The 2019-20 MVP race is shaping up to be a doozy. The NBA title picture is as murky as it’s been in recent memory, and while there are realistically more teams that can win the championship than players who can win the MVP, the latter is also wide open.
Yet, LeBron James, a four-time MVP playing for one of the biggest brands in sports, may be a “sleeper” at this stage.
Here are the top 11 betting choices (two guys are tied for 10th) to win the MVP award, per FanDuel:
James checks in at 8/1 and is the fifth guy on the list, so it may be wise to buy stock now. LeBron is averaging 26.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and a league-leading 11.1 assists for the Lakers. Those are MVP-caliber numbers, but James usually posts MVP-caliber numbers. Yet he hasn’t won the award since 2013. So why is this year different?
First, the Lakers could be really good. Los Angeles is 6-1 and has been missing key players like Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Kyle Kuzma for stretches. Team success is a huge factor in MVP voting, and James putting up his usual gaudy stat line on a Western Conference champion is one heck of a starting point.
But there’s more. The Lakers lead the league in defensive rating, and a (fair) criticism of LeBron in the last five years or so is that he doesn’t ratchet up the defense until playoff time. Not this year.
Evaluating defense is always a bit subjective, but James looks rejuvenated on that end, avoiding some of the straight-to-Twitter bloopers he’s produced in recent years, and is consistently making timely, precise rotations. And the counting stats are good, too – James is averaging 1.6 steals, his highest mark since 2014-15, and the Lakers’ 96.4 defensive rating with him on the floor is the best of any team he’s played on during his career.
Of course, it’s early, and those numbers will change. But James seems dialed in defensively, and we all know he can play defense. If James is going to make defense a point of emphasis in the regular season and the Lakers keep winning, he’ll compile a heck of an MVP resume.
We’ll also touch on the “narrative” aspect of this – to the extent you believe a player’s story matters in voting, LeBron has a great one. Many believed his MVP days were left in Miami. He plays for the Lakers, an iconic franchise, and there was chatter in the offseason that he was more concerned with building his business in Los Angeles than winning a title for the Lakers.
LeBron seems determined to put all that to rest. If he stays healthy, he’s got a great shot to win his fifth MVP.
Let’s also hit on the players ahead of James on the oddsboard.
Stats: 29 PPG, 14.3 RPG, 7.6 APG
The reigning MVP and this season’s favorite is at it again. The Bucks are 6-2 with the best point differential in the league. Nobody has won the MVP in back-to-back years since Steph Curry in 2015 and 2016, but Giannis is gunning for it.
Stats: 36.5 PPG, 5 RPG, 8.1 APG
Harden’s numbers are eye-popping, but the Rockets have a negative point differential and allow 121.8 points per game. Narrative also isn’t on his side – voters may use his history of postseason flameouts against him, even if it shouldn’t technically impact this award. It feels like there’s Harden fatigue setting in despite his greatness.
Stats: 26.6 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 2.7 APG
Davis is awesome, but James has been the more valuable Laker to this point. That could change, but for all the people who think James will defer to AD, ask yourselves this: Is that really necessary? LeBron and AD can both eat, and it’s hard to match LeBron’s overall impact.
Stats: 29.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 5.4 APG
Superb defense to boot, but load management is the knock against Leonard. He’s already sat out two of the Clippers’ nine games and will probably play somewhere around only 60 games this season.