Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant is out with a sprained MCL for at least a month and may not return until March. As the NBA’s scoring leader on the team favored to win the league title, Durant was in the driver’s seat to win NBA MVP despite sitting behind the Warriors’ Stephen Curry odds-wise prior to his injury.
BetMGM moved Durant from +220 to +1400, welcoming longshot action with the understanding that missing such a large chunk of the season will probably take the Nets’ forward out of the mix.
Curry dominated the first few months of the season but has slumped since just before the New Year and is currently running sixth with a scoring average of 26.1. He shot 40 percent in December and is down at 37 percent through his first eight games of January, struggling with double teams and nagging injuries. After leading Golden State to a win in Utah at Jan. 1, Curry went through an 8-for-41 two-game shooting slump, missing 17 of 19 3-pointers. Then Klay Thompson returned, reuniting the Splash Brothers, which should free up Curry to get more open looks.
As things stand, Golden State’s guard is the favorite to win his third MVP trophy at DraftKings (+170) and FanDuel (+180) and figures to be in the mix as long as he stays healthy. Draymond Green will return from a back injury at some point in February, and the Warriors figure to go on a run as they look to finish ahead of Phoenix in the Western Conference. With Thompson and Green set to make Curry’s life easier, he’s likely to have a strong finishing kick.
The NBA MVP Race Is On
A race that looked like it would come down to Curry, Durant and maybe two-time winner Giannis Antetokounmpo has gotten far more crowded this month, which means it’s time to pick a longshot and break out the pom-poms.
The value is gone on Curry, and my preseason choice was Durant, who was available at +700 before we tipped off and now is sitting at +2200 at DraftKings and +2400 at FanDuel after this knee issue, so it’s time to turn our attention to the five players climbing in to the conversation.
On Wednesday night, Antetokounmpo’s 33 points and 15 boards helped the Bucks defeat Ja Morant’s Grizzlies despite the young point guard’s 33 points and 14 assists.
DeMar DeRozan helped the Bulls snap a season-worst four-game losing streak by scoring 30 points in an upset of the Cavaliers, despite guards Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball remaining sidelined.
76ers center Joel Embiid tied his career-high with 50 points in terrorizing Orlando.
To cap off the night, Nikola Jokic went for 49 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists in a 130-128 OT conquest of the Clippers. The race is on.
LeBron, Luca, Trae Among Also-Rans
You won’t see LeBron James as as bet to consider in this write-up despite the fact he’s put up big numbers (28.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 6.5 apg) because his Lakers are a sub-.500 team that badly misses Anthony Davis.
James is lumped in with Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Atlanta’s Trae Young as top-10 candidates who won’t be seriously considered due to their teams underachieving.
Suns guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker will get consideration due to their team making a run at the NBA’s best record, but they’ll likely split the votes they receive and won’t get enough to merit an investment. Let’s take a closer look at the most serious threats to Curry’s likely coronation.
Antetokounmpo Seeks Third MVP in Four-Year Span
Coming off his first championship, the “Greek Freak” is putting up numbers on par with those that won him the hardware in 2019 and 2020. He played just 61 regular-season games last season but dominated in the playoffs, making the difference in conquests of Brooklyn in the East semis and Phoenix in the NBA Finals by rising up to meet the moment.
The Bucks are looking up at Chicago in the Central Division and struggled while Jrue Holiday was on the mend but have him back in the mix and figure to make a push in the regular-season’s second half with the top seed in the Eastern Conference up for grabs.
Antetokounmpo’s 28.5 points per game average is the second-highest in his career, and his 6.1 assists are the most he’s ever produced. A pair of meetings with the Suns remain on the slate, as do two games apiece the Nets and 76ers. Performing well in those contests should put Giannis in the thick of the MVP mix.
He’s +360 at FanDuel and +300 at DraftKings, which might not be enough to entice those looking for a big payday but is certainly a nice return, given how dominant he is and how many statement games remain ahead.
DeRozan Doing Bulls Legacy Proud
Derrick Rose won an MVP in his third season in the league back in 2011, so DeRozan wouldn’t be the first Bulls star since Michael Jordan to be handed the award, but he is definitely opening eyes with clutch shot-making and an ability to dominate via the mid-range game.
