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NBA odds: Nikola Jokić latest favorite to win MVP; Best bets to make now


Ric Bucher

FOX Sports NBA Analyst

We’ve got a latest name atop the NBA MVP odds board at FOX Bet, as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokić has surpassed Luka Dončić as the favourite to win the award.

I get why he’s currently favored — the Nuggets have the perfect record within the Western Conference, and Jokić has far and away the perfect efficiency differential, which Cleansing The Glass has at a wild 23.9, meaning the Nuggets are nearly 24 points higher when Jokic is on the ground than when he isn’t. 

This might be the primary time he’s the primary name on my MVP ballot, but that doesn’t mean I expect him to win the award for what can be a 3rd consecutive yr. I also wouldn’t wager your or my money on it happening because I don’t expect him to maintain this up. Or for the 100-some media members who vote for the award — yes, I’m one — not to contemplate other aspects after they fill out their ballots three months from now.

Let’s jump into the percentages, plus my three favorite NBA MVP bets to make straight away that present some value.

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Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets: +162 (bet $10 to win $26.20 total)
Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks: +225 (bet $10 to win $32.50 total)
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics: +500 (bet $10 to win $60 total)
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: +500 (bet $10 to win $60 total)
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: +1100 (bet $10 to win $120 total)
Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets: +1600 (bet $10 to win $170 total)
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies: +2500 (bet $10 to win $260 total)
Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers: +3500 (bet $10 to win $360 total)
Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors: +5000 (bet $10 to win $510 total)
Zion Williamson, Latest Orleans Pelicans: +6000 (bet $10 to win $610 total)

* Odds as of 1/18/2023

RELATED: FOX Bet’s complete list of MVP candidates’ odds

The No. 1 big-picture factor: the award would put the Denver big man next to Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Larry Bird because the only players in NBA history to win the award three years in a row. Perhaps that doesn’t sound all that terrible to you due to Jokić’s unique talent, nevertheless it would leapfrog him over back-to-back winners Michael Jordan, Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It might suggest that, from a historical perspective, Jokic has been the league’s most dominant player for the last three years, which is difficult to reconcile along with his meager postseason results.

That is what all those two-time winners have in common with Wilt, Bill and Larry: they’ve all won multiple rings. Here’s what makes Jokić an outlier amongst two-time winners: he has yet to come back near winning one.

I’m not going to carry that against him because I didn’t have him at the highest of my ballot the previous two years, but I’m not convinced a majority of my fellow media members won’t. Especially if there’s a case to be made that Jokić just isn’t as individually dominant as he was a yr ago, and, lo and behold, there’s one. 

Statistically, he’s down in several categories. His field-goal and 3-point shooting percentages are up, as are his assists, but his points, rebounds and blocked shots are all down. And in need of an injury to Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. or Aaron Gordon, I don’t expect that to alter. All of which might suggest the Nuggets’ conference-leading record has more to do with the return of Murray and Porter, who missed a considerable amount of last season, than Jokić’s improvement.

The opposite element working against Jokic is that the East appears to be the significantly tougher conference, which goes so as to add value to ending on top of it, which goes so as to add value to the MVP candidate leading that individual team. (Luka Dončić and Ja Morant’s probabilities at MVP are similarly affected.) 

Even when the Nuggets manage to carry on to the Western Conference’s best record, the East is now the greater beast. A 24-21 record within the West as of Tuesday was well worth the fifth seed and a guaranteed playoff berth (Dallas); within the East, it’s well worth the seventh seed and a spot within the play-in tournament (Miami).

That’s why my top three smart bets to win this yr’s MVP at this stage are all with top teams within the East.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (+500 to win MVP at FOX Bet)

The Celtics are threatening to run away with the perfect record within the league, and while I feel that’s a credit to the general strength and balance of the roster, there’s no denying Tatum is arguably having his best season.

 Anyone who goes by the formula, Best player + Best Team = MVP, can be hard-pressed to not vote for him if the establishment holds. FOX Bet seems to agree, having moved his odds from +1300 within the preseason to +500 now.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (+1100 to win MVP at FOX Bet)

I really helpful Embiid as an MVP betting selection before the season, and I’m sticking with him, especially with the dividends getting larger since then (+1100 now, +500 then). 

He’s neck-and-neck with Dončić battling for this yr’s scoring title, and after a 9-9 start, the Sixers have gone 18-7 and look like gaining momentum. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (+500 to win MVP at FOX Bet)

One other preseason pick that continues to be very much within the running. The Bucks are a threat to win the East largely due to their third-ranked defense, and Giannis is much and away their most versatile defensive player — with major contributions from Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday. He also leads them in rebounding and scoring, with a career-high average within the latter (31.0 points per game). 

Jokić won last yr, partially, because he kept the Nuggets rolling despite the absence of Porter and Murray; Giannis could have a little bit of that sentiment working in his favor amongst voters, with All-Star guard Khris Middleton only appearing in seven games to this point. At +500, betting on Antetokounmpo to win his third MVP is value a sprinkle. 

Honorable Mention

Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (+1600 to win MVP at FOX Bet)

With at the least one voter announcing he wouldn’t vote for KD irrespective of what he does this season due to the turmoil he inspired throughout the offseason that ultimately cost coach Steve Nash his job, I don’t have any reason to consider Durant can win. If we’re talking strictly about what he’s doing on the court, though — which I feel should trump all — then he’s definitely in the combo. 

Not only do the Nets have the second-best winning percentage within the East, but Durant is shooting career-high percentages from the sector and the free-throw line (and significantly higher than when he won the 2014 MVP). Much more notable, the Nets have suffered two double-digit losses since Durant sprained a knee ligament after winning 14 of 15. 

He was my dark horse preseason selection, and at +1600, he stays one now. If Brooklyn continues to falter without him and KD then returns to cause them to the East’s best record, it could make a compelling case that Durant deserves to be among the many two-time MVP winners greater than Jokić deserves to be among the many three-peaters. 

Ric Bucher is an NBA author for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” the story of NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds,” the story of NBA center Yao Ming. He also has a each day podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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