Photo credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kevin Durant
- The Action Network's Bryan Mears built an NBA MVP model to predict the upcoming race. Mears will be updating its results throughout the year.
- As of today, Warriors forward Kevin Durant leads the field despite just 16-1 odds. Damian Lillard is second with 28-1 odds.
A couple weeks ago, I built an NBA MVP model to predict this year’s race. It has a few more variables than the Rookie of the Year one, and I think narratives come into play more with MVPs than rookies, but there are still a couple of key metrics that have done well predicting past MVP races.
Throughout the year I’ll be sharing the results of the model and where players stand in the race.
A couple weeks ago, Warriors point guard Stephen Curry held an early lead, but he’s dropped due to missing three games. And as a result, his teammate, Kevin Durant, has vaulted to the top of the rankings.
That shows how volatile things are at the beginning of the year. In the course of an 82-game season, the leaders will certainly separate themselves from the pack.
For now, though, three games is 20% of Curry’s season. It would be only 3.7% of the full season. Things will stabilize over time.
Still, it’s worth looking at the race as it stands now and whether there’s any betting value. Here are the current MVP ratings, on a scale from 0 to 10.
2018-19 NBA MVP Ratings
Winning is obviously important in the MVP race, with Russell Westbrook in his triple-double MVP season being a rare exception to the rule.
And currently KD has the best numbers on the best team in the league. He’s tied with Damian Lillard with 2.7 win shares, and he’s close to the league lead in minutes and raw stats.
Durant is probably undervalued in the betting market right now at 16-1. If Curry were to miss more time than expected this year (he might be out the next couple of weeks), KD should be the favorite or close to it.
Lillard is my favorite value bet currently. He’s second in my ratings, and he’s clearly the best player on a Portland team that has exceeded expectations early.
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Toronto and Golden State are slightly ahead in that regard, but both teams feature a pair of stars that could split votes: Curry and KD in Golden State, and Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry in Toronto.
Lillard has dynamite advanced metrics right now, and that’s despite ranking seventh (per ESPN) in strength of schedule this year. I believe the Western Conference might be easier than the East this year, so the path for Lillard to get a top-four seed as a clear superstar is there.
At just 28-1, he’s an intriguing longshot who shouldn’t be a longshot.
And finally, the two favorites in the betting market, Giannis Antetokounmpo (+375) and Anthony Davis (+425), obviously have room to move up in the ratings.
The model is probably undervaluing Giannis, who has played three fewer games and about 100 fewer minutes than some of the other top guys. In a bigger sample, he’ll move up.
Davis suffers from that issue, as well as his team currently sitting just .500. The Pelicans have played a top-10 schedule, however, and it’s possible he’ll have some better injury luck moving forward. If that’s the case, Davis will be right in the top five at the end of the race.