His 25.7-point scoring average is the second-highest of his career, and he’s been effective on the boards and a passer in his first season in Chicago. There’s concern he’s reached his ceiling since we’ve never seen him play this well consistently over such a prolonged period, but the 32-year-old will have LaVine and Ball back to help the Bulls make a run at the East’s top seed.
If he’s able to help Chicago dethrone Milwaukee for the Midwest Division title and continues to be clutch down the stretch, he’ll remain among the favorites over the coming months.
At +3000 at both FanDuel and DraftKings, DeRozan yields the type of payday that will entice bettors and has a path to an unlikely victory, making him an attractive option if you don’t believe he’ll hit a wall in the coming months.
Embiid Embraces Dominance as 76ers Stand Out
Knee issues are always a concern with Philadelphia’s 7-footer, but he’s fought through recurring issues and three-quarters of his team’s games to date. After averaging 28.5 points per game last season over 51 games, he’s up at 28 points per game following Wednesday’s 50 -point outburst against the Magic, and has kept the Sixers in the thick of the Atlantic Division race, despite Ben Simmons refusing to play, Tobias Harris slumping, and other teammates missing time due to injuries and protocols.
He’s seen his odds move from longshot status earlier this season to +800 at DraftKings and +850 at FanDuel. That would still be fantastic payout but will require him staying healthy enough to play in the majority of Philadelphia’s games while keeping his team in contention.
There’s no questioning his dominance or skill level. From the standpoint of making opposing pros look like helpless night after night, few do it better than Embiid, who could get more help if Daryl Morey gets a deal he likes to finally move on from Simmons.
Jokic Pushes to Become Second Straight Repeat Winner
After dethroning Antetokounmpo last season, Jokic has made a strong push over the past few weeks, even though his Nuggets continue to struggle in the Western Conference. Surviving the Clippers behind his remarkable 49-point triple-double on Wednesday helped Denver strengthen its hold on the No. 6 spot in the West, which would be enough to help avoid the play-in round.
Although Aaron Gordon has stepped his play up of late and the team has gotten healthier, big guns Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr. remain out due to injuries. That makes it unlikely that Jokic’s team will catch the Jazz, but that didn’t keep the Serbian 7-footer from winning last season, thanks to averages of 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists, all career-highs. His helpers are down in 2021-22, but his scoring numbers are about the same, and he’s grabbed nearly 14 boards per contest, imposing his will on the glass in ranking second in the NBA in the category behind Utah’s Rudy Gobert (15.0 rpg).
Jokic should get help from a healthier roster down the road and is playing his best basketball at the moment. Denver would be lost without him and often is during the minutes head coach Michael Malone gets him some rest. At +500 at FanDuel and +600 at DraftKings, backing a Jokic repeat offers a nice return.
Morant Barges on to Scene by Lifting up Memphis
Grizzlies star point guard Ja Morant is having a Rose-like emergence in his third season in the league and will be a factor in the MVP race as long as he keeps driving his young teammates with on-court brilliance and impressive competitive nature. After averaging 19.1 points and 7.4 assists last season, Morant looks like a shoo-in for Most Improved honors since he’s up to 24.7 points in 2021-22 and is shooting a career-best 35.7 percent from 3-point range.
With key wings Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, and Kyle Anderson all sidelined due to COVID protocols, Morant put Memphis on his back in Milwaukee and fought hard to avoid a second loss in three games after seeing an 11-game win streak end last Friday in Dallas.
The Grizzlies lead the Southwest Division comfortably ahead of the Mavericks and would have to hold on to stay lumped in among the West’s best if Morant is to be seriously considered. He’s doing eye-popping things on a nightly basis and has scored at least 30 points five times in 13 games since Dec. 26, so he’s clearly playing his best basketball.
NBA writers who vote on the MVP will likely make him wait his turn behind more established stars if they get the chance, but Morant’s play during Memphis’ win streak has merited serious consideration and moved his odds to +1000 at DraftKings and +1400 at FanDuel.
Jokic Offers Betting Value
If you want a true longshot, DeRozan may be your guy since a healthy Bulls team could compete for the East’s top seed, but the best value play at this point is last season’s MVP, who continues to dominate night after night.
Jokic already has nine triple-doubles under his belt and will continue to move up the pecking order as Denver gets healthier and remains in the West’s top six. Even though Embiid is equally as dominant, Jokic is the safer option since he’s played at least 72 games in all six of his previous seasons. The most games Embiid has ever played in a season is 64.
Always shop around the betting market for the best odds for your plays.