Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) drives to the basket
Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) drives to the basket during the first half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks, Saturday, May 29, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)


Mike Shara

The odds for who will win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award were recently released and they are generally predictable. This makes sense. Due to basketball’s relatively small roster size and the even smaller amount of players who actually contribute enough to be considered for MVP votes, the list of genuine threats to win the award is always very small compared to the other major sports.


This year’s odds reflect the lack of true betting favorites, with just five players (Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid, Steph Curry, Giannis and Steph Curry) coming in at less than +1000 odds of winning. However, with all of the player movement that has happened already – and more likely to come with Ben Simmons (currently at +20000 on DraftKings) likely to move too,  this year’s award season might be the most wide open in recent memory.  Last season Nikola Jokic became one of the longest bets to win the MVP Award, paying between +2500 and +3500 depending on when you bet on him to win. Imagine what the payout would have been if there had been any justice and Chris Paul had won it.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has already won twice, and it’s hard to imagine him winning his third in four years unless the Bucks repeat as NBA Champions. Curry has won twice already and LeBron four times. LBJ’s probably past his MVP days and Steph doesn’t feel like a threat anymore, but he’s still young enough to change that feeling. Though Brooklyn may be the early favorites to win this year’s championship, it’s likely their three-headed monster of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden will split MVP votes between them if they all remain healthy enough to win it all.

When making your MVP bet, keep in mind that writers became writers for a reason – they love a good story. They can’t help but fall in love with what they consider interesting narratives when casting their MVP votes – keep in mind that the ‘feisty underdog’ Steve Nash, who never once even reached a final, won two MVP Awards but the physically dominant four-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal won just one. (Before anyone gets into a pedantic outrage – yes, I realize the award is voted on before the playoffs begin. The point is that Shaq should have won more MVPs. Several more. And I’m not convinced Nash should have won any – and I’m Canadian).

These four players struck me as worthwhile longshots this year both because they will likely be leading very good teams and they’ll have a good story to go along with it if those teams do win.


MVP NARRATIVE: He Finally Has the Team to Win A Title.
The Heat added Kyle Lowry in the offseason to be their third star along with Butler and Bam Adebayo. Lowry may still have enough piss and vinegar in him to drag Miami to the promised land in the East. Miami is a deeper team than they have been in years – they somehow managed to keep up-and-comers Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson while still adding Lowry, a six-time All-Star. In Erik Spoelstra they have a top tier NBA Head Coach, and we are just 16 months from Butler being the best player on the court during a 2020 Final that also included LeBron James and Anthony Davis.


MVP NARRATIVE: Former MVP Returns Home, Makes Sacrifices to Win First Title.
As the new third wheel in Lakerland, Westbrook’s arrival does raise a few questions – for starters, who brings the ball up, Westbrook or Lebron? However, if Head Coach Frank Vogel can negotiate the touches peacefully and Westbrook successfully assimilates himself, the Lakers will loom as a huge threat in a Western Conference still very much up for grabs. It may mean he never records a triple/double again, but if his team wins a title, his unselfishness will change his undeserved reputation as a selfish player, and he could be rewarded with his second MVP award in 2022.


MVP NARRATIVE: Former First Overall Pick Emerges into A Superstar.
Statistically, there are few players in the league that have done what he has already accomplished at such a young age. He had double-digit games last year with over 30 points on over 70% shooting. Those are peak era Shaq numbers and last year was only Zion’s second NBA season. The Pelicans’ exciting young core, including Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart and Jaxson Hayes will shed the restrictive offensive systems of former Head Coach Stan Van Gundy this year and new center Jonas Valanciunas will add his underrated combo of skill and toughness. If New Orleans takes a leap this year and makes a deep playoff run, Zion will be at the center of it.

DEVIN BOOKER, PHOENIX (+2500 on DraftKings)

MVP NARRATIVE: Gifted Superstar Learns to Lead from Hall Of Fame Teammate.

As you may have gathered, I thought Chris Paul should have won his first MVP last year for almost single-handedly transforming the Suns from a nonentity the last 15 years into a team that was two games from winning an NBA title. If Phoenix is to return to the Finals again this year, it will have to be Booker who carries them there (it’s unlikely Paul is able to carry that load physically ever again). Having acquired a taste for playoff success, there’s a chance Booker will be inspired to take over as the team’s true Alpha dog and make the rest of his team fall in line behind him. The West is winnable for about five or six teams. If Phoenix is the team that emerges, I expect Booker to take over for Paul as the biggest reason why.

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