There isn’t a more individually-focused team game than NBA basketball. More times than not, the best player on the court’s team has the advantage, and it’s what makes the MVP race so thrilling every year for basketball betting enthusiasts.
When browsing the top bookmakers the usual suspects are in the running each year – it’s rare for a rising star to pop up that quickly into the MVP discussions – but there are a few trends and statistics to follow that will make your wager a smarter one.
This may sound obvious, but it goes deeper than just finding a player on a winning team (which, thus, makes him more valuable). Consider that before 2018 over a span of 36 seasons, the MVP award winner’s team finished first in their conference a whopping 28 times. Six other MVPs finished second, one finished third (Michael Jordan, 1988) and one finished sixth (Russell Westbrook, 2017).
That means the average finish of the MVP award winner in his conference over the last four decades is 1.36, even with that Westbrook outlier (we’ll get to him later).
It’s not just that the MVP award winner is on a good team each year; he’s usually on a great team. If you’re searching for an MVP pick, consider the team that’s been built around him and whether they’re trending up enough to flirt with a top-3 standing in their conference.
There’s a difference between an MVP and a really good, even great, player. He’s got to make everyone else around him better, which means vaulting his team to a top spot in the conference and league.
It’s important to remember exactly who’s voting for league MVP. It’s not the coaches or the players. It’s the media. And naturally, there’s nothing the media loves more than a good storyline. It’s simply not enough to post spectacular numbers or lead your team to the top of the standings – though both are required to be in the conversation.
More important is an angle and a storyline to attach to that player’s season. Consider the offseason the team had.
Did a fellow star leave in the offseason, leaving that player to carry the load? Did that player have success in the previous season’s playoffs and is ready to make the jump to super-stardom? Is the potential to break an NBA record in play? Could that player’s team be on the cusp of winning a conference title?
Finding a long-term, bigger-picture storyline to accompany the season you think that player will have goes a long way. The voters take it into consideration. Numbers are nice, but the story is what sells (and gets the vote). See the fourth bullet point for times when it’s mattered.
The NBA is unique in the sense that winners of the MVP rarely come out of nowhere, and rarely are flashes in the pan. In the NFL a quarterback can catch fire and win the MVP and regress to the mean, and we’ve seen baseball players put together majestic seasons only to fade away.
The NBA is different. Since the award was first handed out 63 years ago in 1956 to Bob Petit, all but one player is either in the Hall of Fame or on pace to be inducted.
Thirty-two different players have won the award, and the 25 retired players are all in the Hall of Fame. Six active players who have won it (Nowitzki, LeBron, Durant, Curry, Westbrook, Harden) are all on pace.
The only non-future HOFer is Derrick Rose, who won in 2011 before crippling knee injuries halted his career trajectory. So when considering an MVP wager, ask yourself if this players is on his way to the Hall of Fame or might be in the early stages of a Hall of Fame career. In the NBA, sustained success matters when it comes to the MVP.
There’s far more to basketball than scoring. We all know that. But it sure helps your MVP odds if, above all else, you can score. It almost always means you’re carrying the burden of leading your team each night, having the ball in your hands.
Four of the last five MVPs have led the league in scoring, and in the last 11 years only two MVPs have been outside the top five in points per game. But remember Step 2, about having a storyline?
The two outside the top five were Steph Curry in 2015, who set the NBA record for 3-pointers in a season. The other was Derrick Rose, who at 22 years old led the Bulls to an NBA-best 62 wins.
They had storylines attached to their names that made up for the lack of scoring. The offense in today’s NBA is as good as it’s ever been, meaning scorers are going to rack up the headlines. If all else fails, find yourself a scorer.
Now that you've got the basics down for betting the MVP market, lets check out the Rookie of the Year market.