Posted on: December 13, 2022, 02:58h.
Last updated on: December 13, 2022, 02:58h.
The NBA namedropped this morning. And that name is a famous one: Michael Jordan.
The six-time winner of the Most Valuable Player award will now have his name on the NBA’s most prestigious individual honor, an award that is probably the most closely contested of this strange 2022-23 season.
Strange for many reasons, one of which is the fact that the Golden State Warriors are 2-11 on the road as they head into Milwaukee tonight to face one of the three players who are more or less cofavorites at this juncture of the season, with none of them running away with the race.
Giannis Antetokoumnpo is listed at +300, along with Luka Dončić of the Dallas Mavericks and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics, with slight variations depending upon which sportsbook you check. Nobody else is in single digits when it comes to odds. But that certainly does not mean it is a three-man race.
In fact, there is a strong argument to be made that Anthony Davis is going to make it a four-man race if the Los Angles Lakers — also appearing on national television tonight against Boston in a terrific TNT doubleheader — continue their dramatic turnaround following a 2-10 start.
Davis had odds as high as +25000 before going for 44 and 55 points in back-to-back games to begin this month, and he is now down to +3500 at FanDuel — the same odds as Zion Williamson of the West-leading New Orleans Pelicans and Kevin Durant of the resurgent Brooklyn Nets.
Introducing six new trophies for the Kia Performance Award Winners, honoring NBA Legends Wilt Chamberlain, John Havlicek, Michael Jordan, George Mikan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Jerry West, designed by Victor Solomon.
— NBA (@NBA) December 13, 2022
Anybody who believes those guys are longshots needs to be reminded of only one thing: Nikola Jokic won this award last season for a team that finished sixth place in the West.
Whether he was the most deserving is a debate best not conducted at the Embiid family dinner table. But he got the hardware and rewarded those who took a gamble that he would be a repeat winner.
This season? The race is probably a lot more wide-open than some would have you believe.
So awesome that Zion Williamson gets to win the first ever Michael Jordan MVP trophy https://t.co/o6i4Tv0EZ3
— Sad NOLA Fan Account (@kenlorio) December 13, 2022
Not so fast, Sad NOLA fan. But you may be onto something:
What Do The Odds Represent?
They represent the fact that the folks who set the lines see those three guys as the most likely winners as we move toward the unofficial start of the season: The Christmas Day quintupleheader, when casual fans start paying attention.
What they do not represent is the mindset of your average voter, who is not even thinking about his or her ballot because the season has barely begun. This cannot be emphasized enough, and that information is coming to you from a sportswriter who covered the league for several decades and has been an official voter in the recent past.
With very few exceptions from season to season, nobody makes up their mind on this award until April. (One exception was 2016, when Steph Curry became the first unanimous selection ever. Another was 2000, when all but one voter selected Shaquille O’Neal.)
Writers and broadcasters who cover the NBA on a regular basis understand one truism more than the average fan: The 82-game regular season is a slog, and in the last couple of years it has been cheapened because 20 of the 30 teams qualify for the playoffs or the play-in tournament, which has led to a preponderance of load management, a.k.a. rest nights like the one Jacque Vaughn gave eight members of the Brooklyn Nets in Indianapolis last Saturday night. None of the five starters from the previous night’s victory was even in uniform.
Back in the day, that would be a good way to have David Stern fine your franchise and humiliate you publicly. But David is upstairs now with Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant and Paul Silas, and the rules have become more lax under Adam Silver, who has never met a superficial story he did not adore. But hey, when Tankathon is one of the most popular hoops Web sites and Victor Wembanyana is a trending topic every week … you get the picture.
One year ago today, We lost an NBA Legend, Former NBA Commissioner David Stern❗️We still miss you Mr.Stern and you will forever be in our hearts and We will never forget your voice, especially on Draft Night as well🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾 R.I.P. David Stern @NBA #NBA pic.twitter.com/luYDGHz1F2
— BYRDIE SPORTS (@ByrdieSports) January 1, 2021
Anyway, onto the race …
What Are The Warts On The Top Three?
Tatum is a terrific player on a terrific Boston Celtics team with the NBA’s best record, second-best point differential, and a two-game losing streak after dropping games against the Warriors (by 16) and the Clippers (by 20) on stops four and five of a six-game road trip that concludes tonight. Their leading scorer in five of their past six games is not named Jayson Tatum. He is named Jaylen Brown, and he is averaging 26.8 points and shooting 50.1 percent. Tatum is at 30.0 ppg and 47.2 shooting. They are a dynamic duo, and in the NBA it is rare for one member of a dynamic duo to outshine the other to such a degree that he gets MVP.
Dončić is leading the league with a 33.1 scoring average and six triple-doubles, but his team is 14-13, including 3-9 on the road. And it says here that being on a .500 team ain’t gonna get it done. Last season, LeBron James averaged 30.3 points for a Los Angeles Lakers team that finished 11th in the West. He didn’t get any MVP votes. Dončić may be the best individual statistical performer in the entire NBA and the toughest perimeter cover on a night-to-night basis. But the operative word in Most Valuable Player is “value.” And value is ultimately measured in wins and losses, unless you have a case like Jokic’s last year when he carried a team missing its second- and third-best players.
