Locky: How I’m Betting the 2018-19 NBA MVP Race


Photo credit: USAToday Sports. Pictured: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, and LeBron James.

Oct 03, 2018, 01:34 PM EDT
  • Previous NBA MVP winners have been players in their prime, playing for a 50-plus win team and who have been in the MVP conversation before.
  • Using those parameters, below I break down who I am betting for the 2018-19 NBA MVP award.

We live in an era of obsession with the NBA, and I for one couldn’t be happier.

This week, the legendary footage of Matt Barnes and Kobe Bryant’s “no-flinch pass fake” was debunked, and it was one of the lead stories of the day around the industry.

The breaking down of an inbounds pass from years ago was alongside the biggest news of the day. And people truly CARED about it. Welcome to the NBA of 2018.

And people don’t just care about the weird stuff, either, such as the flinch. Basketball fans care a great deal about placing players in the proper order, and ranking them against each other, refusing to budge or give an inch even if their lives depended on it. It’s as irrational as sports discussion gets.

If you think Kobe is better than LeBron, there is a group of fans for you, but you have just made thousands and thousands of sworn enemies. Fans like to argue about how current big men would guard Shaquille O’Neal, as if any kind of reasonable answer can ever be produced. It’s phenomenal. In the NBA, the fake, pointless arguments are the best ones.

Part of what we use to rank these players against each other is the MVP award. It is not awarded lightly, and there is much discussion and controversy many years around regarding who should win it and why. To mention its winners is to read a list of the all-time greats, with seemingly great balance among how many times a player has won, and where he fits into the NBA all-timers hierarchy. Michael Jordan won five. LeBron has won four. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson won three.

In terms of betting on the MVP winner, much like with the Rookie of the Year, this is not an award where you want to reach. If you’re making a case for someone in the 100-1 or 200-1 range, you’re probably doing it wrong. MVP winners don’t really sneak up on anyone.

As you look at the market prices with the season rapidly approaching, here are some rules to consider for betting the MVP award.

Bet on someone you think can win 50 games

This has sort of been the magic threshold for winners of this award. Unlike baseball, where the MVP doesn’t even have to make the playoffs (Alex Rodriguez and Mike Trout, for example), you don’t win this MVP award scoring 30 a game for a lottery team. You don’t win this award having a great season for the 8-seed.

In the history of the MVP award, only six players have won with a team winning percentage under 60%. I use team winning percentage because a long time ago they didn’t use to play 82 games, and it allows for consistency. But in “modern times,” like, say, the last 25 years, only Russell Westbrook has won the award winning fewer than 50 games (the Thunder won 47).

Westbrook accomplished this feat, as you know, by averaging a triple-double for the entire season, which made the award more about recognizing that accomplishment than the things the award is usually founded on. There are many who feel James Harden should have won the award that year anyway, so it’s not like the vote was unanimous. In the past 30 years, just Westbrook won fewer than 50 games. So let’s just set 50 as our marker.

Unlike in sports such as college football or the NFL, where preseason win totals are complete guesswork and often nowhere close to the final results at the end of the season, in the NBA they are a reasonable way to start our 50-win search.

Last season there were six teams with preseason win totals of 50 or higher. Four of them (Warriors, Rockets, Cavs and Celtics) won 50 or more, and the other two (Thunder, Spurs) won 48 and 47, respectively. The Raptors won more than 50; their preseason win total was 47.5.  Only the Sixers (38.5) were truly surprising in a way that penetrated that barrier.

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