NBA Futures Bets & Picks: Is There Still Value in NBA MVP Race?
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets and Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Welcome back to Futures Friday!
Every week I’ll dive into futures to play based on where the value is at that point in the season. Each week we’ll make plays based on distributing a half-unit of value. Over the course of a season, it’ll add up to a sizable position.
Here are the futures bets I’m eying as we near the end of the fourth week of the season. For last week’s edition, click here and full a the full list of best I’ve made so far this season, check out the chart below.
We’re looking at an incredible MVP race going down to the wire in the last two weeks of the MVP season. The cases are strong for all major candidates, and there is a constant barrage of discussion that new players should be in the conversation.
But the question is, is it priced appropriately, and what does that mean for bettors?
Currently, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid is the favorite, as high as -170 at FanDuel and above -150 at all major books. That gives Embiid 60% implied odds to win the award.
I find it extremely unlikely that price has even zero EV.
For starters, you have to notice the behavior of likely voters. ESPN’s Zach Lowe has not listed his choice as of now, but has made an adamant case for Denver’s Nikola Jokic. Bill Simmons has consistently made that case as well. Those are huge influencers in the space.
Meanwhile, I conducted a mini-strawpoll of likely voters this week. ESPN’s Tim Bontemps is expected to release his latest full strawpoll soon. Of the 15 likely voters I polled, 10 people had Nikola Jokic No. 1. Of those 10, seven had Giannis Antetokounmpo No. 2.
And of the remaining five votes who did not have Jokic No. 1, four of those likely voters had Giannis No. 1, leaving just one vote for Embiid as No. 1.
I am of the opinion the NBA MVP futures market is not accurately priced.
Now, Jokic’s case in particular is in a harrowing situation. The Nuggets are on the very edge of the play-in tournament. Even if the Nuggets finish within three games of the Sixers as they are currently on pace to do, being in the play-in tournament will be seen as an indictment.
However, if we’re going to go by the wins and seeding argument, Milwaukee is tied with the Sixers in the loss column. Embiid’s strongest argument is that he is the points leader for a team with a better record among the three major candidates. But the Bucks may very well finish ahead of the Sixers in the standings.
Antetokounmpo is currently 0.1 points behind Embiid for second in the NBA in scoring (LeBron James is first). Antetokounmpo shoots considerably better from the field (55% to 48% for Embiid) and even with Embiid’s considerable advantage from 3-point range (Embiid is shooting 37%), Antetokounmpo still has a better effective field goal percentage.
Likewise, Antetokounmpo is averaging more rebounds and assists, and his team has a better net rating when he’s on-court than Embiid or Jokic (+8.4 for Giannis, +7.5 for Jokic, +7.0 for Embiid).
The problem with the strongest Embiid argument is that it still winds up looking like Antetokounmpo is a little bit better. Even the argument that Embiid has had to navigate this season without Ben Simmons is hurt by the fact that Jokic lost both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. to injury, and Antetokounmpo has been without Brook Lopez the entire season and Jrue Holiday and Krhis Middleton for significant stretches.
There are other dark horses in the race; Devin Booker has entered the conversation after his monster performance vs. Jokic and the Nuggets on Thursday.
However, those three are still very much at the top of the list and have separated themselves enough to be the frontrunners. However, even if Embiid still has a very good chance to win (and he does), that doesn’t reflect a 60% implied odds opportunity.
There will be a significant voting bloc for Embiid. Voters who go on storyline and less on metrics will lean heavily towards him, and there are political factors at play as well.
But at this moment, the market should at the very least consider this a close race between the three candidates. Giannis Antetokounmpo is 10-1 at FanDuel, while Jokic is +170 or better at various books. Both of those bets have value at this point, particularly if you bet Embiid at a big plus number when his campaign began in earnest.
The Bets: Giannis Antetokounmpo MVP +1000: 0.25 units | Nikola Jokic MVP +170: 0.25 units