The NBA will hold its All-Star Game on Sunday in New Orleans. The season is just past the midway point, and betting on the Warriors or Cavs to win the NBA Finals is not very fruitful. There may be an opportunity with another type of futures bet, though.
While James Harden and Russell Westbrook are the heavy favorites to win league MVP honors, there is value on several other players.
Let’s look at the five top candidates and find the best play.
2017 NBA MVP Betting Advice
James Harden (Rockets): 2/3
The Rockets star is third in the league in scoring at 29.1 points a game. He’s tallying his points on less than 19 shot attempts a night, while attempting close to 11 free throws a contest. Houston is 40-17 this year, the third-best in the league. Harden leads the league in assists, though he also tops the NBA in turnovers.
Using the Real Time Plus Minus WINS metric, which estimates the number of wins each player in the league has contributed based on his value during possessions played, Harden ranks fourth in the NBA contributing 11.41 victories.
Russell Westbrook (Thunder): 6/5
The preseason favorite is doing a lot of what people expected, leading the NBA in scoring and averaging a triple-double. That said, the Thunder are just 31-25. Westbrook gets his points by taking at least three more shots a game than any other player in the league, and his percentage from the floor, 41.2, is 102nd in the NBA. He is third in Real Time WINS at 11.5 this year. Much has been made of the fact that Oscar Robertson is the only player to ever average a triple-double over the course of the season, and some think it’s a foregone conclusion that Russ will be the MVP if he becomes the second. But keep in mind, the Big O finished third in the MVP voting that year behind Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
Lebron James (Cavaliers): 17/2
Juicy odds for a guy who has won the award four times (though none since 2013). LeBron has his team at 37-16 and, oh-by-the-way, is the consensus best player on the planet. He’s ninth in the NBA in scoring at 25.8 points a game, 31st in rebounding, and fourth in assists. He ranks seventh in Real Time WINS.
This is LeBron’s best statistical season since returning to Cleveland, and there is something to be said for voting for the best, particularly when he has been the best for more than a decade yet only been honored four times.
Kawhi Leonard (Spurs): 21/2
The 2014 Finals MVP has won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award each of the last two seasons. When big games arise, Leonard shows up. He scored 41 in the Spurs’ win in Cleveland, and 35 in a victory at Golden State. San Antonio has the second best record in the NBA, and Leonard is tenth in Plus-Minus WINS, eighth in scoring (25.9 PPG), and shoots a higher percentage from the floor than everyone who scores more than him, save Anthony Davis. His 40-percent mark from three is best among the top-ten scorers.
Kevin Durant (Warriors): 12/1
The argument against Durant is that he plays with perhaps the best group of teammates in NBA history. It is relatively easy to win and put up great numbers with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green running beside you. That said, this has been the best season of Durant’s surefire Hall of Fame career. He is second in the league in Real Time WINS, ninth in scoring (despite taking fewer shots than anyone else in the top ten), and 20th in rebounds at 8.3 per game (a career high). He’s also tenth in blocked shots and has been the best player the best team in the league, which just happens to feature last year’s MVP, Curry.
If the season ended now, Harden would be a deserving choice. However, there is a lot of hoops to go, and the Rockets are not as good as the Cavs, Warriors, or Spurs. If San Antonio catches the Warriors, Leonard is the guy. If Golden State runs away from the pack, Durant will be a catalyst, and it is hard to deny how good he’s been this year. If Harden slows down, James could easily be honored again as a sort of lifetime achievement award. Westbrook’s numbers are great, but he comes off as a one man show on a middling team.
I’m taking a shot with multiple guys at a price. Leonard and James together seem to be particularly good value.