1961-62 and 1962-63 , and Michael Jordan in 1987-88. Of players with a significant sample, the Greek Freak has the best defended field goal percentage in the league on shots at six feet and closer. He can guard all five positions.
Giannis locked up LeBron and then LBJ returned the clamps ? pic.twitter.com/pdLk8p1kPs
— ESPN (@espn) February 17, 2020
Antetokounmpo is playing fewer minutes than last season because of the frequency of blowouts for the Bucks. His points, assists and rebounds per 36 have all increased from his MVP campaign. He’s taking almost five threes per game, two more than last season, and has markedly improved his percentage. The only disappointment has been at the free-throw line. Other than that, Antetokounmpo has taken an historic season and improved on it.
It will take an injury or something extraordinary to stop Antetokounmpo adding a second MVP trophy. There are plenty of players in the NBA capable of the jaw-dropping, or hot streaks bordering on unbelievable.
King James on the Charge
LeBron James already has four MVPs, and his ambitions this season go far beyond regular season recognition. He has distinguished himself from Lakers teammate Anthony Davis in the MVP betting, however, and leads the NBA in assists.
Advanced Stat Report at the All-Star Break ?
LeBron’s Real Plus Minus Rankings
— NBAStoryOfLBJ (@NBAStoryOfLBJ) February 14, 2020
James is second in NBA history in PER, though he’s below his career rate this year. He’s the clear leader in ESPN’s real plus-minus this season, well ahead of Antetokounmpo. Team success will be important in his MVP case this year – the Lakers kept pace with Milwaukee early on, and while still comfortably at the top of the Western Conference, have dropped off slightly. They are 4.5 games back for the best record in the NBA.
The on/off numbers show James’ value to the Lakers. They are a mess when he’s off the floor. To really challenge Antetokounmpo, though, he likely needs to see the gap between the two teams close, and drop in a few big moments along the way. With the Lakers not especially motivated to overly exert themselves in the regular season, and with a strong grip on the one-seed already, James isn’t a great bet at +800.
Lillard on Fire
Damian Lillard, the hottest player in the NBA in 2020, suffered a groin injury before the All-Star break, forcing him to withdraw from the All-Star Game and Three-Point Contest. A blow to Lillard, of course, but the injury came at the perfect time for the Portland Trail Blazers. The All-NBA point guard will be re-evaluated this week and could return for the Blazers’ first game after the break.
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) February 13, 2020
Lillard is fourth in scoring on the season, but leads the NBA over the last five games, averaging 36.5 points per outing. Over that span, he’s shot north of 45% from beyond the arc. He has scored 42 or more in seven games, passing 50 on four occasions.
Despite the individual brilliance, Lillard is an outsider for MVP. Portland are five back in the loss column for the eighth seed, and would need to make the playoffs for him to stand a realistic chance. Even then, it’s very rare a player wins MVP without playing for a top-four seed.
If Lillard can get healthy quickly, though, and keep up the elongated hot streak we’ve witnessed in 2020, he’s one of the players who could make a serious late push for MVP. He’s worth a wager at +2500.
NBA Rookie of the Year Odds
|Michael Porter Jr.||+5000|
Quantity vs Quality
It’s been all about Morant in the Rookie of the Year betting this season. The second overall pick has led the ultra-fun Memphis Grizzlies to the eighth seed in the Western Conference, averaging 17.6 points with over seven assists per game.
Williamson’s injury made him an outsider, but he’s been racking up sensational numbers since making his Pelicans debut last month. The former Duke forward recently became the first rookie since Dikembe Mutombo to score 14 or more points in each of his first nine career games. The two rookies who achieved the same feat before Mutombo were Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan.
The numbers from Williamson are outrageous. His scoring per 36 is bettered only by the league’s elite, his offensive rebounding (4.6 per 36) is up with some of the best rebounders in the game. He’s shooting 57.6% from the field and getting to the line over 10 times per 36 minutes. Put Williamson’s production across a full season and the Rookie of the Year race is irrelevant. The injury means the conversation is very different – it is a comparison of the quantity of very good basketball from Morant against the smaller sample of historic basketball from Williamson.
— Straight Edge Super Soldier (@xvanwilderx) February 13, 2020
Hype plays into Williamson’s hands, and recency bias will lead to plenty of first-placed votes. To envisage value in him at +190, he likely needs to take the Pelicans into the playoffs at the expense of Morant’s Grizzlies. Memphis have a rough schedule remaining, and may drop off, but the Pelicans are six back in the loss column and need to leapfrog the Blazers and Spurs.
Lots of rookies have set themselves up for solid NBA careers this season. Morant and Williamson have laid the foundations to become transcendent superstars. Long-term injury is the only thing that should stop Morant picking up Rookie of the Year.
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