Coming off a quick offseason, the NBA is in full force for a 72-game regular season. Giannis Antetokounmpo is coming off another MVP season, winning back-to-back years now. Will we see the voters start to look in other directions as we tend to see players winning multiple MVP trophies in a row? We have seen that historically and also in other sports, such as Mike Trout in baseball. There is a lot of hype around Luka Doncic, who is now in year three and exploded for 28.8 points per game this season. He is your current leader over on DraftKings Sportsbook for MVP odds. There are quite a few values to consider
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Historical MVP Numbers
As mentioned above, we usually see the voters lean another way after a player has won back-to-back MVP awards. Stephen Curry won back to back in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, LeBron James has won twice in a row back in 2011 and 2012 and in 2008 and 2009. Steve Nash and Tim Duncan also had back-to-back MVP wins in the early 2000s. Michael Jordan even failed to win three in a row, as did Magic Johnson. You have to go to the late 80s with Larry Bird, who won it three years in a row. I believe this is why we are seeing Doncic as a lead favorite right now, but it is a close race.
Scoring is the important factor for MVP winners. Outside of Stephen Curry in 2014-25, every player in the last ten years has averaged more than 25 points per game in a season. In three of the last four years, we have also seen the winner average double-digit rebounds or assists. Players who can generate steals also have a major edge because it is another box they can check off.
There really isn’t a dominant position that takes the MVP award each year, unlike the NFL. Even in a guard-heavy league with the usage going towards them, we have these position-less athletes taking over now, like Antetokounmpo. This is not something to weigh into the MVP consideration.
Two Heavy Favorites
Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the two favorites for MVP this season. Not much separates the two, as you can see above. One of the major edges that Antetokounmpo has over Doncic is his defense is at an elite level. He ranked 9th in DRPM last season behind a majority of centers and ranked first in ORPM. Doncic has jumped into stardom, and the Clippers series was what elevated him. Doncic has the advantage of playing in a deeper conference and on a weaker team than the Bucks. There is also that factor of Giannis being given the voter fatigue when the end of the season hits.
Antetokounmpo is certainly the better basketball player, but Doncic is more valuable to the Mavericks. Their win total really hinges on Doncic staying healthy. Milwaukee would be able to weather the blow a bit. Antetokounmpo ranked third in win shares last season, and Doncic ranked 10th. Both were top-three in PER, with Antetokounmpo leading the way.
While the opener was not a good indicator of what’s to come in Golden State, there is a world where Stephen Curry (+800) leads this ragtag Warriors group to a final playoff spot. It is certainly a tough task in a brutal Western Conference that has seen teams like the Suns and Grizzlies step into a potential playoff spot as well. Without Klay Thompson, the Warriors took a major hit for trying to return to dominance this season. Curry returning to a 26-6-5 type line will certainly put him in the mix if the Warriors sneak into the playoffs.
Kawhi Leonard (+2200) is awfully low for someone who can easily take down an MVP race. What will dictate Leonard’s chances a bit more than his play is not to rest as much as he did last season. There was a lot more “game maintenance” for him, and that would hurt him. But a two-way wing with his production on both sides of the court. Los Angeles surging in the west and even leading the conference would get his odds to rise over the course of the season.
Small Market Hopefuls
Now top-five players winning MVP awards mask the small market troubles for others. A guy like Damian Lillard (+1600) would probably be higher in MVP considerations in a different market. Lillard has stuck it out in Portland in an era where so many superstars move around. Lillard ranked second in win shares last season and averaged 30 points per game and eight assists per game. Lillard had a career-high in both of those departments and continues to make strides on the defensive side. He has been a reliable option and durable as well. If Portland has a strong season winning close to 50 games (reminder there are only 72 games this season) and produces 30 points per game, it is tough to argue against him.
Denver has been on the map for more diehard NBA fans as an up and coming team the last few years, and they are finally getting more respect nationally. Nikola Jokic (+2200) is one of the top big men in the league and what I love about him is the passing ability. This Denver offense would be very one-dimensional without Jokic. He was 7th in win shares last season and top-five in WORP. He is an excellent defensive player as well. Denver would also need to overtake the LA teams to really stamp this out. They have to check off so many boxes for these smaller market teams to get a nudge over the big market superstars.
If I am picking a long shot this season, it is Ja Morant (+15000). His second year in the league is why he is a long shot, and Memphis isn’t a big market team that holds him back. But Morant is a high-energy guard who I expect to take a major leap in his second year. He averaged 17-3-7, shooting 47% from the field last season. Memphis is a fringe playoff team, and if Morant has a major jump like Doncic did in year two, he will shoot up in odds.