James Harden MVP Odds: Is Now the Time to Buy the Beard?

James Harden MVP Odds: Is Now the Time to Buy the Beard? article feature image
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Jerome Miron, USA Today Sports. Pictured: James Harden

  • A few weeks ago, James Harden was a massive -500 favorite to win the NBA's MVP.
  • At the time, it was a bad idea to bet on Harden, but now that the number has lengthened to +350, Matt Moore wonders if it's a good time to buy into the market.

So on January 25, I advised fading James Harden’s MVP candidacy. At the time, he was -500 and those numbers were wildly out of whack.

The argument was that he’d come back to earth as exhaustion and the return of his teammates cooled off his nuclear assault on scoring marks for two months. Sure enough, that’s happened.

Harden’s 30-point streak ended, and this the joking-but-not-really 28-point scoring streak Rockets fans were tracking also ended on Sunday.

Along with the Bucks’ continued and sustained success, the odds have flipped, just as the Rockets have hit their stride. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the heavy favorite when I did a straw poll a month ago.

The Rockets have won eight in a row and are now nearing pole position for the No. 2 seed, with an outside shot at the No. 1, in the West. That’s a huge swing from where they were in December, ranked 14th in the West.

Harden kept them alive while Clint Capela and Chris Paul were out, and their return has sparked the team success Harden needs.

“Right now I think Giannis is in the driver’s seat,” Jeff Sherman of the Westgate SuperBook told The Action Network. “He’s the best player on the team that has the best record in the league. He’s very consistent with his stats…Also, Giannis’ growing popularity factors into how we are pricing his chances currently. We saw this last year when Harden won the MVP over Russell Westbrook it seemed like they didn’t want to award Westbrook the MVP back-to-back.

“So now with Harden as the reigning champ the same factors could apply here and people are anticipating someone new winning. A lot of voters will want to play against the back to back angle and give it to someone new that’s deserving,” Sherman noted.

Giannis remains very slightly in the lead from where I’m at, but as Harden pushes the Rockets closer and closer to 50 wins, the gap narrows. The Bucks have already clinched a playoff spot and will likely clinch a top-two seed by the end of the month. Take a look at where the odds have moved:

That’s wild movement considering how much the Rockets are surging. Antetokounmpo has built up a lot of credit for his stake: the Bucks will finish with a better record, and probably north of 60 wins, with Giannis as the best player.

But just as fading Harden at his height gave you the best number of Antetokounmpo, this may be the best number you’ll get on Harden the rest of the way.

For starters, Harden is facing several marquee performances this month. On Wednesday, he takes on the Warriors, with Houston having won the prior three meetings. It’s a chance for Harden to sweep the Warriors, on national television, less than a month before the end of the season.

If Harden goes off for 40+ as he did in the early January matchup, that number’s going to drop.

After Golden State, the Rockets face four lottery teams in a row. They have a soft schedule for the most part the rest of the way, but have nationally televised games vs. the Wolves and Thunder left, and most notably, a matchup in Milwaukee vs. Giannis that could swing a lot of votes (even if that’s a ridiculous way to have a vote decided).

Harden will also not take games off the rest of the way. Antetokounmpo is already averaging fewer minutes. The Bucks won’t risk playing him extra minutes to secure the award, the Rockets absolutely will play Harden to the bone. That’s their approach, historically. They want this MVP, he wants this MVP. The Bucks have a different approach, and that’s going to matter.

So now you’re getting the player who is averaging the second-most points in the last 50 years while averaging 7 assists per game for a team that’s going to win more than 50 despite its second and third best players missing at least a month of play, and you’re getting him at +200.

The smart play was fading Harden as the heavy favorite. But at this spot, especially if you’re looking for a hedge position? You’re finally getting a good number on the reigning MVP in James Harden.

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