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2018-19 Updated NBA MVP Model: Harden Jumps to Top Tier with Giannis

Jan 10, 2019 9:00 AM EST
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Photo credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: James Harden

  • At the beginning of the year, I built an NBA MVP model to predict the upcoming race. I'll be updating its results throughout the year.
  • As of today, Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden lead the model and betting market with +175 odds.

At the beginning of the season, 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.

There’s been a lot of shifting early in the season, with Stephen Curry taking an early lead but dropping due to missing a chunk of games with an injury. In his absence, his teammate, Kevin Durant, jumped up the leaderboard.

Both Warriors are now down the list a bit, and last year’s winner, James Harden, has soared up the leaderboard thanks to a historic last couple of weeks. He and Giannis Antetokounmpo now have the lead in my model, and they’re both +175 in the futures market to win.

Before we completely dive in, though, here are the MVP ratings (from 0 to 10) as they stand today.

2018-19 NBA MVP Ratings

NBA MVP Betting Notes

Harden is certainly crafting his resume right now, and he now leads the NBA in some advanced metrics, along with raw stats. The only thing holding him back is team performance. Although the Rockets have won eight of 10 going into tonight’s showdown against the Bucks, they’re still just 23-16 on the year.

That’s the biggest edge Giannis has over Harden and Anthony Davis, who sits third in my model and sixth in the betting market at 12-1 odds. The Pelicans are currently only 19-22 on the year, good for a 46.3% win rate. That said, they should welcome back Nikola Mirotic soon, and they’ve played the 10th-toughest schedule so far.

Perhaps the most underrated MVP candidate is Nikola Jokic, who has led his Nuggets to a 26-12 record. Jokic is certainly a more pass-first player than several of the other guys at the top of this list, but his advanced metrics continue to be right up there with the best of the NBA.

He’s unlikely to win it during his career unless the Nuggets have the best record in the NBA, but he’ll perennially be underrated and deserving of consideration given his impact.

If I had to bet right now, I’d go with Giannis still, who plays in the much easier Eastern Conference and whose team projects to get close to 60 wins. The Bucks have easily the league’s best point differential at +9.3 — Boston and OKC are +6.5 and +6.3, for reference — and point differential is more predictive of future success than current record.

FiveThirtyEight projects Milwaukee for 57 wins currently — just two behind the Toronto Raptors and one behind the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets are hot, but they’re still projected for ‘just’ 50 wins. The Pelicans, meanwhile, are projected for 43; Davis will be essentially disqualified from voters’ minds if they’re that close to .500.

Harden certainly has the narrative currently, however, and he’ll have a chance to make a statement tonight against Giannis himself in Houston. It will be interesting to note whether the market changes solely off tonight’s performances.

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