Antetokounmpo is a thrill to behold, and he is one of those very few players who must be seen in person to truly appreciate how fast and powerful he is. But he is battling free throw demons again, just when we all though he had put that in his past. A few more misses in big games, and another ladder toss, and he ain’t looking like the most appealing candidate. He is averaging 31.1 points and shooting 62 .7% from the line. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging one-tenth of a point more and is making 93.3% of his freebies.
Giannis knocked down a ladder and was HEATED after the Bucks loss 😳
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 19, 2022
OK, So Who Are The Best-Priced Outsiders?
First, a disclaimer: We are not trying to disrespect the three players listed above. But they have warts, and warts matter when voters ask themselves: “Who led his team to a place nobody thought they would reach?”
So that brings us to the New Orleans Pelicans, who currently sit atop the Western Conference and have a seven-game winning streak, giving them a half-game lead over the Memphis Grizzlies, who had strung together six consecutive Ws. These are not two teams that have been considered championship contenders, and they still are not. DraftKings has the Pels at +2000 and the Grizzlies at +1600, and there is a school of thought that they are the flavor of the month, the same way the Cavs and Jazz were in November before they crashed back to Earth.
Williamson has averaged 30.0 points and 9.2 rebounds during the winning streak, and he has shot below 50% exactly once in his last 18 games. He is back after missing a season because of a broken foot, and he has been breathtaking at times.
Zion Williamson you are the NBA’s 2022-23 Most Valuable Player pic.twitter.com/sFZzN6fklq
— CLIPSET🔥✂️ (@PrimeLAC_) December 12, 2022
“Nobody in the NBA can guard Zion Williamson 1-on-1. It really takes a 5-man effort.”
– Nuggets HC Michael Malone pic.twitter.com/2ihwb18DsM
— Jake Hardee (@pelicansbyjake) December 5, 2022
He is a very appealing +3500 wager.
Who Is In The Second Tier?
There are nine players at FanDuel with shorter odds than the +3500 on Durant, Davis, and Williamson.
The second tier begins with Steph Curry at +1000, and he is having a typical Curry season: 30.0 points per game, a 50-40-90 split on shooting percentages, and 22 more 3s than anyone else in the league. Would have been nice to see him play when his team visited New Orleans twice and he had load management nights. But at least we were not among the unfortunates who bought tickets to those games in the Big Easy. The road record is a black eye, as is their current ninth place standing in the West — tied with Dallas.
Joel Embiid is +1200, and he is the only NBA player with multiple 50-point games this season. But his team is 14-12, and that is too close to that .500 danger zone that takes you out of the mix if it sustains throughout the season. But that may not happen. Let’s not forget that the Celtics went to the NBA Finals last year despite being 23-24 on Jan. 21.
JOEL EMBIID joined AI & WILT as the only players in franchise history with multiple 50-PT games in the same season!
53 PTS, 12 REB (63% FG)
59 PTS, 11 REB, 8 AST, 7 BLK (68% FG)
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) December 12, 2022
Devin Booker is +2700 for a Phoenix Suns team that was atop the West before losing five of their last six, and he is dealing with a hamstring injury now. Yes, he was carrying Phoenix while Chris Paul was hurt, but that was a temporary thing — unlike the Jamal Murray/Michael Porter Jr. thing in Denver last season that benefitted Jokic.
Also at +2700 is Jokic, who would become the first NBA player to win MVP three consecutive times since Larry Bird in the mid-80s if he somehow pulled it off this season. The Nuggets are 16-10 and are +360 to finish atop the West. Jokic’s scoring and rebounding numbers are down significantly from last season.
Ja Morant is +3000, and this seems too low, but is a testament to Memphis’ record and could be a sneaky nice pick if Morant starts dropping 40-point games. Nobody talks about the Grizzlies all that much, but Jaren Jackson Jr. is quickly putting pressure on Brook Lopez for Defensive Player of the Year. Morant is carrying this team with Desmond Bane now out for the past month, and probably looking at being sidelined for another month. Morant’s stats do not match up with others in his price range.
Also at +3000 is Donovan Mitchell of the Cavs, who remain 2-0 against Boston, but have lost more than they have won since their 8-1 start. Still, Cleveland remains ahead of Brooklyn in the standings, and it is a long season. He is a franchise fortune changer and seems priced correctly.
Lastly, we have Gilgeous-Alexander sitting at +10000. He is -140 for Most Improved Player, and if OKC can pull a Lakeresque turnaround, you will rue not taking a flyer on this guy at this price.
Shai better be top 3 for mvp https://t.co/vc9NgT1hck
— Vaughn Pyle (@raypyle_21) December 13, 2022