NBA Odds: Nikola Jokić new favorite for MVP; The best bets you can make right now

NBA

We have a new name on the NBA MVP odds board FOX betsince Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić passed Luka Dončić as favorite to win the award.

I understand why he’s favored at the moment – the Nuggets have the best record in the Western Conference and Jokić has by far the best efficiency differential that Cleaning The Glass has at a wild 23.9, meaning the Nuggets are almost 24 points better as Jokic on the floor as if he isn’t.

This might mark the first time he’s the first name on my MVP poll, but that doesn’t mean I expect him to win the award for the third straight year. I wouldn’t bet your money or mine either, because I don’t expect him to continue like this. Or for the 100+ members of the media voting for the award — yes, I am one — not to consider other factors when they fill out their ballots three months from now.

Let’s jump to the odds and my three favorite NBA MVP bets you can make right now that have some value.

LeBron James has a season best of 48 points

LeBron James has a season best of 48 points

Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe discuss how LeBron James scored 48 points against the Rockets.

NBA TOP 10 MVP ODDS (at FOX Bet)*

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets: +162 (Wager $10 to win $26.20 in total)
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks: +225 (Wager $10 to win $32.50 in total)
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: +500 (Wager $10 to win $60 total)
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: +500 (Wager $10 to win $60 total)
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: +1100 (Wager $10 to win $120 total)
Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets: +1600 (Wager $10 to win $170 total)
Yes Morant, Memphis Grizzlies: +2500 (Wager $10 to win $260 total)
Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers: +3500 (Wager $10 to win $360 in total)
Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors: +5000 (Wager $10 to win $510 in total)
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans: +6000 (Wager $10 to win $610 total)

TIED TOGETHER: The complete list of odds of FOX Bet’s MVP candidates

The #1 Big Picture Factor: The award would make him the only player in NBA history, along with Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Larry Bird, to have won the award three years in a row. Maybe that doesn’t sound so terrible to you because of Jokić’s unique talent, but it would beat him over consecutive winners Michael Jordan, Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It would suggest that from a historical perspective, Jokic has been the most dominant player in the league for the past three years, which is difficult to reconcile with his meager post-season results.

What all of these two-time winners have in common with Wilt, Bill, and Larry is that they’ve all won multiple rings. Here’s what makes Jokić an outlier among two-time winners: He hasn’t even come close to winning one.

I won’t blame him because I haven’t had him at the top of my ballot for the past two years, but I’m not convinced the majority of my media peers won’t. Especially when you have to argue that Jokić is not as individually dominant as he was a year ago, and lo and behold, there is one.

Statistically, he is in the red in several categories. His field goal and 3-point shooting ratings are up, as is his assists, but his points, rebounds, and blocked shots are all down. And barring an injury to Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. or Aaron Gordon, I don’t expect that to change. All of this would suggest that the Nuggets’ conference lead has more to do with the return of Murray and Porter, who missed a significant chunk last season, than Jokić’s improvement.

The other element going against Jokic is that East seems to be the significantly tougher conference, which will add value if you finish on top, which will add value to the MVP candidate leading that particular team. (Luka Dončić and Ja Morant’s MVP chances are similarly impacted.)

Even if the Nuggets manage to hold the Western Conference’s best record, the East is the bigger beast right now. A 24-21 record in the West on Tuesday was worth fifth place and a guaranteed playoff spot (Dallas); in the East it is worth seventh place and a place in the play-in tournament (Miami).

Because of that, my top three bets for winning this year’s MVP at this point are all with top teams in the East:

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

The Celtics threaten to walk away with the best record in the league and while I believe that’s thanks to the squad’s overall strength and balance, there’s no denying that Tatum is arguably having their best season. Anyone who goes by the formula Best Player + Best Team = MVP would have a hard time not picking him if the status quo holds true. FOX Bet seems to agree, having increased their odds from +1300 last season to +500 now.

Joel Embid, Philadelphia 76ers

I recommended Embiid as an MVP betting option pre-season and I’m sticking with him, especially since the dividends have been growing since then (+1100 now, +500 then). He is neck and neck with Dončić in the fight for this year’s scoring title and after a 9-9 start the Sixers are down 18-7 and appear to be gaining momentum.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Another preseason pick that’s very much in the running. The Bucks are a threat to the East win largely because of their third-place defense, and Giannis is by far their most versatile defensive player — with key contributions from Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday. He also leads them in rebounds and scoring with a career-best average in the latter (31.0 points per game). Jokić won last year in part because he kept the Nuggets going despite the absences of Porter and Murray; Giannis may have some of that sentiment working in his favor with voters given that All-Star guard Khris Middleton has only appeared in seven games so far. At +500, betting on Antetokounmpo to win his third MVP is worth a sprinkle.

Award

Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Networks

With at least one voter announcing that he would not vote for KD no matter what he does this season because of the turmoil he created in the offseason that ultimately cost coach Steve Nash his job, I have no reason to believe that Durant can win. However, if we talk strictly about what he does on the pitch – which I think should excel at everything – then he’s certainly in the mix.

Not only do the Nets have the second-best win rate in the East, but Durant is shooting career-best odds from the field and free-throw line (and significantly better than when he won the 2014 MVP). Even more notably, the Nets have suffered two double-digit losses since Durant sprained a knee ligament after winning 14-of-15. He was my pick for preseason as a dark horse and at +1600 he still is. If Brooklyn continues to falter without him and then KD returns to lead them to the East’s best record, it would make a compelling argument that Durant deserves to be among the two-time MVP winners more than Jokić deserves, to be among the triples.

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Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has authored two books, Rebound, the story of NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with early-onset Parkinson’s disease, and Yao: A Life In Two Worlds ‘, the story of NBA center Yao Ming. He also has a daily podcast, On The Ball with Ric Bucher. Follow him on Twitter @Ric Bucher.

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